Press conference, Temora NSW

Michael McCormack: It's really exciting to be here at Temora. I appreciate that it is an unusual place, given the fact that we are on the crossroads of the Burley Griffin Way and Goldfields Way to make an announcement about the Newell Highway. But Temora is a beneficiary of the Newell Highway and the reason that I'm making this announcement today here in Temora is because I have asked a very near and dear friend of mine, Councillor Tony Lord from the Bland Shire, to be on a reference group for the corridor strategy looking into the Newell Highway. Tony Lord will be joined by the Moree Plains Mayor Katrina Humphries. These two people know fully well exactly how and why the Newell Highway Corridor Strategy is so important because their shires, Bland Shire and Moree Plains Shire, are integral in the success of the Newell Highway.

The Newell Highway is a 1,058 kilometre corridor of commerce. It is one of the busiest freight highways in Australia. It is the longest highway in New South Wales. We want to make sure, as the Liberal-Nationals Government in Canberra, that these roads, these important freight links, these important transport corridors are fully serviced, are fully maintained and have the spending that they need to have on them.

Bland Shire knows exactly why the Newell Highway is so important and keeping it open is so important because not that many years ago, a flood of the Lachlan River forced the closure of the Newell Highway for many, many weeks. That led to an economic downturn for West Wyalong and for Forbes. A separate hydrology study is going on to make sure that we identify where we need to spend the money. The Federal Government with Melinda Pavey the New South Wales Minister for Roads—we are working to make sure that we get the right funding; that we get the right strategy. We can only get the right strategy when we have reference groups such as this, when we have a corridor strategy which is going to look at all aspects of the Newell Highway. That is what this study is going to do.

It will be led by PwC. It's going to have Tony Lord and Katrina Humphries—two outstanding councillors—providing input from the top end to the bottom end of the Newell Highway, from Moree Plains right down to West Wyalong. This is going to be such an important corridor strategy. It's going to report back to the Federal Government and then we'll be taking their recommendations, the report's recommendations, the corridor strategy, and everything that we need to do—we'll be taking that on board as we address the future funding needs of the Newell Highway. I might ask Tony to make a few comments then I'm happy to answer any questions.

Tony Lord: I'm very, very pleased today to get the announcement from our Local Member and Deputy Prime Minister, Mr McCormack. The fact is that the highway, as most people will be aware, was actually blocked for 43 days in that [indistinct] in the floodway area between Forbes and West Wyalong. Not only that—it put extra burden on roads here, through Temora. It was like using the Burley Griffin Way as a bypass, having to go back up through Young. It increased the cost of road maintenance for all shires and all governments. With the Newell Highway being effectively the third busiest freight corridor in New South Wales, as Michael has mentioned, that it is a busy freight route. It's the third busiest freight route, it's also the third busiest touring route in New South Wales and the major inland route from Melbourne to Brisbane. I know the Inland Rail is going to take some of the burden off that, but a lot of that freight will be on a major freight route from Melbourne with a few ports along the way. The road network will, in actual fact, get more traffic and more work and it is most important that we develop the whole of the corridor from the Queensland border to the Victorian border to make this an ideal and very safe route for everybody to travel.

Question: Tell us about the effects of that 43-day closure had on businesses like the Cameo Inn. I know they struggled. It was pretty devastating for locals.

Tony Lord: It was very, very devastating for a lot of the locals. The Shell truck stop, for example, just out of West Wyalong actually finished up closing for four weeks. Effectively there was a massive loss of tourist dollars as well as freight dollars but also a major, major extra burden in maintenance costs because of the wet roads.

Question: Being a part of this group, what do you want to see happen? Is there anything you'll be pushing for or wanting to be discussed?

Tony Lord: I will be pushing to get effectively—not necessarily flood-proof—but effectively a road that can actually take all forms of traffic, even possibly in the future with slightly higher mass limit vehicles and with more overtaking lanes for the whole way through the corridor as well as basically making the road pretty well all-weather, so that in major flood events it is closed for only very, very short periods of time.

Question: Those higher mass level vehicles you're talking about—A-triples, I assume?

Tony Lord: Higher mass limit vehicles, when they're approved by the Department, would be approved when the road becomes safe and approved for that, and effectively, there will be standards that will be set by the Road and Traffic Authority.

Michael McCormack: Excellent. Well done, Tony.

Unidentified Speaker: Now, you probably don't—I'm pleased, Tony. Let me get a photograph.

Michael McCormack: We'll just get a quick photo if that's okay. So you might do it because Tony's got to get back to work. Some of us actually work for a living. (Laughter)

Question: So is it possible to prevent a future closure of the highway? What kind of infrastructure could be possible to try and keep these businesses going in the event of a flood?

Michael McCormack: As you just heard from Tony Lord, the highway was closed for 43 days. That's 43 days of lost trade, of lost tourism opportunities, of lost business for not only West Wyalong but also for Forbes; and that's why this corridor strategy is so important; that's why we're making sure that whatever we decide as far as the enhancements for the road, upgrades for the road, are concerned that they are properly identified and then properly funded.

Question: But when a flood comes through, I guess the flood is going to cover the road; it's going to close the road. Is there any infrastructure that can prevent that from happening?

