Transcript - Cowra Doorstop

10:20AM

KATE ALBERRY

Good morning everybody and welcome to Cowra. My name is Kate Aubrey. I’m the Director of Environmental Services and the project manager for this great CBD Redevelopment Project. And I’m your MC for today. So I’ll start the proceedings by inviting Mayor, Councillor Bill West, to speak.

BILL WEST

Thank you. Thank you, Kate. And may I commence by just acknowledging the traditional custodians of the land on which we gather, the Wiradjuri people, and I pay my respects to their Elders, both past, present and emerging.

And it’s a great pleasure to be here this morning and to welcome you all, in particular, of course, our Deputy Prime Minister and Member for Riverina, the Honourable Michael McCormack. It’s great to have you in our part of the world, Michael. So welcome.

I also acknowledge my councillor colleagues – Councillor Judi Smith, Councillor Ray Walsh, Councillor Michael Nobes and Councillor Ruth Fagan as well as general manager and our senior staff. I’d also acknowledge Don Bevan who’s the principal contractor for this particular job, and also Sylvia White, who’s representing the Cowra Business Chamber. And they had a significant involvement in this particular project.

The particular project was first approved in 2016 by council with the aim of creating a more pedestrian-friendly and a more inviting CBD as well as encouraging the growth of the very important central business district which I think we all realise needs a lot of support and it’s something that this council is very keen to encourage and work with. And, of course, the design followed on from the redevelopment of the Railway Lane and the street itself and centre median strip back in 2014. Because the CBD today is really something that enhances the Cowra retail experience, which is what we were trying to achieve. But in doing that we’ve also improved the disability access by 22 more shops available or retail outlets available for disability access, which I think is so very, very important.

I would acknowledge the Deputy Prime Minister and say that we are very appreciative of you not only being here but the fact that the Building Better Regions Fund was able to provide roughly around a million dollars to help bring this project to fruition. Of course, council matched that with about $1.7 million and we were also able to use some of the Roads to Recovery funding. And on the program of funding, I would acknowledge the communities drought money which was also provided to Cowra. We’ve got two components of that, and whilst they weren’t aimed at farmers – they were aimed at the community – I think we acknowledge the Federal Government’s initiative in terms of making sure that that money was about communities, which is very much about what the CBD is about. It’s working with our community here to have our community grow. And I think that’s something that is to be acknowledged, and again, I’d ask you to pass that back on to your colleagues, and maybe there’s some more money coming along in the process.

I would also acknowledge Don Bevan and the Principal Contractor for the work that you and your team have done. It’s been a difficult project in some respects, but I congratulate you, and I also note that whilst you’re not based in Cowra, you are regional, which means you are local. And I think part of the Federal Government money and part of council‘s attitude is if we can’t promote somebody in our own patch to promote someone who is regional. So I think it’s great to see a regional company being able to undertake these works. So, Don, well done.

To all those who’ve been involved, I would have to acknowledge that what we have I think is a really wonderful outcome, particularly this entrance into Squire Park but also the street furniture which, of course, is set off by the bluestone pavers, which is about 4,000 square metres. And it came up in B-double loads out of Victoria. And to have them I think almost [indistinct] because of the ability of them to withstand the pressures of time will be something which takes us into the future in a really positive way. But the capacity is there of course, to change the streetscape in terms of planting of trees and furniture and maybe one day the trucks might not be rumbling up and down the main street as well, which is something I think this council is quite keen to see happen.

So, ladies and gentlemen, it is a great project, and I’m delighted that we are here this morning and I’m delighted that the Deputy Prime Minister is here and we’re able to say to the Government, thank you for that support as well. Without it, we would have struggled to get this particular project done.

Finally I would recognise, if I may, one other person – that is the Director of Environmental Services, Kate Alberry, who took on the job of being project manager. There may have been some challenges, as there always are with these particular projects, particularly when you start digging up old footpaths. I wouldn’t use the word seamless, but it has been a project which has been incredibly well managed. And what we have now – particularly with you and Don – is something that this town is very proud of. So I acknowledge your contribution. So thank you very much.

KATE ALBERRY

Thank you so much, Bill. I’d like to take this opportunity to welcome the Federal Member for Riverina, Deputy Prime Minister, Michael McCormack, to say a few words.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, thank you very much Kate. I very much appreciate the warm welcome and appreciate the fact that you’ve all come out today for this auspicious opening. And I appreciate the kind words, too, of Mayor Bill West. It’s a fine council, Cowra. It really is. And I represent 12 local government areas. Cowra is right up there with the very best. And when you’ve got a council that is proactive, that knows what it needs and wants and expects and is willing to be prepared to put the work in behind it, to get community engagement and involvement, then you’ve got a good council which understands community and which gets things done.

