Press Conference with Senator The Hon Ian Macdonald Mareeba, Queensland

Nicole Hollows, CEO of Sunwater: Good morning. I'd like to begin by acknowledging the traditional custodians of the land that we are meeting today and I'd also like to pay my respects to elders, past and present.

I'd like to acknowledge the Deputy Prime Minister, Michael McCormack, and Senator Ian Macdonald, and welcome them to the region and the Mareeba-Dimbulah Water Supply Scheme, some of which you can see here today.

On behalf of the Minister for Natural Resources, Mines and Energy, Dr Anthony Lynham, I'd like to extend his apologies for not being able to attend today. He's had to be in Parliament. And also, Ms Cynthia Lui who also could not attend today. I know both Minister Lynham and Ms Lui would like to have been here, and they share passion and enthusiasm for water infrastructure projects in Central regional Queensland, as well as this north region where we are here today.

I'd also like to acknowledge Mr Joe Moro who's over behind you, a well-respected advocate for irrigators and a supporter and adviser and a customer of SunWater here in the Mareeba-Dimbulah Water Supply Scheme.

What a welcome occasion to be here sharing the details of this water efficiency saving program with the capital funding. And this modernisation project will create water efficiencies up to about 8,000 megalitres of water a year, that will then be able to be on-sold to irrigators for the first time in a long time in this region. This project reduces the water losses, and so therefore it's an environmentally-friendly water efficiency saving, as well as being able to provide those water allocations and for many, many years, they have not been available for sale.

We're putting water back in the hands of those irrigators and if you look in the last few years, Lake Tinaroo has been at extremely low levels just below 40 per cent. Currently now, 97 per cent, with the recent inflows of water we've received from the wet weather over the last few months.

I'd like to acknowledge the contribution of the National Water Infrastructure Development Fund for this critical water project. The fund has contributed $11.6 million, and SunWater will be contributing $16 million, bringing the total capital project cost to 28 million.

It's encouraging to have Federal support for projects such as this in the regional Queensland, and also to contribute to allow the agricultural industry to be able to further fund its programs.

This investment will boost the local economy and also the construction phase will actually enable SunWater to utilise and employ as much local labour where we possibly can. The increased farming will create jobs and will also create revenues that will be able to increase the economic prosperity of the region.

SunWater has an 80-year history of delivering water for agriculture, industry and urban communities. We are committed to working with our customers to finding water solutions and will bring greater prosperity and opportunities for regional Queensland.

I'd like to thank our irrigation customers in the Mareeba-Dimbulah scheme for their ongoing collaboration and their support for us to be able to put this application forward for Federal funding. I'd also like to thank the Local Management Arrangement board and the SunWater Irrigator Advisory Committee for their support throughout the process. Our customers are changing and so are we, and this is the beginning of a future and a step in the right direction for SunWater to assist our customers in the region.

I'd now like to welcome Senator Ian Macdonald to say a few words. Thank you.

Ian MacDonald: Not often you get the Deputy Prime Minister in your locality, so it's a real thrill for me and I know for people in this area, Michael, to have you here today to announce this very, very significant project.

Thanks to SunWater, who've done a wonderful job over many years in Queensland, helping out farmers, our horticulturalists. Thanks to Joe Moro and a number of other people from this area who've been tireless advocates for better irrigation outcomes in the north.

But our Deputy Prime Minister is well versed in irrigation. He comes from an area that probably invented this sort of irrigation many, many decades ago. It's an honour, a real privilege, that we have in Mareeba today the Deputy Prime Minister, Michael McCormack.

Michael McCormack: Thank you Nicole and thanks to SunWater and thanks to Senator Ian Macdonald.

Today is a landmark day, and certainly the Mareeba-Dimbulah Water Supply Scheme, the beneficiaries of this modernisation project, a $28.1 million investment in the north. A $28.1 million investment, which is going to generate an additional $20 million of agricultural productivity from this region.

That's important, that's vital. That's going to create 75 additional jobs directly, let alone the indirect jobs that this water supply scheme modernisation is going to provide. This is good investment, and I know that the National Water Infrastructure Fund-Development Fund is a really important infrastructure project. I know, because I was just at Scottsdale in Tasmania just a couple of weeks ago, and the look of delight on those farmers' faces. It's a long way south of here but the parameters stay the same.

When you invest in water—our most valuable resource—when you invest in water infrastructure, you invest in farmers, you invest in regions, you invest in jobs, you invest in hope for the future. And that's what this is all about.

