Transcript - Coffs Harbour Press Conference

9:53AM

DENISE KNIGHT

Good morning. Firstly, I would like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land, the Gumbaynggirr people, their elders both past and present and any emerging elders before me. And I would also like to acknowledge Pat Conaghan and also the Deputy Prime Minister, Michael McCormack.

So, this is a great thing that we are having to go through at the moment. In fact, it is – if you look at the netball courts they are in a very, very bad way and we’ve been waiting for a long time to be able to get some funding. So I want to say a really big thank you to the Federal Government for stepping in and getting this grant approved. It is absolutely fantastic, so the money will go towards new lighting, drainage and new asphalt. So council has contributed $350,000 to this amazing project. So, I just want to hand over to Pat Conaghan to fill us in with a few more details.

PAT CONAGHAN

Thanks very much, Mayor. Well, welcome, everybody and welcome Deputy Prime Minister and also to Liz King from the netball association. Well, this is fantastic. This is $1.8 million to re-do these nine courts. There’s nearly 700 people playing in this very one competition. So, this $1.8 million through the Local Roads and Community Infrastructure is very, very well received by the community. And we had lots of consultation, lots of lobbying by the netball association and it’s perfect. It’s going to be perfectly timed – it will be done before Christmas for the new competition. And this is what the Local Roads and Community Infrastructure project is all about – it’s about getting things done, shovel-ready projects done, in our local communities. Nine new courts. They’re going to be done perfectly. Better drainage so we don’t have all this damage that you see here today. And it means jobs. It means jobs in our economy, money going back into our economy and it’s going to attract other competitions to our local area. That means money into our economy, money into our restaurants, our cafes. So, it’s good all around. So, I would like to thank the Federal Government for this money – $1.8 million. And I should say the $350,000 from local council. It’s a partnership and that’s what we do. Local government, Federal Government, state governments working together to make sure that these things happen in our community. So on that note, I will hand over to the Deputy Prime Minister just to say a few words, Michael.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Thanks, Pat and I welcome Denise Knight, of course, as well, the Mayor of Coffs Harbour. I welcome Liz King, who is the President of the Coffs Harbour Netball Association, the competition of which is playing at the moment and has more than 680 players. Each and every one of those players wants good facilities to play at, wants a good court to play on. And when you’re a kid and you’re playing with your friends or you’re aspiring to play netball for Australia, it doesn’t matter what level you’re playing, you want good amenities. You want a good and even playing surface on which to play. You want to be your best self. And netball is such an aspiring sport. It is such a great sport and it’s such a sport that is getting growing numbers. I know Liz wants to have the best facilities available for the Coffs Harbours netballers that her association organises and her association wants to have the next Caitlin Bassett, wants to have the next Australian netball representative. But even if they’re not going to aspire to play for Australia and they just want to play with their friends, they want to have good facilities and that’s why the Commonwealth Government has put towards Coffs Harbour Council, we’ve put $1.452 million towards this. The Coffs Harbour City Council have put $350,000 and, as Pat Conaghan says, this is governments working together at a local and Commonwealth level to bring about results, to bring about jobs and that’s what the Local Roads and Community Infrastructure program is all about, right across Australia.

Now Coffs Harbour benefited to the tune of $4.3 million and they are putting down roads, they’re putting down facilities such as this. They’re getting on and they’re building lots of projects and getting work done and getting jobs on the ground. And that’s what the Local Roads and Community Infrastructure does as we build back out of COVID. And right across the country 537 councils have put to us hundreds upon hundreds of projects just like this one and they’re getting them built. They’re getting them approved. They’re getting local tenders, local contractors.

This particular project, well, we hope to have it finished by December for that summer competition, for those warmer months when netballers will be look for the next competition to have the very best facilities. And why shouldn’t Coffs Harbour have facilities equal to anywhere in Australia? And that’s what we’re going to have with these nine courts. These surfaces, which have been, by the looks of things, repaired over and over and over again, well, they’re going to have proper drainage, they’re going to have the best facilities here in Coffs Harbour. And I commend this program. I commend Pat Conaghan for the hard work that he has put in to making sure that this particular program, this particular project, has got the funding. And I commend Denise Knight and the Coffs Harbour City Council for putting this project and others forward so that they can get jobs on the ground as we build back out of COVID.

LIZ KING

On behalf of the Coffs Harbour Netball Association we are truly grateful for what’s happening within our community and the support we have received from our local and Federal Members. And we are truly honoured to have been recognised and to receive what will hopefully improve our grounds and our playing surfaces and for all our members within our community. Thank you so very much.

JOURNALIST

Just on the project, who will be basically project managing it? Will it be the Council or will it be the netball?

DENISE KNIGHT

Council, is my understanding.

JOURNALIST

Is there a deadline for this funding?

