Press Conference - Warrnambool, Victoria

Dan Tehan: I'd like to welcome you all here this morning; in particular I'd like to welcome my very good friend, the Deputy Prime Minister of Australia Michael McCormack. Michael and I joined the Federal Parliament in 2010. We've been very good friends ever since. The way Michael and I operate: It's the nation and the people first, and then we work together across the National Party and the Liberal Party to in particular deliver for regional and rural Australia. The reason that I've been very good friends with Michael is because we both understand how important regional and rural Australia is to the rest of the nation. As a matter of fact I have a very strong view—and I know it's one that's shared by Michael—that when regional and rural Australia is performing well, our nation is performing well.

That's why it's great news to be here today to make two very important announcements—one for the region and then one here, very locally, for Warrnambool. The first one is that the Australian Government will be designating key roads in the south west as Roads of Strategic Importance: The Princes Highway west of Colac to the South Australian border; the Henty Highway; the Portland Nelson Road and the Portland Casterton Road will now become Roads of Strategic Importance. And as Stage One of upgrading these roads, the Commonwealth Government will be committing $80 million to upgrading these roads. We will be calling on the State Government to, at a minimum, invest 20% more to match the Commonwealth funding. Ideally we would love them to match it, and if they match it that's a $160 million immediate investment into these key roads in south west Victoria. If they put 20% in as a minimum, that's $100 million.

So we're asking the State Government to work with us on this: first stage Commonwealth Government $80 million on the table to fix these roads, and we've heard from local government and from the transport users how important it is that we fix them. $80 million for the key roads in south west Victoria.

The second announcement we're making is here for Lake Pertobe—what I think is the best playground in regional Australia. My kids love coming to Warrnambool because they can come down to Lake Pertobe and play. The older ones look back very fondly at being on the flying fox or going on the boats or just playing on the playground. But we must make sure, as with everything, that we continue to invest and upgrade facilities. So the Commonwealth, through the Building Better Regions Fund, is announcing $1.45 million today to upgrade Lake Pertobe. And I know families across the Warrnambool region will be incredibly happy with this announcement, because I don't know a family that hasn't brought their kids to play here at Lake Pertobe.

So Deputy Prime Minister, you've come with great news for our residents in the south west; you've come with great news showing that you're focused on the issues that are really important to the people of the south west. It's great that you've been able to join us today.

Michael McCormack: Thank you very much, Dan. As Dan Tehan knows, as every Member of the Liberal and Nationals' Federal Government knows, all politics is local. And when it comes to ensuring we get people home sooner and safer, when it comes to making sure that we get goods to port or to their destination in a more efficient and productive manner, then we need good roads; we need better roads, and we need more funding for those roads. And that's why Dan Tehan—even though he's the Education Minister and even though he's on the front bench and making sure that the decisions at a national level are met, and making sure that he's playing a part in the running of this country—he also understands the importance of dealing with local communities' wants, needs and expectations.

That's why he campaigned hard to ensure that this $80 million, under the Roads of Strategic Importance funding arrangements, was delivered, and has been delivered and is being delivered today for the south west, for his region, for the seat of Wannon.

This is so important. It's going to ensure road safety. It's going to ensure better freight corridors. It will enhance productivity. This is going to make such a difference for the south west. It's going to make such a difference for this area which punches well above its weight when it comes to agriculture, when it comes to output. And we want to make sure that the economic story that this region has will grow even more. We want to make sure that it an even greater economic story, because when—as Dan has just said—when the regions are strong, so too is the State; and when the regions are strong, so too is our nation.

We want to make sure that our regions grow in agriculture, in output and in efficiency, and make sure that people get home sooner and safer.

And at Lake Pertobe, it's a wonderful announcement. The Building Better Regions Fund is a fund that ensures there is so much community capacity enhancement right across this great nation and right across this State, and ensures they are being met with the sort of funding that local councils need and that local people want. We want to make sure that we get—whether it's parklands, whether it's infrastructure, whatever the case might be—those needs are being met by this fund.

This area has now done well out of the Building Better Regions Fund. That will continue under a Liberal and Nationals' Government. We will ensure that regional areas are getting the sort of focus that they need, getting the sort of outcomes that people want and expect—and most importantly, deserve, because regional people deserve the very best of facilities.

So that's why it's delightful to be here with Dan Tehan today. As he said, he's a great mate of mine. We work very well together, and we'll continue to work strongly for and on behalf of the people of Wannon and people who live in regional Australia.

Question: Just to clarify, with the funding, the $80 million—will this be coming out of the current Budget or the next financial year?

Michael McCormack: The Roads of Strategic Importance is a three and a half billion dollar fund which we are rolling out at the moment as part of a record $75 billion infrastructure fund right across the nation. So that money is being spent as part of the $3.5 billion, and we're rolling out even more infrastructure right across this nation. We are investing particularly in the regions. Whether it's the Roads of Strategic Importance, whether it's Beef Roads, whether it's Black Spot, whether it's Roads to Recovery, we're helping the States and we're helping, most importantly, local government areas—local councils with the sort of road projects that they need.

But it's not just roads—it's ports, it's aviation and maritime: We're making sure that we get the investments right in these regions, building inland ports, building better roads, building railways, building airports, building maritime ports. It's so important we get the infrastructure mix right. We're doing it. Roads of Strategic Importance is being very warmly met, right across the nation. We're open for applications; we're getting flooded with applications. $3.5 billion is going to go a long way to help improve regional connectivity.

