Press Conference - Lockhart, NSW

Michael McCormack: It’s great to be here in Lockhart this morning to announce that a million dollars is going to be funded to Better Energy Technology to enable them to start off their solar farm proposal. What they have been talking about with Lockhart Shire Council in recent months, over many months, is to get Lockhart off the grid. That’s all the businesses, all the households off the grid onto their own solar farm grid. So they are going to actually to be able to energise the town, this wonderful wonderful centre, on their own via this solar farm technology.

This proponent, Gordon Hinds and his team, have been working very hard with Lockhart Shire Council, with the Mayor Rodger Schirmer and his team, with indeed the community – businesses, farmers, townsfolk – to make sure that this proposal stacks up, to make sure that this proposal has community support. So $1 million from the Community Development Grants Programme – the money is good; the money is in the Budget.

This is a wonderful proposal. It stacks up. Lockhart is an historic town bit it’s also a town of tomorrow. Lockhart is very much a town which has a great past, but this proposal today will make sure that Lockhart is going to have a great future – and it’s going to be a future based on solar power. It’s going to be a future based on renewable energy.

So this is what we as the Federal Government are pushing, along with of course traditional energy sources. We want to make sure that towns which want to transition, towns which have these sorts of proposals which stack up, towns which have community support behind them, get the funding that they need. So $1 million is not going to fund the entire project, but it will certainly give them the investment certainty. It will certainly give them the money for Better Energy Technology to have the impetus to get this proposal off the ground. They are going to require a whole lot more money, but this proposal gets the project underway. It’s going to make sure that they can get all the necessary paperwork, all the necessary approvals off the ground and it’s also going to make sure that they get the actual solar farm off the ground as well.

So I’m really delighted to be here with Mayor Rodger Schirmer, with the General Manager Peter Veneris and other councillors as well, to announce this million dollar proposal.

Rodget Schirmer: Ladies and gentlemen, firstly Michael, thank you very very much for this game-changing grant for us. This is a renewable energy trial. We have been working since 2017 to try to get this off the ground. This $1 million is a huge step forward in that it allows all the investigative work to be done, the numbers to be proved. Gordon Hinds is totally committed to this project, as are we. The point of this whole project is to prove that rural communities are able to generate power 24/7, not only solar but using biodigesters and battery technology so that when people are struggling to produce power, we can export power at night into the grid and give power security to many people apart from ourselves if this technology is proved – but we have no doubt it will be proved.

So again, thank you Mr Deputy PM. This is a great, great day. I know I have been badgering you…

Michael McCormack: …You have… (laughter)

Rodget Schirmer: …but you have been very patients so thank you very much for that. It’s a red letter day. In 12 or 18 months I would invite you all to come down and have a look at this project in the construction phase and we will just show you what rural communities can do.

Thank you again.

Question: What’s the projected total cost of this project?

Rodget Schirmer: About $30 million in total.

Question: So how will that be funded?

Rodget Schirmer: We’re hoping to get a grant from ARENA, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, which provides funds for exploratory ventures like this. Then there will be private funding from within the (inaudible)

Question: Will you keep badgering the Deputy Prime Minister for more funds?

Michael McCormack: He has my mobile number. He knows how to use it. Late at night. Early in the morning…Roger I think they want you to answer the question (laughter)

Rodget Schirmer: I’ve been pretty busy badgering the Deputy PM but he is a very patient man. It’ll be less forthright, let’s say, from now on.

Question: What does this project mean in terms of cost savings for consumers, both residents and businesses here?

Rodget Schirmer: We project it will be a cost saving of about 20% on their power bills now and there will be capped fees for 10 years. As we said, there will be a residual value and one of the things we hope as a council to be able to do is to have a contractual arrangement that the council of the day will have first right of refusal to buy the power generation plant which, if the numbers are correct, will provide an income stream for the shire which will benefit the whole of the shire, not just Lockhart.

Question: Residents would be welcoming cheaper power but what is it going to do for Lockhart Shire in terms of attracting new business here? I know that there has been some work done just on the outskirts of the township, the agribusiness hub; what’s it doing to attract new business to the area?

Rodget Schirmer: I think it’s a real positive. The General Manager and I have spoken to one particular interested party in terms of how we could provide them with a 20% reduction in power. We have an industrial park; we promote that. I think it can be nothing but a lift-up for the town in terms of attracting businesses to our town.

Question: Prior to privatisation of the electricity grids across the nation, we were promised cheaper power; how can you guarantee our residents here that this in fact will give them cheaper power?

Rodget Schirmer: The best guess based on the figures is it will give them cheaper power. In our discussions with Gordon, who has been very forthright and very honest with us, we always have had the option of walking away from this if we didn’t believe it to be true. But no, everything we are doing, the costings and everything so far, indicate that there will be a reduction in power costs to our residents.

Question: How long do you expect the study…so you reckon construction could start in 18 months – is that how long you expect the study to put the numbers together?