Now, some of the statistics are impressive. This is going to provide an additional 300 megalitres of balanced storage, four-and-a-half kilometres of additional pressurised piping, and a number of additional flume water gates—about 25 in total. So, the statistics are impressive. This is also going to make sure that every drop is counted, every drop is stored, every drop is utilised, and that's so important when it comes to water.

And of course, as Ian Macdonald said, I come from an irrigation area. So, I know how important water is, I know how important it is for the future, and I know how hard the Liberal and Nationals fight to make sure that this sort of infrastructure is here. I know how passionate Senator Ian Macdonald and his LNP colleagues are about developing the north, developing Queensland, indeed developing regional Australia, because these sorts of infrastructure projects—this one in particular—is so important for these regions, so important to create additional jobs.

And that's what our budget did just last week. It looks in every way, shape and form to adding on to the jobs that we've got in the country already. Last year, through the economic policy settings of the Liberal and Nationals Government, business—small and medium family enterprises in particular—created an 1100 jobs every single day, and that's vital.

But there was also tax relief in the Budget, there was also good projects, roads such as the Roads of Strategic Importance so important for Northern Australia, and that particular fund $3.5 billion going forward over the next 10 years, $1.5 billion of that is dedicated to Northern Australia.

So, this area will benefit from that Roads of Strategic Importance but more than that there is funding there for Northern Australia. Funding there for the Cairns and wider Atherton Tablelands area. This is important funding because it creates jobs and wealth and prosperity for the north and for Queensland.

I know how passionate Senator Ian Macdonald is about Queensland, along with his LNP colleagues, I encourage that. I'm absolutely delighted to be here today. I love infrastructure projects, particularly water infrastructure projects and this funding through the National Water Infrastructure Development Fund is an important investment by the Federal Government, by SunWater into this area. It can only be good for the area and create jobs and future generation of wealth.

Any questions?

Queston: How many people have access to this water?

Michael McCormack: That's probably a question for SunWater. Nicole—how many people have access to the water?

Nicole Hollows: So, it will be put on the market and it will be tradeable. So, it will be up to the customers on who they actually purchase those water allocations [indistinct]. And they'll come on the market as we finish the construction process.

Queston: Michael McCormack, how vital is this kind of infrastructure to particularly our region?

Michael McCormack: Well, it's absolutely vital. And the actual channel that you see behind me was developed in 1958. And so, it's time it had a bit of modernisation, it's time that we absolutely upgraded this system so that we can generate more wealth.

As I said before in my intro, $20 million per year of additional agricultural productivity is going to be made available because of this, 75 additional jobs, and let alone the indirect jobs that are going to be created.

This creates wealth and prosperity, and most importantly jobs for the local area. It also gives the future generation of irrigation farmers—whatever they're growing, vegetables, bananas, mangoes, sugarcane, no matter what they're growing, they're going to need water to do it—this provides them with that opportunity to do just that.

Queston: And is the Nullinga Dam still on the radar or [indistinct]?

Michael McCormack: Well look, yes certainly it is. And there are business cases that have been done, and that's an important project too.

You have to remember the Federal Government has a Minister for Northern Australia. We have dedicated a minister just for Northern Australia. Senator Matt Canavan is doing an outstanding job through NAIF—through the Northern Australian Infrastructure Fund—and all the other funds that we've got very much aimed at Northern Australia, very much aimed at making sure that we provide the infrastructure, the transport linkages, whether its road, whether its rail, no matter what it is we want to make sure that the product is able to get to port, able to get to market quicker.

We want to make sure that there's a future, there's markets, there's hope, and there's jobs for these areas. And Central Queensland, North Queensland is very, very important that when it comes to funding by the Federal Government.

Nicole Hollows: And if I can add that, the Queensland Government have contributed, and SunWater is conducting the business case for the Nullinga Dam. But we've finished the preliminary with the support of the funding.

Queston: Just on LNP preselections. So, Queensland now only has two female federal MPs after standing MP Jane Prentice was rolled for a young male. Is the LNP concerned or do you have an issue with the number of females that you have?

Michael McCormack: Well, I phoned Jane Prentice on Saturday and expressed the fact that I gave her every support that she had done a great job. And I went into the Parliament with Jane and she's a friend of mine, she's done an outstanding job, particularly as the Minister in the disability services area. Not an easy area, she's helping Australia's most vulnerable, she's been a great advocate not just for that area but in everything she's done, and certainly for the seat of Ryan. I appreciate that the pre-selection on Saturday was very much a democratic process, and those democratic processes were followed.

