Transcript - Cairns Art Precinct Press Conference

11:09AM

BOB MANNING

The Minister for the announcement by the Government that there will be $10 million allocated for the Gallery Precinct in Cairns and the further development of that. This is a wonderful project in terms of the arts, but it’s also a wonderful project because what it does is build good relationships with our Indigenous brothers and sisters and helping them in their ability to get very involved in the arts. That is such a great area for the First Nations people because their art is sought all over the world. And we certainly want to help that become a major feature from this project. But again, thank you for the Government. This is not a shiny thing; this is something that’s very important to the future of Cairns. Thank you.

WARREN ENTSCH

Thanks, Bob. And I wanted to thank also both Michelle Landry, our Assistant Minister for Northern Australia and Assistant Minister for Children and Families and, of course, to my old mate here, the Deputy Prime Minister, who has got a well-worn track to Far North Queensland. And every time he comes up this way, I always seem to have my hand in his pocket and we do very well out of him, so thank you very much. He does love the area. But what we’re talking about here is something, a vision from the Mayor and the council. And this is about completing a project. I see this as one of the bookends of the cultural precinct. The first bookend, of course, is our new performing arts centre and, of course, the Munro Martin Park. And you start following that through, you’ve got a whole a lot of cultural and theatre work on the way right through it here down to the gallery of course and to here.

And when this is completed, this is really going to give us a precinct, if you like, that is unprecedented. And it’s something that we can be very, very, very, very proud of. And the fact that we’re looking at showcasing our Indigenous artists I think is something very, very special. And for it to work, of course, the council has already committed a significant amount of funds into bringing this from a rundown pub, if you like, what was a beautiful historical building that had become a rundown pub to bring it back to what we have now I think is quite amazing. But this is only the first step. And it was always designed to be the first step. The rest of the precinct will come in through this commitment. And $10 million that we’re looking at putting up here, of course, complements the money that’s going to be put in with the council and, of course, we’re looking forward to the State coming on board as well. It’s very, very exciting. So thank you very much, indeed, Michael, for being here. As the Deputy Prime Minister, I have to say to say you that you never, ever disappoint us when you’re up and I really appreciate that. And I’m going to hand it over to you.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, thank you, Warren Entsch. When the global pandemic came to Australia the planes were grounded, the tourists stopped and places like Cairns, a tourism mecca, a destination point for so many for so long ground to a halt. We looked at what we could do to help cities such as this. Warren Entsch just mentioned the city. It’s more than just the city; it’s the entire region. It’s Far North Queensland. We wanted to get tourists back and when they went back to those areas, we wanted to give them something to do. And of course, when you do come to Cairns there’s plenty to see and do.

But on days like today when sometimes the poolside is not the place to be, where do those tourists go? When the international travel resumes, you want to give them a reason not just to visit but to stay. And when they return from whence, they came to tell others to visit Cairns, to visit the tropical far north of Queensland. When you have a culture and art gallery precinct such as what we’ve got here and we’re now going to expand upon, we’re now going to enhance, it’s only going to attract more visitors. It’s going to help through the post-COVID situation with building. It’s going to help with that construction process. Somewhere in the order of 40 jobs, perhaps even more, but certainly post-COVID when we get travel back to where it needs to be, it’s going to see an uplift of around 177 jobs. And they were the early, they were the preliminary figures. What we’re going to see from this investment – and it is an investment – is going to multiply those figures for jobs and for tourism dollars many, many times over.

It’s great to be here with Mayor Bob Manning. It was his vision. It was Warren Entsch’s application and determination to make it happen and it was the Assistant Minister for Northern Australia Michelle Landry’s can-do attitude that has seen this $10 million going to Cairns, going to this regional art precinct, going to making Cairns be a better place to be, an even greater tourist destination. And I’m really proud that this economic recovery partnership is happening right here in Cairns and elsewhere right across the nation.