Rodget Schirmer: I think the study will take quite a shorter time than that. I can’t give you a definitive answer on how long it will take but I would guess maybe four to six months, the study, because everything is ready to roll. Then the construction phase starts. I have no idea really how long that construction phase will take but I would be very hopeful that well inside two years it will be operational and the residents will be getting the benefit of that - and the people who are looking to see if this project is replicatable will be getting the benefit of that as well.

Question: How much has already gone into getting this project to where it is today?

Rodget Schirmer: A lot of time. A lot of visits to regulatory authorities and others in Sydney; to ARENA, the Australian regulator, and so on. As everyone can appreciate there are a lot of boxes to be ticked in order to get this up. But so far we are moving forward and the one thing that was lacking was the funding – the one critical thing that was lacking was the funding – to kick this innovative program off. Thanks to the Deputy PM, that’s happened, and it’s such a red letter day for us.

Journalist: Mr McCormack, given the fact that we now have communities such as Lockhart able to generate their own power, does this give an indication of what sort of state the Federal and State policies for electricity are, when we’ve got communities that are going to have to generate their own power?

Michael McCormack: They’re not going to have to generate their own power. They are being innovative. They are being forward-thinking. They’re actually having a go, having a try at something which is innovative and new. So In congratulate Lockhart. I commend the Mayor, Rodger Schirmer and his dedicated team, his staff. But I also take my hat off to the community as well, because they have got right behind this project. Future energy needs are going to have to be balanced – balanced on traditional energy sources but also looking to the future; looking to such things as solar power.

That’s what Lockhart is doing here. So well done Lockhart. They’re being innovative. They’re thinking outside the box. They’re thinking outside the square and they’re making sure that they take their community with them. So I think it’s fantastic that they’re looking this way.

Question: Energy is obviously shaping up as one of the major issues as we head into a Federal poll.

Michael McCormack: Energy. Tax. National security. The economy. There’s going to be a number of fronts on which this election will be fought. That fact is, on any front, on any measure you can guarantee that the Liberals and Nationals will be there, in front, making sure that we are pushing costs down for people; making sure that businesses have the lowest tax rate since 1940. We’ve extended the instant asset write-off; not only extended it from $25,000 to $30,000 but also extended the eligibility from $10 million turnover to $50 million turnover.

So for businesses here in Green Street Lockhart, they are going to be able to take advantage of that instant asset write-off right up to $30,000. So if a little chemist wants the ability to have a runaround vehicle so that they can drop off prescriptions, well up to $30,000 they can do just that. If the butcher wants a new chopping block or new equipment to cut up meat, they can buy that up to $30,000; they can do it as many times as they like, and they can write it off instantly. That’s the difference.

Question: Michael, on the protest we’ve seen at farms today, do you think  (inaudible) Aussie Farms under the Privacy Act is enough to protect famers from being targeted?

Michael McCormack: It’s what we can do at a Federal level, but this is a disgrace this morning that these vegan activists raided a farm, totally trespassed on that farm as far as I can understand – we don’t want this to happen in the future. Mind you, they were probably wearing leather shoes. Where does that leather come from? It comes from an animal hide.

These people are nuts. These people just don’t understand that farmers should be able to continue what they have always done – grow the world’s best food, grow the world’s best fibre and make sure that they do it in such a way that is conscious of animal welfare standards, making sure that they look after the environment as far as using water and the soil to the best of their ability is concerned. And they do that.

These animal activists – they just want to stop farming as we know it, and the full force of the law should come down upon them, including state-wise - they should be locked up. Federally they are invading the Privacy Act, and I know how strong and strident we have been to make sure that we’ve tightened up the rules to ensure that they can’t continue to release people’s details, to invade people’s privacy.

I mean these people have kids; they have young children, they have families – and all of a sudden they are being invaded by these animal activists. How would they like it if the farmers went and trespassed on their home? They did house break and enters – that is essentially what it is – it’s break and enter without permission. Then they put their nonsense out on social media. I mean it’s nuts.

Question: Is it concerning that they are exposing these farms to potential biosecurity risks?

Michael McCormack: Of course it is. I know how much the Federal Government has invested in biosecurity. The fact is that big complex down near Tullamarine Airport was put in place to do just the sort of things that we need to do to make sure that we have out animals and our crops well looked after as far as biosecurity measures are concerned. But these people don’t care. They break into these people’s properties, they cause all sorts of mayhem, they tie themselves to milking machines and tractors and farm equipment. They should be locked up. At the end of the day they should actually be locked up, and for a good time, to serve as a lesson to others not to do the same thing. I mean, why don’t they just go and get a job? Seriously, go and get a job and do something that is real and honest for a change.

Question: The group Vegan Rising have just targeted nine different locations this morning. Two of those were CBD, Melbourne and Sydney. What sort of resources are these activists using up in terms of policing? How extravagant is it on our policing?

