Transcript - 2VM radio interview

CAMERON SCOTT-BOHANNA

Good afternoon. You're with Cameron. This is the Rural Hour here on 2VM this afternoon thanks to Grainland Moree and two special guests that were here in the studio a couple of months ago before we signed off for the Christmas holidays. We have got the honourable Mark Coulton, Member for Parkes and also Acting Prime Minister – he got a bit of a promotion – Michael McCormack. How are you going, Michael?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

A bit of a promotion, Cameron. The Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, is taking a few well-earned days off.

CAMERON SCOTT-BOHANNA

Yes.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

He, like so many other Australians, of course, have worked long and hard last year battling through the COVID situation right across the country and he's taking a few well-earned rest days.

CAMERON SCOTT-BOHANNA

Ah, OK. That's good. Is there any word on when this vaccine is going to come to Australia or –

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Absolutely. We'll be rolling it out through February.

CAMERON SCOTT-BOHANNA

Oh, OK.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

So – yes. No, I spoke to Greg Hunt, the Minister for Health, this morning and I know he and Mark Coulton, who's responsible for regional health, they've been working very hard to make sure that the vaccine is here and is going to be available. You know, final details are yet to be worked out –

CAMERON SCOTT-BOHANNA

Yes.

MICHAEL McCormack

But, certainly, we've got that vaccine. We've got access to millions of doses and we'll be rolling it out.

CAMERON SCOTT-BOHANNA

Oh, cool.

MICHAEL McCormack

And I urge and encourage every Australian, of course, to take that offer up. It'll be free, freely available.

CAMERON SCOTT-BOHANNA

Oh, OK.

MICHAEL McCORMACK  

To all Australians, freely available. And we're also looking after the Pacific as well. So all our island friends, we'll be rolling the vaccine, because that's what good neighbours do.

CAMERON SCOTT-BOHANNA

And speaking of good neighbours, do you think the state premiers across the country will be playing fair and opening up their borders again after the vaccine comes out, or?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, they're doing what they think is necessary for the jurisdictions, the states and territories that they run and so they're largely responsible for the public health in that regard.

CAMERON SCOTT-BOHANNA

Yes.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

And so, whilst I know there is a lot of angst in regional communities – I'm a regional Australian, I live in Wagga Wagga and I know Mark too, we're proud of the fact that we do live in regional areas. And I know regional areas have been largely, and perhaps even unfairly, impacted by decisions made in Macquarie Street and Spring Street, Victoria – Melbourne, and Brisbane, etc.

CAMERON SCOTT-BOHANNA

Yes.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

And there haven't been many, if any, cases of COVID out in these regions. Certainly not in Narrabri or Moree, or places from where I come from, indeed the Riverina. But I thank those regional Australians for largely complying with what has been asked of them by chief medical officers, indeed by premiers, by Premier Berejiklian, because it's by doing that and by exercising social distancing, and wearing a mask when asked to do so, when you know, doing the QR code whenever they go into a cafe or restaurant, or wherever they might be going. And indeed, by staying away from those metropolitan areas, it's kept our areas largely COVID-free.

CAMERON SCOTT-BOHANNA

Yes. Especially up here in Moree. And Michael, you're both here – Mark, sorry, you're both here for a very different reason, a positive one. There's an upgrade for the Narrabri to Turrawan lane for the Inland Rail project and tell us a bit about that.

MARK COULTON

Yes, this announcement is actually – there's a lot of interest not only in Narrabri but right through to your listening area, Cameron – it's upgrading the capacity of the 30-odd kilometres from the Narrabri underground mine back to Narrabri to connect to the Inland Rail. So that the grain trains that can come from the north-west, including Moree and beyond, can have that larger capacity going into Newcastle. So the Inland Rail predominantly is Melbourne to Brisbane but it's important that it becomes part of a larger network and that's why we've funded that. And while the Acting Prime Minister is in the area, we're actually catching up with Gwydir Shire after lunch and we'll be announcing $8.2 million as part of a $10.2 million project to upgrade and seal the County Boundary Road.

CAMERON SCOTT-BOHANNA

OK.

MARK COULTON  

So many of your listeners out around Croppa Creek will be well aware that this is a project that is going to have great benefits to that region.

CAMERON SCOTT-BOHANNA

Yes.

MARK COULTON

And following on from the announcement before Christmas to do the I B Bore Road, that's going to not only help with connection back to the Newell Highway but also, ultimately, connection to the Inland Rail so that those producers can get their produce with the heavier mass vehicles, the ability to get more efficient freight mechanisms is all part of this.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Cameron Scott-Bohanna, it's only 12 kilometres of unsealed road but, I tell you what, it makes such a difference when you're driving a B-double.

CAMERON SCOTT-BOHANNA

Oh, yeah!