Michael McCormack: If you raise a road too much then you provide almost a levee bank and you provide other problems, and so what we want to do is make sure that we get the right methods, the right advice and the right outcomes and that's why we're investing $2 million into this corridor strategy. That's why I've got people from the Department, I've got PWC leading the inquiry, leading the report, leading the corridor strategy and I've got two outstanding community members in Katrina Humphries and Tony Lord to help us get the right outcome.

Question: In this case it wasn't just the water that was covering the roads but the roads were damaged as a result of the flood, which I guess led to a lot of problems, is that right?

Michael McCormack: Yes, certainly. We need to make sure that the Newell gets its fair share of funding. As the Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Minister I understand, I fully appreciate and acknowledge just how important the Newell Highway is. Jeff Stien, the Economic Development Manager for Bland Shire Council, reminds me on a daily basis of just how important this corridor of commerce is. It's the longest highway in New South Wales. It's one of the busiest freight links in Australia, not just in the state but in Australia. So we need to make sure that we get the right funding and that's going to be identified from this corridor strategy. We're looking at the hydrology and we're looking at the engineering aspects at the moment as well—we're doing it in conjunction with this report but also separately. We've got people looking into it. And I say again, we're working co-operatively with the New South Wales Liberal-Nationals Government to make sure we get the right funding outcomes, to make sure that we get the right advice and that we act on that advice.

Question: [Indistinct] …team regarding the Royal Commission. The final report shows the number of personal stories about how many rural and farming families have been hurt by the poor behaviour of banks. What's your reaction to that?

Michael McCormack: I'm pleased that as part of the Royal Commission into banks that there is going to be a national farm mediation strategy. Farmers are no longer going to be subjected to the sorts of pressures that they were previously. I've sat through many of those mediation struggles, and they were struggles. I've sat with farmers around the Riverina with banks and with mediators to work through a proper process. It was difficult. Of course we all have to pay our debts, yes, but when you are distressed, when weather is turning against you and when everything is going against you and sometimes personal circumstances, which are also quite distressing, the last thing our farmers need, the last thing our small business people need, are banks being overbearing and making sure that they get what's due to them—yes, they have to, but the fact is in future there is going to be a far better mediation strategy. I'm very, very pleased that that's come out from the Royal Commission. I'm very pleased that in places where there are weather events, in places where there are natural disasters, that banks will no longer be charging the default interest on distressed agriculture loans. That's really important. That's a recommendation and I'm really pleased that is going to be picked up on immediately.

So this is going to lead to far better accountability. It's going to restore the trust in the banking sector. It's going to lead to better consumer outcomes while still enabling there to be credit. And it's going to lead to more competition. So they're important reforms, they're necessary reforms, and I'm pleased that the Government is adopting and taking action on those recommendations.

Question: A couple of these recommendations you've talked about, but the report suggests brokers go to a fee for service model. Will your Party be supporting that?

Michael McCormack: This is what the Royal Commission has determined. Yes, we are looking at what we can do. We don't want to shut businesses down. Whilst I appreciate that mortgage brokers have been identified by the Royal Commission, their practices have been, they might argue, singled out. The fact is that Commissioner Hayne was fairly scathing on some of what mortgage brokers have been doing in the past. He wanted it stopped. We're looking at how we can do it in a phased-in way, acknowledging that many of these mortgage brokers are running small businesses, many thousands of them across the nation. They do provide a service. The fact is Commissioner Hayne has made it quite clear that he wants some of those practices to change and some of those practices to stop. Of course we're looking at what we can do to help consumers but also acknowledging that many of these people are also small businesses.

Question: With the Brexit deal hanging in the balance, what's the Government going to do to ensure local farmers get the best trade deals moving forward?

Michael McCormack: Local farmers can always be guaranteed that they're going to get the best trade deals under a Liberal-Nationals Government. That's why we brokered free trade agreements. That's why we're working very hard. My colleague, the Assistant Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment Mark Coulton, is constantly working hard to broker even better deals for Riverina farmers, for Central West farmers. The level of exports to the United Kingdom is $13 billion. We want to enhance that. We want to build on that. And that's what Mark Coulton and Simon Birmingham, the Trade Minister, are doing each and every waking moment of their day. They're looking at what we can further do. As far as the UK is concerned, of that trade that we provide to the UK, $409 million is actually wine exports. And of course, they grow no better wine anywhere in the world than they do in the Riverina. I want to make sure that there are going to be good outcomes as far as Brexit is concerned and the UK leaving the European Union as a trading partner, as part of that arrangement. I want to make sure that our Riverina farmers, our Riverina wine growers, get the very best deal. So this could well open up opportunities for Riverina farmers, for our wheat, for our beef, for our wine and everything else that we grow. We grow the very best food here in the Riverina. Our farmers do it proudly. They do it very, very well and if there are opportunities there in the UK and indeed in the wider European Union then we'll be able to take advantage of that.

Question: I'd like to touch on what you said about wine growers. Yellow Tail featured in the Super Bowl ad, they paid a nice $6 million to put Riverina on the map. What's your thoughts on that?

Michael McCormack: Well, they're tremendous people. John Casella and the team are doing an outstanding job to put Riverina on the map. I commend them for what they do. Yellow Tail is a great drop. It's acknowledged all over the world. And, you know, if you can be part of one of the biggest television events in history, then well done to them. Putting Riverina on the map—I mean it already was on the map—but it's now even more well-known and more recognised thanks to that Super Bowl ad.

Question: Thank you.

Michael McCormack: Great. No worries at all.