The Liberal and Nationals has always tried to promote and encourage women, young women, all women, to put their hand up and to run for Parliament. We will continue to do that; we will continue to provide pathways for women to get into Parliament, whether it's in Queensland or wherever it is.

And we certainly encourage women to put their hand part, take part in the branch process, take part in the parliamentary process. And Look, I'll say again, Jane's done an outstanding job and she will continue to do an outstanding job as the member for Ryan until the election.

But we also welcome Julian for the fact that he has won the pre-selection process and I wish him every bit of success and encouragement and he goes without trying to hold that seat for Ryan, hold that seat for those people who have elected him to do a job for and on behalf of the LNP and to make sure that we keep Bill Shorten out of government.

Because a Bill Shorten government would mean greater debt disaster. We saw what they did in six years when they had control of the Treasury benches. We saw when we took over in 2013 just what a disaster it was, the long line of unemployed. The fact that business didn't have confidence that it needed to invest in itself and to invest in people. That's what we stand for. We stand for business, we stand for jobs, we stand for Queensland and that's what we'll continue to do.

Queston: But does it concern you that we don't have many females?

Michael McCormack: I certainly encourage more women to become part of the process. I'd encourage more women to join up to the LNP and to take part in the process and put their hands up when these pre-selections, when these by-elections, when these election processes happen. We always need more women in the Parliament.

Julie Bishop does an outstanding job as the Liberal Deputy Leader, and I know what a great support she is for Malcolm Turnbull and a great inspiration she is for the Liberal Party.

My Deputy Leader Bridget McKenzie, a Senator from Victoria, does an absolutely outstanding job. Not just in her role as regional communications support and rural health, but also encouraging women to take part in what is a very democratic process.

We have got a very democratic process in the LNP. We're not like Labor who just parachute candidates in or just to make sure that we hand pick candidates and put them where, you know, the people of the regions or the people in a particular seat get no say. We give our voters, our grassroots representatives their say in who represents them and that's probably the fair way to do it.

Queston: And could this also represent the start of an election campaign?

Michael McCormack: Look every day's an election campaign day when you're Deputy Prime Minister, or indeed even a lower house member who might be on the backbench. Because we should be out there talking up, selling our message.

It's a good message to sell. It's a good message to tell. Our budget last week was a fantastic budget, we've been campaigning ever since we got in in 2013. I'll continue to do that because I know the product that we've got is far superior than the product Bill Shorten is offering.

I know that the product that we've got is going to give businesses the confidence that they need to be able to invest in themselves and their people and I know the policies that we've got are going to encourage more jobs, such as this water infrastructure project right here. It's a fantastic project and it's going to encourage people to invest in the region and invest in people and that's going to create more jobs and wealth for the local area.

That's the sort of message I'm out there selling and if that happens to be soon as an election campaign, well, so be it, but I don't think there'll be an election until next year.

Queston: Just on last week's budget, some of the local MPs, Bob Katter, saying that, you know, the Far North has got forgotten in this budget, what's your response to a comment like that?

Michael McCormack: Well, Bob Katter would say that because Bob Katter's outside the tent throwing rocks in it.

People like Ian Macdonald and Warren Entsch the Member for Leichhardt, they're in the tent, they're actually making the decisions for and on behalf of the people they serve and for and on behalf of the infrastructure that we need.

And we've just invested money into this project, millions of dollars, $11.6 million into this vital water infrastructure project. We're investing regional technology whether it's mobile phone towers, whether it's better roads, more rail, all those sorts of things and we're doing it despite the fact that when we took over government we faced a huge deficit and a huge debt. We're bringing the Budget back to balance. We're doing that systematically, we're living within our means but we're investing in the regions. That Roads of Strategic Importance, I can't stress how important that is. And as Senator Ian Macdonald just reminded me, tax cuts, tax relief for individuals and for business, that's the people we're backing and we're doing it each and every day in every single way.

Thank you very much.

Ian MacDonald: Can I just give you a comment about the Queensland LNP?

Jane Prentice is a friend of mine and she's done a wonderful job here. Can I just point out to you that just a couple of weeks ago the LNP in Queensland selected a woman to replace George Brandis in the Senate. I sit in the Senate and can I tell you in the Senate where I am more than half of the ministers in the Senate are female.

Michael McCormack: And Amanda Stoker's doing an outstanding job too. Absolutely outstanding job.