Press conference - Launch of Forbes Shire Agricultural Strategy 2018 - 2030

Question: Talk us through exactly what this strategy is.

Phyllis Miller: We have done the agricultural strategy so that we can get a really clear picture of where we are sitting in the agricultural industry in our shire. We are trying to value-add to our agricultural base that we have here in Forbes. So much of our product is going out of Australia not being processed, so it’s really important for us to look at those opportunities and try and work out where we can start to create jobs here in Forbes and value-add to our product.

Question: Why do you think this strategy was so important? Why was there a need to do that?

Phyllis Miller: We are a very progressive council. We are looking at trying to grow our agricultural industries. Having a saleyards complex like the Central West Livestock Exchange certainly puts us in good stead to be able to be looking at value-adding to our product. We are very very big in grain growing and we have a lot of cattle and sheep in our area. So I think it’s a must; it’s important; we realised what we were contributing to the economic base of the Central West and that equates to $1.188 billion. That is five percent of the output in the Central West. So to me that is terribly important that we now try and work—I think other councils, other local government areas will come on board.

Question: Is it exciting that you are the first shire to have it launched?

Phyllis Miller: It’s nothing unusual. We’re a very progressive council and of course we are the first—it’s great.

Question: How exactly will the strategy be value-adding?

Phyllis Miller: We will look at the opportunities in there. It’s definitely giving us some of the data that we were not aware of. So we will be looking at that and trying to look at opportunities. Certainly if people come and they want to set up in our shire, to be able to put that document forward so they can see the basis of what’s happening here agriculturally is going to be a big benefit to us.

Question: What are some of the things that need changing?

Phyllis Miller: I won’t be changing anything. What we will do is get the market to do the changes. So we will wait and see. It’s very new. We need to really drill down into it and work out where we are going to go with this strategy.

Michael McCormack: This is a great initiative today. The Federal Government has invested in an agricultural strategy, the first of its kind for Forbes Shire Council. Now Forbes Shire is already responsible for $183 million of agricultural output which represents about 20 per cent of total employment opportunities in the shire. But what the Federal Government wants to do is to increase that—to give Forbes Shire and all the stakeholders within, whether they are agribusinesses, whether they are farmers, the opportunity to see how they can do even better. We want to grow these shires. Of course we have a very prolonged drought at the moment—that’s why Forbes Shire was one of the first councils to receive $1 million from the Federal Government to assist in keeping people in town, to assist in keeping money flowing around the town. But the fact is, once it rains again these places, these shires are going to be flourishing. Certainly Forbes Shire is helping to lead the way in the Central West as far as agricultural output is concerned. We want to build on that. We want to grow that. We want to grow the opportunities. We want to grow employment and one way you can do that is through agriculture. We just heard the Mayor, Phyllis Miller talking about value-adding. Well, things from Forbes Shire can be value-added. And when we build this Inland Rail, and it’s coming, we will be able to better value-add to the products that are already grown and made here in the Forbes Shire and we will be able to put them on that Inland Rail, get them to port and get them to the markets. There is a burgeoning market for Forbes Shire product across the world. We want to grow an even larger output from Forbes Shire and indeed from the whole Central West, and Forbes Shire is going to lead the way to doing just that.

Question: What has the Federal Government’s role been in creating the strategy? Have they played a part at all?

Michael McCormack: We have helped to engage the services of GHD, a very respected company. We’ve put $70,000 on the table from the Building Better Regions Funding initiative. We stand shoulder to shoulder with Forbes Shire, with the local government area here to make sure that this is a success. And I’m sure this will be replicated right throughout the State and indeed right throughout the Nation. It all starts here—it all starts at Forbes Shire. I know this is going to be such a great initiative. And I know that we can build even greater agricultural output, even more employment opportunities here at the Central West Livestock Exchange, here at Forbes, indeed right throughout the entire shire.

Question: Michael, you did mention the Inland Rail before. Can you talk us through the next stage (inaudible)?