Michael McCormack: You’ve made a good point. Police have better things to do, real crooks to catch, but at the end of the day these people are real crooks because they are breaking the law. They are breaking the law, they’re doing it wilfully; they know that what they’re doing is wrong and they are invading people’s property – these people who are just trying to earn an honest living by growing the world’s best food and fibre. They don’t need these sorts of people to come onto their farms and do what they are doing. These animal activists should be locked up to serve as a reminder and as a lesson to others that this is totally, totally un-Australian.

Question: Just moving onto another issue, the Adani coal mine, Michael – Senator James McGrath has threatened to call on the Environment Minister to resign over her handling of the Adani project. Do you think Melissa Price is doing a good job?

Michael McCormack: Melissa Price is doing a good job and it’s being undertaken, her enquiries, in the normal way that Government would handle such an approval process.

Question: Should the Adani project be signed off before we head to the Federal election?

Michael McCormack: Again I say, Melissa Price has that on her desk. She is the Environment Minister and she is handling it in the normal way that Government would.

Question: So how important is it that the Adani management plan is approved before the election?

Michael McCormack: So long as it ticks off, so long as it meets the environmental standards that the Minister and the Government has agreed upon, then it will be approved in the normal way. The fact is it is a project that involves thousands of jobs; 14,000 people have applied for those jobs at the Carmichael mine. It’s a big project, certainly big for Central Queensland. I know how important it is for our exports, but I say again the Environment Minister has it on her desk and she is handling it in the normal way.

Question: Now you have a lot of your National Party colleagues sitting up in Queensland very worried about where the Adani project is going to be heading. How important is it for the Members up there that you get it right?

Michael McCormack: It’s important for them, of course it is. They are all about jobs. They are all about better infrastructure. They are all about making sure that their regional communities know and understand that last week’s was a great Budget. They know full well that for them to succeed and for The Nationals to succeed, we need to provide more jobs, better jobs, better paying jobs, better infrastructure – and that’s what we’re doing. I’m delighted that we have a Treasurer and a Prime Minister who last week oversaw a Budget process which is going to create just that – more jobs for Central Queensland, more jobs in all sorts of sectors whether it’s the resources sector, agriculture, businesses. It was a Budget for the regions, a Budget for a better Australia and that’s what we’re doing – building a better Australia.

Question: Now this Murray Darling Basin Plan isn’t going away. There’s a protest planned down in Albury tomorrow and it seems as though the campaign is going to be ramped up throughout the Federal election. How do you intend to deal with that?

Michael McCormack: I know that David Littleproud tasked Rob Vertessy to prepare a report on the Menindee Lakes situation and indeed the Murray Darling Basin. Certainly that report will be out in the next few days. But I say again, we can’t make it rain. It hasn’t rained in some of those catchment areas for up to seven years. That’s really dispiriting for those regional communities that rely so much on water to grow the world’s best food and fibre.

The fact is it will rain again, and that’s why we have a $500 million National Water Infrastructure Development Fund in place. I’m going around the countryside, I have been in recent weeks and months, talking to States, talking to stakeholders to see where we can build more dams, heighten lengthen and strengthen weirs, put down pipelines to store the water in times when we have excess water for those dry times. Now we are experiencing a prolonged dry spell at the moment. But it will rain again and when it does the Darling will flow again, the Murrumbidgee will be up, the Murray will be going nicely and the fact is our river communities can once again rely on those steady flows. But many of these stakeholders, many of these irrigators, cotton farmers, haven’t had a water allocation in three years. The environment is still getting the minimal amount of water that it needs and requires for the fish and for the bird life and so on.

The fact is our farmers, our river communities, in some places such as Deniliquin and certainly up in the north of the Darling have not had a water allocation for three years. So we need to be mindful of those, and people also need to be mindful of those when they go and tap away late at night on social media and besmirch what they do. These people have not had a water allocation and are trying to make ends meet without being able to grow the normal crops that they do. The animal activists might think about that too for a change. People should always remember that our farmers are doing the best job; they are up against it with water allocations; they are up against it when it’s very dry, and they’re up against it when they’ve got people who want to invade their properties and in some cases destroy their livelihoods.

I will always back farmers. We might not need politicians and journalists all that often but I tell you what, we need farmers, three times a day every day, breakfast lunch and dinner. We should always remember that.

Michael McCormack: We’re spending record amounts on schools and hospitals. You might call it electioneering; I just call it doing what I normally do. I’m delighted to be here in Lockhart announcing another $1m, so the Riverina and Central West has done very well out of the Liberal and Nationals’ Government. This is what The Nationals in Government does: It actually turns up, it listens and it delivers, and I know Rodger Schirmer and his team out here are absolutely delighted with the $ million that I have announced this morning. I know it’s going to make such a difference. As Rodger Schirmer has just said: It is game changing. It’s transformational for this community. That’s what we do. That’s what I always do, following on from those great traditions of Kay Hull and Noel Hicks – Nationals in Government – we deliver. Thanks very much.