Because if there’s one thing that we’ve done right through COVID, is we’ve identified the health outcomes first and foremost, it was important to do that, but also to keep the economy to be its best self, to keep those jobs flowing, to keep that hospitality industry going. It’s been difficult because, of course, most of the planes have been on the ground. But as we get these planes back in the air through the half-price tickets – 472,000 tickets have already been snapped up of the 800,000 that were put on offer. I was in a lift with a woman from Tasmania yesterday who’d brought her family up. She said, “I normally wouldn’t come to a place as far north as Cairns. But you know what, I took advantage of the half-price ticket and I’m glad I did. I’m going to go back to Hobart and tell everybody else what a great place Cairns is.”

Now that’s the sort of attitude that we want to hear. We want Australians to holiday at home. They can’t, of course, go to many other places although, pleasingly, today JQ 102 is landing in about 10 minutes in New Zealand, that first of the trans-Tasman bubble planes taking Australian visitors, taking Australian tourists to New Zealand. And of course, we’ve got New Zealanders coming here and that’s fantastic. That is fantastic. We will open up more travel bubbles as the vaccine rolls out, as other countries are safe to do so, acting on the best possible medical advice.

This $10 million – it is a great investment – wouldn’t have happened without Warren Entsch. Wouldn’t have happened without the Member for Leichardt campaigning for it, fighting for it, identifying what was Bob Manning’s dream, what was his vision and what is now going to be a reality.

JOURNALIST

When are we expecting that some of those additional travel bubbles will be opened up and where to?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, we’ve had preliminary talks with Singapore. Our two transport ministries have already had those discussions. When the health experts say it’s safe to do so, when they say that the proper processes and protocols are in place, we’ll do it. And so baby steps for now. We’ll open up one – we’ve got one with New Zealand. We’ll open up one with hopefully Singapore, maybe Japan, maybe South Korea, maybe some of the Pacific islands will be next. Who knows? But we’ll do it when it’s safe to do so and the best possible medical advice is as such.

JOURNALIST

Bob’s been calling for this funding for quite some time now. Why now? Why make this investment now?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, why not now? We’re doing it. We’re getting on with the job. I’ve been here, as Warren Entsch said, a number of times. And every time I’ve come, I’ve brought the cheque book. We’ve got $110 billion of infrastructure that I’m rolling out right across the nation. When I became the Infrastructure Minister it was $50 billion. That $110 billion, a third of which is going to the regions, is supporting, is promoting, is encouraging, is creating and establishing 100,000 jobs, 100,000 workers, on-site doing things like Local Roads and Community Infrastructure, building important precincts such as this, building the roads of the future, getting that congestion sorted, making sure that we’ve got the right rail in the right places.

And just this morning I had a really good discussion with the Chamber of Commerce, with council, indeed, councils from throughout the far north, to discuss water infrastructure. So, we’re getting on with the job of doing the sorts of things that we need to do post-COVID to build our way out of this global pandemic and to make sure that we have those jobs on the ground.

WARREN ENTSCH

Can I just say on that, too – you asked about timing – okay, we’ve been dealing with the pandemic. We’re now looking at what happens. As you rightfully said, Deputy PM, today’s our first flights into New Zealand. So, we can start to see visitors coming back. We would hope that that will continue to grow. We need to be able to have this new infrastructure up and operational by the time we are fully opened again. And so, the timing is quite important. Now’s the time to start looking at post-COVID, about experiences when people come here. So, you know, looking now up until now, it’s always how do we deal with COVID. Now we’re looking at what we’re going to do afterwards and how we can offer new experiences. And so, the timing is perfect.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Perfect. It never used to be when I played cricket but [indistinct].

JOURNALIST

There are reports that the Government doesn’t want to fund the [indistinct] for their entertainment precinct.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

From where?

JOURNALIST

Toowoomba.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Their precinct as far as?

JOURNALIST

Their entertainment precinct, the $40 million needed for their entertainment precinct.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Right, is this the Wagner’s one?