I acknowledge the other councillors, too. Acknowledge Kate Alberry who has been the project manager for this very special CBD upgrade. As you heard Mayor Bill West say, about a million dollars towards around about a $3.5 million project, which is going to beautify the CBD precinct of Cowra, of Kendal Street, and you’ll see it at its best with late-night shopping this Thursday. And I say that because I urge and encourage people in the community and visitors – we certainly need those visitors – to come to town to spend their money. Because if regional communities need one thing this pre-Christmas retail period, it is local shopping. It is people being able to shop locally, buy locally, invest locally because the money stays locally.

And that’s what these CBD upgrades are all about. Appreciate the fact that there was regional procurement with this upgrade. And that’s really important. When we spend money through the Building Better Regions Fund we like to see local government areas investing locally, using local businesses because that’s what it’s all about. It’s getting money circulating through the local communities. And these local communities have been hard hit. They’ve had the drought. Many of them have had bushfires. Some of them had had floods and, of course, we’ve all had COVID-19. And whilst there hadn’t been too many actual cases of COVID-19, if at all any, in some of these regional communities, they’ve still faced the restrictions that have been brought upon them by capital city areas. They’ve still had to do all the things to keep their communities clean and free as best they can of COVID-19.

And regional people have been magnificent. And I say to them – thank you for doing what you’ve done to keep your areas relatively COVID-free. We’ve had a very good record as far as the nation is concerned with anywhere else in the world you’d like to look at, but it’s because particularly regional people have done what was asked of them by the health experts, have done what asked of them by governments and largely they’ve kept themselves COVID free. And they’ve been able to have the sorts of events that other capital city areas have not been able to have. Yes, it’s been difficult because we haven’t had the Christmas spectacular, we haven’t had a lot of the sport, we haven’t had a lot of the big family functions and private dos that we would normally have in any given year. But we’re getting through it. Once we get that vaccine we’ll certainly be a long way towards conquering COVID and that will be a great thing.

But the Building Better Regions Fund invests in local communities. And I’m very proud to be in a Government that has invested more than a billion dollars in projects such as the Kendal Street upgrade, because it means such a difference. When you’re an oldie walking down a smooth path, not a bumpy footpath, even when you’re a young person, it makes a bit of a difference too. But to beautify these areas, these CBDs and Cowra follows on from [indistinct] parks at Forbes and Parkes. We’re doing Cootamundra at the moment. The main street of Gundagai looks magnificent. And not only is it good for local people, it gives them that sense of belonging. It gives them that sense of real community spirit uplift. But it also attracts visitors to town. And that’s what we want to see.

We want to see people coming to Cowra and then going home and telling their friends and telling their family, “You’ve got to visit Cowra. The main street look superb. Go and shop there. Go and visit there.” There’s lots to see and do. And in 2021 we do hope that people return to Cowra to, well, go to the Japanese gardens. I know New Zealand is going to be part of the Festival of International Understanding. And given today the fact that we’ve just announced the Trans-Tasman bubble, we’ve had New Zealanders – in fact, we’ve had 8,858 of them – come since October 12. Well, now we’re going to be able to fly there from the first quarter of next year. That is the first of the international air routes that have been restored since COVID-19. So that’s a real positive step certainly for our nation.

As I say, our nation which has responded magnificently to COVID-19 but communities such as Cowra have also responded magnificently. I’m really pleased that we’re here today because this is a very, very special announcement and a very special project and I know it’s going to mean such a difference to the community of Cowra into the future. Thank you very much.

KATE ALBERRY

Thank you so much, Deputy Prime Minister, and thank you for those kind words and thank you to Mayor Bill West for those kind words. I now invite the Mayor, Deputy Prime Minister, councillors, Don Bevan, Active Energy and [indistinct] Sporting Arenas Sylvia White to join me to cut the official red ribbon across the footpath. Thank you.

PRESS CONFERENCE

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, I’m delighted to be with the Cowra Mayor, Bill West, here at this official opening of the Kendal Street upgrade. The Federal Government invested $829,000 towards this $3.5 million project under the Building Better Regions Fund, a fund which has provided more than a billion dollars towards projects such as this. These projects make such a difference to regional communities. They provide local procurement, they provide local jobs, and they uplift local spirits. And I’m delighted to see how good this project is with new pavement and new works, beautifying what already was a great central business district. But it’s going to invite shoppers to come and shop and shop often and shop local and that’s what it’s all about. We want people, particularly this Christmas, to buy local, shop local and think local every time. Because by doing that they’ll be supporting the local small businesses in their community.