Michael McCormack: I was there when the first lot of Australian steel, from Whyalla, was dropped off at Peak Hill on January 15 last year. And I will be there today as 14,000 tonnes for that Parkes to Narromine section is delivered. The $9.2 billion Inland Rail is going ahead. We turned the first sod late last year. This is an exciting project. This is going to reduce the tonnage costs by about $10 a tonne; it’s going to create so much employment certainly during the construction phase— and when it’s finalised it is going to create so many more opportunities for Forbes, for Parkes, right throughout the Central West and right up and down the 1700 kilometres of corridor. That is going to have so many opportunities for our farmers, for our small businesses and indeed for our regions.

As the Nationals Leader, as the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development, I want to see these regions have the best possible opportunity to succeed. Inland Rail helps to do that.

Question: You say that it’s definitely going ahead. NSW Farmers don’t seem too pleased about (inaudible) transparency between them and the Federal Government. It’s still an issue. Since they said that last week or last time we spoke, what have you done to work on that and communicate better with the farmers along the line?

Michael McCormack: I’ve had any numbers of meetings at Narrabri; at Gunnedah; at Parkes; at Illabo; Victoria; Queensland, Millmerran, just the other day at Stanthorpe. I continue to engage with landholders. I continue to engage with people for whom, yes, the Inland Rail will have an impact and for some an impact that they don’t want. But the fact is the overall benefit to the nation far outweighs those sorts of issues. I have engaged with NSW Farmers. I have any number of letters to say that I continue to want to keep that dialogue open. I will continue to engage with NSW Farmers.

This is of critical importance for our nation and for our farmers - they stand to benefit the most from the Inland Rail, from this project. I’m excited that we are reaching another milestone today. I know that in the past there has been some criticism and some concerns about the level of engagement but I’m pleased that the ARTC through Warren Truss and through the CEO Richard Wankmuller are certainly making sure that engagement is happening and that we will keep in close consultation with stakeholders along the 1700 kilometres going forward as we have done in the recent past and as we will continue to do.

Question: NSW Farmers might disagree with you there. They are calling on farmers to not work with ARTC and to refuse to work with them until they get the communication and transparency they want. What would happen if farmers went down that (inaudible)

Michael McCormack: I wouldn’t advise it. The fact is Inland Rail is going to go ahead. I’m disappointed that the NSW Farmers has made these statements; I’m disappointed also that they’ve said that I have said that I would not engage. I have any number of letters to say that I’m happy to engage. I’ve always taken the NSW Farmers calls. I’ve been out talking to stakeholders, talking to farmers, talking to landholders, sitting around their kitchen tables talking to them. The Government obviously wants to engage, whether they are from NSW, Victoria or Queensland. This is nation-building. This project is nation-building. We’re getting on with the job—14,000 tonnes of Australian steel; Australian steel means Australian jobs and means Australian progress.

So that’s what we as a Government are getting on and doing. I have to tell you that so many more people are looking forward to this project, just want to see the line finished and delivery happening. I appreciate that there are people for whom the Inland Rail will have an impact. We will continue to work with them for the best possible outcomes.

Question: On the Newell Highway you said there are going to be upgrades for the flooding. What other upgrades have you got for the Newell Highway and how far is it going to extend?

Michael McCormack: We are certainly always looking at the Newell Highway. It’s a very busy freight corridor, not just for NSW but indeed for our nation. We have put money on the table for the Newell Highway. We have just recently set up a committee and I’m pleased that Katrina Humphries, the Mayor of Moree Plains and Tony Lord, a Councillor on Bland Shire, have accepted my invitation along with other key stakeholders to see as a reference group what we can do, where the upgrades are needed the most, and we will be working with that reference group, we’ll working with of course all the local government areas right up and down the Newell Highway to make sure that we get the best possible outcomes. And as the Transport and Infrastructure Minister, it’s up to me then to work with Melinda Pavey, the Roads Minister in NSW to get the best possible outcomes, and I will be doing that.

Question: Forbes really wants to be an important part of that whole process. Will they be an important part and will they have their say?

Michael McCormack: Indeed. And let me tell you—when you give Phyllis Miller your mobile number, she uses it—regularly. And she doesn’t mind telling me what needs to be done, whether it’s the Newell Highway, whether it’s business, whether it’s tourism—whatever the case, if it’s important for Forbes it is important for me and I take regular indeed almost daily calls from Phyllis Miller. When she wants something, I listen.

Thank you very much.