WARREN ENTSCH

That’s it.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Yeah, sure. And look, I appreciate the State Government has made various comments about that. I mean, the State Government can come and put its weight behind the Acland Mine and create 500 jobs just like that if they really wanted to. And we’ll look at those sorts of things. This was a particular economic recovery partnership with regions most hard hit by the fact that they don’t have international tourists as they normally would at this point in time. So, Cairns was identified as one of those regions and so that’s why they are getting $10 million as part of this program, as part of this special program, to help those areas hardest hit by COVID.

Now I appreciate that the State Government in Queensland, you know, have supported what has been discussed at Toowoomba. But I also encourage them and urge them to go and have a look at the Acland Mine. We support the Acland Mine. The Queensland Government does not. So, we’re out there, we’re writing the cheques right across the nation as far as these sorts of projects are concerned. And we’ll continue to do that. And I’ll continue to have a look at the Toowoomba situation. I appreciate, I’ve had a briefing on it. It’s a good project. But it comes with a very, very big cheque required as well. And at the end of the day, we’re not a limitless amount of money. We’ve supported the economy all the way through.

I’m pleased that last week the unemployment rate was down to 5.6 per cent. Now, who would have thought at this time last year that our unemployment, our jobless figures, would be so encouraging? There were economists who suggested it would be above 10 per cent. We’ve got it down to 5.6 per cent. We’re working to make sure that now that JobKeeper’s off we get more people into the regions to take up those tens of thousands of job that are actually out here and waiting to be filled.

I had a very good discussion with Kieran O’Connor last night. He runs a very good restaurant here. He’s crying out for workers. He and a lot of other restauranteurs here in Cairns are only open five days because they can’t open seven days; they just don’t have the number of people to be able to wait on tables, to be able to cook the food, the fine food that people have come to know and expect that is available in Cairns. So, it’s not just in the hospitality sector; it’s in health, it’s in law, it’s in accountancy, it’s in all those sorts of industries and sectors that regional Australia needs workers.

Now I know there are many people who live in metropolitan Australia who are looking for that tree change, want to come to a place like Cairns. Fantastic liveability, fantastic lifestyle. Come to Cairns, won’t be disappointed.

JOURNALIST

Have you personally discussed this –

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Only one at a time. I’m going to take you and then I’m going to take ABC.

JOURNALIST

Have you personally discussed the decision not to fund the Wellcamp Entertainment Precinct with the Wagners?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

With who?

JOURNALIST

With the Wagners?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

No, I have not, but we haven’t said that we’re not funding it; we’re just not funding it right at this point in time. We’ve got a Budget that we’re preparing at the moment. But, you know, there’s tens of millions, hundreds of millions of dollars going out the door as far as infrastructure is concerned. We’ll get the right infrastructure in the right places. I’m happy to have those continuing discussions with the Wagners. I know them very well. They’ve built Wellcamp. We’re making sure with the Inland Rail that it’s part and parcel of Toowoomba’s future. And I know the Wagner family are very happy with that. But we can’t do everything right at the – you know, when everybody wants it right there and then. But we’ll continue to have those discussions. It’s a good initiative. I get that. I understand that it’s going to create jobs. It also comes with a very big price tag.

JOURNALIST

There is some concern that there’ll be job losses, however, if the Commonwealth doesn’t come through with the money –

MICHAEL McCORMACK

There’s not going to be job losses. I don’t know how there’d be job losses. It’s just that that component of it won’t have that job creation aspect of it. But, as I said, right across the nation we’ve got $110 billion of infrastructure supporting 100,000 jobs. I’d defy anybody to look at the Government and say we’re not responsible for job creation. As I just said, 5.6 per cent unemployment. I mean, there’s plenty of OECD countries who would love to have a jobless figure at around 5.6 per cent. Of course, we’d like it to be a little lower than that and we’ll work towards that.