DENISE KNIGHT

Before Christmas is my understanding. I think the 31st of December.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

But weather permitting, we’re happy to work with the Council. That’s what the program is all about. It’s actually about getting jobs on the ground. So, look, we’ll work with Council. We understand that sometimes weather plays its part. We understand that sometimes there are contractual obligations and difficulties with those sorts of things. But, look, we’ll work with Council to make sure that the delivery of this project is what it needs to be. Because this is a good project. This is a great program. Right throughout Australia, 537 councils, Coffs Harbour City Council is but one of those 537. And I know that we’ve got a budget coming next week and I know there’s going to be some very good announcements as far as us working in partnership with state and local governments to get things done. We want to build out of COVID. We want to make sure that we get jobs on the ground. There are 66,000 jobs in regional Australia as identified by the Regional Australia Institute – right now – and we’ve been at the health hub this morning, the Southern Cross University. We’ve seen that there are jobs available through what they’re doing, through the courses that they’re running. So many of those young people who are going through that are looking for work in the local area.

There’s so many people escaping from Sydney. I was in Melbourne at the weekend and I know how many people in Melbourne want a better lifestyle. They want that lifestyle – that more relaxed lifestyle – where they’re not looking at the brake lights in front of them going to and from work. I travelled over the course of an hour and a half just three suburbs on Saturday. And I tell you what, coming from regional Australia, that’s not the sort of lifestyle I want. I want to be able to move freely about my town. And you can do that, whether you’re in Coffs Harbour, whether you’re in Tamworth, whether you’re in Wagga Wagga, Albury – and I’ve only mentioned regional capitals in New South Wales. But there are so many regional opportunities and regional jobs right now. We’re investing in them. We’re investing in not just our regional capitals but we’re investing in regional communities right across Australia, and next week’s budget we’re going to do even more.

JOURNALIST

Just on that point, like you say, there’s plenty of opportunities here in regional New South Wales, but the infrastructure isn’t here. There’s no secret that a lot of regional Australia is hurting with difficulties in securing rentals and buying property. Are you able to say if there’ll be any support to help local councils and state government provide the infrastructure in regional communities to enable their populations to grow sustainably?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, we are growing our populations sustainably through infrastructure. We’re spending $110 billion on infrastructure right now. That’s supporting 100,000 workers. And more than a third of that infrastructure spend is going to regional communities. And I make sure of that. As the Nationals leader, as somebody who lives in the regions, I’m making sure that the regions not only get their share, not only get their fair share but more than their fair share, because I want people to come to the regions. I understand, Pat Conaghan, the Member for Cowper, fully understands the benefits of regional living. And I know Denise Knight is promoting Coffs Harbour as a place to come and live and grow and have a family and to have all those opportunities for young people that we grew up in. We want to make sure that regional communities have the right infrastructure.

I know Michael Sukkar, the Housing Minister, is working very hard to make sure that we, of course, through state governments, whose remit is mainly the housing component of the question you just asked, but to make sure that we do have rental properties available, to make sure that there is that assistance for those people who are seeking to move. And I appreciate that through COVID, market property prices have risen. And, you know, for investors and for people who own homes that is a good thing. For those who are trying to get into the market, well, at least I say you’re not paying as I did under those Hawke-Keating years, 21 per cent or higher interest rates. So at least they’re paying a low interest rate. The ideal of owning your own home, of course, is still very strong. And for those people who are looking to get into the market, regional Australia is the place to be.

JOURNALIST

Just one more question regarding the highway, are you happy with the progress that’s being made with the bypass along Coffs? We’re experiencing a lot of congestion that seems to be worsening just with the population growth we’re experiencing here. Are you happy with the progress?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

I am happy with the progress. There wouldn’t be a week go by I don’t talk to Paul Toole who, of course, is the New South Wales Minister responsible for regional roads. We speak every week, whether it’s about the Coffs Harbour Bypass, whether it’s about a project that he was talking about and articulating overnight to get that crossing, that tunnel, through the Great Dividing Range for the central west. And I understand that we want to open up inland New South Wales, coastal New South Wales. The opportunities in regional New South Wales are completely unlimited at the moment. There are so many opportunities, so many jobs going there. And the lifestyle is like no other. So I talk to Paul Toole all the time. We want to get this Coffs Harbour Bypass of course, up and work started and, of course, completed because it’s actually saving lives. It’s saving a hell of a lot of time for those people travelling from Hexham to the Queensland border. What we’ve done already, thanks to the Nationals in Government, has been quite remarkable, but there’s still work to do and we’ll get on and do it.

JOURNALIST

Just on India, what do you say to the 9,000 Australians stuck in that country who can’t to come home?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, I say to them: please be patient. And it is very difficult at the moment because, of course, they do want to come home. And we’ve had a process all the way through where we’ve had people coming from all destinations, not just India, but Europe, the Americas, from right throughout the world coming home. When the Prime Minister first said on March 13 last year – urged and encouraged Australians to come home. Of course, they had to go through a quarantining arrangement, of two-week quarantining. We’ve been the envy of the world when it comes to our COVID response and keeping the case rates low, keeping the death rate as low as we could. Of course, 910 people have lost their lives and that is a tragedy for their families. We will continue to work with the Indian Government. We’ll continue to work through agencies such as the Red Cross to make sure that we can provide what assistance we can to India as it, you know, has this challenge, has this enormous medical challenge. And with 400,000 cases or so each and every day, 400,000 new cases each and every day, this is a human tragedy of unimaginable scale. And we’re working very closely with the Indian Government. We say to those Australians, we’ve paused the Indians returning to Australia, flights into India. We will review it on May 15. That’s what I think the Australian public would expect. That’s the responsible thing to do, and that’s what we’ve done.