Question: But these roads in particular, the Henty Highway and the Princes Highway—when can we expect to see work on them, realistically?

Michael McCormack: We're going to work with the States. We're going to make sure that those road projects get delivered very very soon. We want to see witches hats and excavators happening very soon. We want to work with States and Territories, we want to work with local councils, making sure that we get the right connectivity. Dan Tehan has campaigned long and hard to make sure that the Princes Highway and other connecting roads are being met with the right sort of federal funding. He has and we do call on the State Government to put in their share as well. But we want to get these roads built. We want to make sure that people get home sooner and safer—that's what it's all about.

Question: That $80 million—is that riding on State Government putting in their funding and matching it?

Michael McCormack: No it's good. It's money that is good from the Federal Government. We want to put that down on the table—but we call on the State Government to also pitch in. It's up to them as well to ensure that they too, like us, build the roads that matter—build that roads that make such a difference in regional Victoria.

Question: How much do you think you need to see from the State to make it happen?

Michael McCormack: It is going to happen. We've put $80 million on the table. It is going to happen. Work will begin.

Question: This is happening now, it's not an election promise? This is money on the table right now?

Michael McCormack: It's happening now. When you go out and about just prior to an election—and there's probably going to be an election federally in May—yes, people point the finger and say: Oh well, it's an election promise, but no we're doing this all the time. I am out and about in the regions. Dan, too, in his Education portfolio—we just don't stop, or more importantly we don't just start because there's an election. We are working all the time, making sure that people are listened to, making sure that the actions are being met and making sure that outcomes are being realised right across the nation, because we want better schools, we want better roads. Dan and I are doing that all the time, not just because we have an election coming up. That's why in last year's Budget $75 billion was committed. There was in fact an extra $24.5 billion added to that from the previous year. So we're rolling out infrastructure all the time. And if it's important to Dan and it's important to the people of Wannon then it's important to me and the Federal Government.

Question: A separate matter.

Michael McCormack: Sure.

Question: What needs to be done about Fraser Anning?

Michael McCormack: We all would have seen the horrendous video on the weekend of the Senator being egged. No-one, no politician should be egged or should in any way be interfered with while they're doing a press conference or while they are going about their daily political lives. We saw that awful action taken against Tony Abbott in Tasmania. Those sorts of things just shouldn't happen. But when the Senator turned around and initial reaction was to strike out at the individual, when he saw that the young fellow was in fact just a kid, and to go and hit him again was just beyond the pale. So as the Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said, he should face the full force of the law. The whole incident needs to be looked at. The young fellow should not have done what he did. And also, the laying on him by that almost brutish behaviour, to pin him down and keep him down, was just un-Australian. We don't want to see that sort of thing in Australia.

So the egging should not have happened in the first place. The striking out, particularly the second one, should not have happened, and then to pin the young fellow down for a sustained period of time whilst people got around and got their phones out and started videoing—where are we going to as a nation? I mean honestly—we've got freedom of speech and that's important, people want to make comments, but this sort of commentary by Fraser Anning is beyond the pale. He needs to apologise. And the fact is he got into Parliament on 19 votes by a quirk of the system where somebody was deemed ineligible and he luckily got the spot. But he only got 19 votes; even his family didn't vote for him; to get only 19 votes would mean that your own family didn't vote for you. And he should get even less if he's able to stand up and run next time.

Question: Over in Gippsland as well, have you read a proposal that's come from Darren Chester in regards to the Mitchell River irrigators, and will you look to push this through the funding of the National Water Infrastructure Development Fund?

Michael McCormack: Moreover I've actually spoke to the Member for Gippsland, Darren Chester, about this particular project. It is an on-farm proposal and as such the National Water Infrastructure Development Fund is looking more at major pipelines, in heightening lengthening and strengthening weirs right up to building dams—and we're doing that through a number of projects at the moment. But this is an on-farm piece of infrastructure. I appreciate that $10 million is being sought. It's about 20 kilometres west of Bairnsdale. Of the $10 million being sought, local stakeholders have put half of that down on the table. So look, it's a proposal. We'll look at it. If it stacks up we'll seriously look at it because we want to make sure that this nation is even more drought-proofed for the future. We want to make sure that we do all we can for water storage, for flood mitigation, for helping economic output, and that certainly includes agriculture. So Darren Chester has put the proposal in. I've spoken to him about it. I'll be looking at it very seriously and see what we can do.

Question: Have you got a timeline in terms of when you're looking at that? Would you be considering that for this upcoming election or next Budget?

Michael McCormack: As I say, I will be looking at it very seriously in the next few weeks. Darren has sent me the submission. I like the fact that local stakeholders are backing themselves. I like the fact that they've put serious money on the table and are asking us to do the same. This is also about State Governments doing what they can too. It shouldn't be always just up to the Commonwealth to support these projects. If they stack up, all three tiers of Government should seriously look at them. But I particularly like the fact that local stakeholders are backing themselves, investing in their future and making sure that they are prepared for the drought now and the drought in the future. As I say, it's on-farm infrastructure but if it stacks up I'll certainly look at it.

Thank you very much.