JOURNALIST

What’s the current status with the royal commission into veteran suicides?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, the current position is that we’ve got a national commissioner. We’ve supported that process, as has the RSL clubs around Australia, as has many veterans. But we don’t want to see anybody, veteran or otherwise, taking their own life. This is an absolute tragedy and we will always work with our veteran community, work with the RSLs, bring about the right outcomes. I’m pleased that the Defence Minister, Peter Dutton, has said today that he’ll support those honours that were awarded in the conflict in the Middle East, in the conflict in Afghanistan being maintained for those special services that went to do the job for and on behalf of Australians, to do the job that they were asked. I’m pleased that late last week when Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that we were withdrawing those troops from Afghanistan that for 20 years those men and women have done what they were asked to do for and on behalf of the nation. Forty-one of them did not come home, and we thank them for their service and their sacrifice.

We don’t do it just on Anzac Day, we don’t just do it on Remembrance Day, we should do it every day. I come from a city which is known as the home of the soldier, Wagga Wagga, where many if not just about all of those men and women – mostly young men and women – were trained at Kapooka at the Army Recruitment Training Centre. So, I’m very mindful of the services and sacrifice that they did for our nation. And anything that we can do to support them when they come home and in their post-military careers we will do. And we will do it appropriately and we’ll do it certainly with all their due respect in mind and dignity.

JOURNALIST

And just going back to Toowoomba, what do you say about the residents who are concerned about the Inland Rail [indistinct]?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, we continue to work with those residents. We continue to work through the community consultation process. The ARTC continues to work with those communities. When you build a 1,700-kilometre corridor of commerce that we are building with the Inland Rail, it is going to impact on some people’s properties. So, we’ll work with those impacted people. We’ll get the right alignment; the right route and we’ll make sure – and as we have through the Darling Downs – we’ve done an independent study. We’ve had independent analysts do it and they’ve come back to us and said that the original route was the right way to go. So, we’ll continue to work with them. And I know the State Minister, Mark Bailey, and I work very collaboratively and cooperatively to ensure that the Inland Rail is going to be the success that it needs to be. It’s got probably the most construction jobs and dollar-wise benefits for Queensland right up and down the line. So, the most benefits are coming to Queensland. I appreciate this is a large engineering and construction exercise. I appreciate, yes, that some people will be impacted and affected, and we’ll continue to work with those communities and with those individuals.

JOURNALIST

The Local Member says there are other projects in the Cairns area that deserve funding, such as community parks. What’s your response to that?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

And I’m happy to continue to work with Bob Manning and with the local member, Warren Entsch, with the Assistant Minister for Northern Australia, Michelle Landry, and indeed, with the Minister for Northern Australia, Keith Pitt, identifying those and working with the community to build them.

WARREN ENTSCH

I would like to make a comment. I mean, this is a local member that’s all about spruiking and no substance.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

I thought you meant this local member. I thought you meant this local member.

WARREN ENTSCH

No, no. We’re talking about the state member. And I looked out the window a moment ago when you guys were asking the questions and I thought, “We’re still in Cairns. We’re not in Toowoomba.” And, you know, we’ve just announced effectively $20 million here. There’s a $10 million gap missing, and that’s from the state government, and they’ve already committed saying they were going to do this. So, let’s bring that forward. You know, what happens in Toowoomba really is up to the local members of Toowoomba and how they deal with that and their effectiveness in being able to support these projects. We don’t defect back to Toowoomba when we’ve got such a great announcement here that’s going to see something that we’ve been working on for a long time right through COVID. This was one of the top three projects that we committed to do. One of the top three. And it’s great to see that it’s actually being delivered.

And this was supported by all levels of Government, I might add, not just by council, not just by the Feds, but also by the State. And for them to try and deflect this and the State Government arguing about Toowoomba is really, quite frankly, a crock. We’re talking about Cairns and what is the benefits for Cairns. I’m just surprised that those questions are being asked when we’re doing this. And as far as community hubs are concerned, the last time I looked at that, all of these things were funded by the State Government. We’re talking about domestic violence money here, too.