MICHAEL McCORMACK

It makes such a difference when you're trying to get to point A to point B with your school kids, or whatever, to get them to school. You know, the time-saving, the productivity saving, you know, addressing that freight task that is not only local but it is also national makes the world of difference.

And just before Christmas I was at my aunt’s funeral and actually this bloke came over and he's, "Eh! You're just the bloke I want to see." And I'm, "Oh, here we go." You get this all the time and, "Here goes the next 40 minutes of my life! This bloke's going to rip me a new one!" But he wanted to thank me for the road that we sealed. That he said, "My great-grandfather came out here and started farming", and the point being is that we'd sealed his road and it just – it made the world of difference to him and his family life.

CAMERON SCOTT-BOHANNA

Exactly. I've been driving around the region over the weekend. Lots of grain still in storage at the moment. You think this Inland Rail project will help farmers get their grain to market quicker?

MARK COULTON

So what it'll mean is that they'll have access to different markets. Ultimately, they'll be able to rail freight grain to the Port of Brisbane.

CAMERON SCOTT-BOHANNA

Yes.

MARK COULTON

But also Newcastle or wherever else. And with the heavy axle weights for the rail carriages and the ability to have longer trains, that will be considerable savings. You know, in – probably, you know, in some cases, depending on what the product is, it can be up to $30 to $40 a tonne saving. You know, this is going to see the resurgence of rail in – in New South Wales or right across the country I guess. And so, that's exactly why we're backing this project. So that those farmers that have grain stacked all over the paddocks at the moment under canvas that we can see can get that to their markets as cheaply as possible.

CAMERON SCOTT-BOHANNA

And are you out and about in the region talking to people over the next couple of days or are you –

MARK COULTON

Well, the other reason we're here is we're catching up with Mayor Katrina Humphries and the council as well because anyone in Moree would know that the Moree Intermodal setup that has been proposed, the Special Activation Precinct and we're just making sure that we're talking through some of the issues about the connectivity, some of the projects that the council might want the Federal Government to help them with, to make sure that we've got – you know, we're not missing anything and we're being the most efficient we can in the planning. So that we've got the road connected to the rail.

CAMERON SCOTT-BOHANNA

Yes.

MARK COULTON

And I know that Moree Plains Council has got, sort of, broader plans for the future with sort of freight bypasses, into that – into that Special Activation Precinct. And so, even though we don't have a sort of specific announcement today in Moree with regards to that SAP but it is important that we have a conversation with the council so that we don't miss anything. We do this as best as we can.

CAMERON SCOTT-BOHANNA

Exactly right. And timeframe wise, do you reckon it'll be completed this time this year, our specific section of the project, or is it going to be a couple of years?

MARK COULTON

Look, it'll be a couple of years here.

CAMERON SCOTT-BOHANNA

Yes.

MARK COULTON

Yes. So you will see next week, you will start to see machines digging up the track around [indistinct]. Heading back towards North Star.

CAMERON SCOTT-BOHANNA

Yes.

MARK COULTON

On 1 April the line will shut between Moree and Penneys Lane receivable depot at – near Bellata. It'll be shut until October with the idea of – there'll be a lot of pressure under the construction crew to get that part done. Then they'll open it up for the next harvest and construction will then go back up to north of Moree. But –

MICHAEL McCORMACK

And "a couple of years" means a couple of years of local jobs, a couple of years of local procurement. If you just take the, for example, the first section of Inland Rail, Narromine to Parkes – that's Parkes town not Parkes electorate.

CAMERON SCOTT-BOHANNA

Yes.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

But, indeed, it did come into Parkes electorate, but what that meant was for the 99 businesses which were successful in being able to procure into the process, $110 million of additional business. Now for many of those businesses, they doubled their staff. For many of those businesses, that work that they gained through that process will now continue with other projects that will be going on through the Newell Highway upgrades that we're doing and through various things. They've actually taken on work in the cities that the city contractors didn't think that country businesses were capable of doing. Through the Inland Rail process, they showed they were. But for many hundreds of people, it's a job opportunity that they may not and would not have otherwise have had.

MARK COULTON

So apart, Cameron, for people out on the track, you know, building the track, in the main street here in Moree there'll be dozens of people who will go to work, you know, in the middle of Moree every day. So that will flow through to the local businesses as well.

CAMERON SCOTT-BOHANNA

No worries. Well, it couldn't have come at a better time with the coronavirus putting the economic development, you know, throwing a bit of spanner in the works.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Front and centre, yes.

CAMERON SCOTT-BOHANNA

But hopefully we'll get through it all, and this project goes a long way into doing that. Thanks so much, gentlemen...

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Thanks for your interest.

CAMERON SCOTT-BOHANNA

Thanks for joining us today. All the best with your meetings and, yeah, look forward to seeing you next time.

MICHAEL McCORMACK  

Thanks, Cameron.

MARK COULTON

Thanks, Cameron. 

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