JOURNALIST

Do you feel uncomfortable about the India decision? I mean, Australian citizens are threatened with possible five years’ jail for trying to come home. Are you uncomfortable with that?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

The decision we’ve made has been practical, it’s been responsible. It’s the correct decision. Look, I know Labor will come out and Anthony Albanese will come out. It wouldn’t matter what we did – they’ll criticise us. But we’ve had to make that call. We’ve made it. We’ve paused the flights coming in from India until May 15. We will review it on that day and like what we’ve done the whole way through, we’ve taken the best possible medical advice. We’ve taken that advice from Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly. We’ve taken that advice from former CMO Brendan Murphy who is now the Secretary of the Health Department. We’ll continue to follow that advice. We’ll continue to do that. That’s what we’ve done the whole way through and that’s why we’ve kept Australia largely COVID free. That’s why we keep the case rates low and I have to say that with those case rates, you know, when we’re getting just numbers in single digits or just a little bit above and they’re the ones coming through quarantining and we’re dealing with those as they come through, we’re keeping Australia COVID free as best we can because we’ve followed the best possible medical advice. That’s why we haven’t, like other countries in the world, had hundreds if not thousands of deaths, not just each week but each day. And that’s why we’ve kept our COVID response following the best possible medical advice and we’ll continue to do that.

JOURNALIST

And will the government wait for further advice before making a decision over the lease of the Port of Darwin, or do you want the lease to [inaudible]?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, what we’ve done and what the Prime Minister has said we’ll do is we’ll follow that advice given to us by the Department of Defence. That’s the responsible thing to do. So if the Department of Defence comes back with a report that says something, well, we’ll follow that advice. We’ll go through the normal procedures, through national security, through the Cabinet process. That’s what we do all the time as a responsible Government. And we’ll make the right decision in the national interest.

JOURNALIST

Just regarding local funding again, February 2020 we were standing in Azalea Street and Combine Street to announce funding for a roundabout there. That work has been delayed. We were told by the general manager of the Council it would be complete by May this year. Fires in 2019, floods in 2020 have been cited as the delay. It will now begin in July. That funding, will it still be there even though it’s past the financial year?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Yes. Yes, the cheque is still right and the money is still good and if we say we’re going to do something, that’s what Liberals and Nationals do. We say and we commit to something then we do it. And I understand that there are all manner of reasons as to why things get delayed. COVID hasn’t helped anything. Of course, we’ve had, as you quite correctly point out, bushfires, we’ve had flooding. This has been a very difficult and challenging time. But when we commit to something, particularly when we commit to something, to build something through a local government, we get on and we do it. And we will. And that’s why we’ll do those sorts of things. Whether it’s a roundabout right up to the Coffs Harbour Bypass, happy to work with local governments, happy to work with state jurisdictions. I have a very good relationship with Denise Knight, very good relationship with Paul Toole. So whether it’s a roundabout in suburban Coffs Harbour or whether it’s the Coffs Harbour Bypass, my money’s good. We’ll commit to it. Pat Conaghan, he’s always fighting for better infrastructure for Coffs Harbour. He wears the carpet out into my office. He makes sure that I know exactly what Cowper needs, what Cowper wants, what Cowper expects and what Cowper deserves.

JOURNALIST

The highway is progressing. How’s the bypass going?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Look, it is progressing and I work with Paul Toole very closely. He’s the Minister responsible for regional roads. And this is massive project, of course. It’s a multimillion dollar project. And we want to make sure that it’s right. We’ve gone out to community consultation. We’ve got the right feedback. We now want to get on and we need to build this highway. It is going to save lives. It is going to also save the inconvenience, of course, of people whose time is important. We want to make sure we’ve got the best possible highway from Hexham to the Queensland border. And that’s what we’re achieving.

JOURNALIST

Just on the way work in the morning and just peak times are becoming pretty full on –

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Look, I understand that. I get that people get very frustrated with congestion and that’s why we are doing the bypass. That’s why we’ve gone out to community consultation. That’s why we’ve taken people’s feedback. And, yes, I appreciate that during the construction and during the lead-up to all of that there is going to be inconvenience, there is going to be frustration. I ask people for their patience because what we’re ultimately going to get is a world-class road, a world-class bypass and I think that’s what everybody wants. That’s what everybody deserves.

JOURNALIST

It’s pretty impossible to avoid it, isn’t it, when you look at the roundabout at Bunnings and stuff, that is just going to have to be totally reconstructed, but it is a major –

MICHAEL McCORMACK

That’s why we’re getting on and we’re doing it. That’s why we’re getting on and doing it and that’s what the community here at Coffs Harbour deserves and that’s what we’re doing. And that’s what Nationals in government do. That’s what Pat Conaghan has fought for and that’s what we’re deliver delivering. Thank you.

ENDS 10:12AM

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