The Federal Government recently added Queensland another $20 million for domestic violence. They’ve committed or spent $8 million. They’ve committed another $8 million. There’s still $9 million sitting in State Treasury that they have not committed and yet we’ve had to fight like hell to find additional money for Ruth’s Shelter and others. It’s about time instead of the Member for Cairns – and this is what you’re referring to – sitting here throwing at projects that he absolutely unconditionally supported, he should be talking to his own people in Brisbane and saying, “What about the money that’s sitting there that’s been invested by the Federal Government that you guys have the capacity to deliver?” And so, let’s not deflect from that. Community hubs, those sort of funding, is a State Government responsibility. Now in this case council has stepped up, the Federal Government has stepped up. It’s about bloody time that the State Government put their hand in their pocket instead of pointing the finger at others and stepped up and fulfilled their own obligations and responsibilities.

JOURNALIST

Will getting any further construction started here be contingent on that State funding coming through?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

You’d have to ask Bob Manning that, the mayor.

BOB MANNING

We progressed this job as we’ve had the money. We will now move with the Federal money, once we get that. And the next stage of our work will be to knock down the old building behind the Mulgrave Shire Council chambers and move on to the [indistinct] Mulgrave Shire Council chambers as we’ve done with this building and restore it to its former glory.

JOURNALIST

As Michael mentioned. This has been your passion project for quite some time. How exciting is it to be finally at this stage?

BOB MANNING

I’m probably the most likely lover of the arts and the least knowledgeable. But I just think that if something’s good, then you do it. And you make your decision and you push on. And we will make this happen. No one’s going to – no one can stop that. It just depends where the money comes from. And we so appreciate that $10 million announcement because that builds up everybody. It makes everybody in the town feel better. And particularly this helps us a lot in developing the great art that comes out of Cape York and the Indigenous communities. That’s one of the big goals for the future. Thank you.

JOURNALIST

Deputy PM, I do just have one quick one, Rockhampton, just on the back of Kristina Keneally’s visit to the Tamil family –

MICHAEL McCORMACK

The back of Kristina Keneally’s visit, she’s found her way to Rockhampton? Wonders never cease.

JOURNALIST

To the Tamil family on Christmas Island. Considering the National Party claims to represent regional Australians, what is your party currently doing to ensure the voices of Biloela residents concerned about their situation are heard?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, look, we’ve got – we’re a very compassionate Government. When we came into power, we’d had more than 50,000 people arrive on our shores who – by boats many of them. Some of them were drowned at sea trying to get here on those leaky, risky boats, on those terrible voyages. And what we also had was a Labor Federal Government which had put more beds into detention centres than they’d put into state hospitals, than they’d put into hospitals per se around the country. Well, we’ve fixed all that and we’ve been very compassionate. We’ve stopped the boats. We’ve put the money that needed to be put into the right measures, the right health provisions, the right health outcomes. It’s been a difficult process to fix up the mess that Labor left when it came to detention and immigration. And we’ve fixed it up and we did it responsibly, we did it compassionately, and we’ve done that all the way through.

And I appreciate Kristina Keneally runs around trying to take pot shots at us all the time about every single issue. She makes comments about regional funding that she knows absolutely nothing about. She makes comments and tries to have photo ops about other issues. We just want to get on and make sure that we do the right thing for and on behalf of Australians no matter what the case is. I’ll leave the photo ops and the, you know, criticisms to Kristina. We’re just trying to get on and build a better country in a proactive and positive way.

JOURNALIST

Do you hope that there is a resolution for that family soon, then?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, you should direct that question to the Immigration Minister, to the Home Affairs Minister. That’s their responsibility. But I say again, I’m concentrating on building up our regions. I’m concentrating on building up our country, not tearing it down with criticisms and taking pot shots all the time like Senator Keneally wants to do.

WARREN ENTSCH

We’ve got to go now.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Thank you very much.

ENDS 11:28AM

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