Business confidence is up, despite COVID-19. We look like we’re going to be having a good retail Christmas shopping period but we want to make sure that we ensure that by encouraging people to shop local. And Cowra is a great place to shop. It’s a great place to visit. I’m really delighted that the international understanding festival next year is going to be highlighting New Zealand. Of course, we’ve just opened that Trans-Tasman bubble with New Zealand, an announcement today that Australians will be able to travel to New Zealand. There’s lots going on. There’s lots going on, and I say again – I urge and encourage people to visit Cowra. Great community and a great main street, Kendal Street, upgraded and beautified, and I know it’s going to make such a difference to all the local shoppers.

JOURNALIST

[Indistinct] hit by drought and this year [indistinct] harvesting [indistinct] money this year, but I know the previous year people haven’t had that extra money to spend. Do you think this year we’re going to see a bit more, I guess, possible activity for retailers and more shoppers out and about?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

You’re totally right. I see an upsurge in confidence because of the good harvest. And the headers are still working hard in the crops even at night. I drove home from [indistinct] Valley last night and the headers were still going furiously. It’s been a bumper harvest. And goodness knows that farmers have needed it after years of drought.

We’ve spent an extraordinary amount of money on drought provisions. Cowra council, we’ve seen two lots of the $1 million fund. They also received a top-up to their Roads to Recovery funding. They’re all going to benefit from the Local Roads and Community Infrastructure Fund which gives the 537 councils across the nation about a million dollars or so to put into projects that are going to improve the amenity, improve their local communities. And that’s so important.

I know there is an upsurge in confidence around the communities. And when the farmers have got good crops, well they tend to come into town and they tend to spend their money locally. And that’s a great thing. So it is good – there is a good feeling in the air. Yes, of course, COVID has been so challenging. It’s had such an impact on all our lives but with the vaccine until sight there is a bit of possible activity towards 2021. Let’s see the back end of 2020. Let’s get through all that and let’s look forward to an even better year next year – a much better year next year. Goodness knows we need it.

JOURNALIST

Have you had any complaints from exporters about the Australian-China relationship?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

It’s going to affect Riverina and Central West farmers, it’s going to affect businesses. It’s something that we’re working through in a very patient, pragmatic way, as you’d expect a Federal Government would do. These are difficult times for our trading relations. These are very, very difficult for those exporters which are in some cases totally reliant on the Chinese markets. But we’re also making sure that we diversify our trading interests.

When we came into government 27 per cent of Australia’s trade was under free trade arrangements. It’s now 70 per cent. But you even look in these regional areas – one in five jobs across the nation is reliant on trade. In regional areas it’s one in four. So we need to make sure that we do diversify our trading interests. We’ll work through the diplomatic things that we need to do with China in a patient way, in a pragmatic way. But it is difficult, there’s no question. And we’re doing everything we can to sort the situation out.

JOURNALIST

But have you had complaints from exporters about how your Government’s dealing with the situation?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Absolutely not. The exporters know that we’re doing everything that we need to in a pragmatic and patient way. Yes, they’re concerned. They’re worried. These sorts of things have happened to us before and have happened to other countries before. Trade has always been something that, you know, it’s a constant struggle to make sure that everything is done according to where we need to be on a bilateral way. But the fact is we’ve organised the Trans-Pacific Partnership 11, a $13.3 trillion opportunity for our exports, for our farmers, for our small businesses, for the resources sector. We’ve got free trade arrangements. We’ve brokered those with China, with Korea with, indeed, Japan and just more recently Indonesia. So we’re working through those processes. There’s good prospects with the UK, having them come out of the European Union through Brexit. So we’re working through all those issues. We’re a trading nation – always have been, always will be.

JOURNALIST

Previous comments by China [indistinct] coal is a massive industry. Where’s the light at the end of the tunnel if they’re going to be targeted now?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, it’s not just coal, it’s iron ore, it’s the whole resources sector. It’s our sheep meat, it’s beef meat, it’s our West Australian lobsters. There’s a whole lot of industries which rely on those – on that money coming from China and it’s, you know, a premium market. We want to make sure that we do everything we can to continue that market as the entire trading with China is still spending a lot of time obviously organising trade through China and they’re still taking a lot of product from Australia, not just product but services as well. We’ve got a $149.7 billion trade with China and they’re big numbers. Yes, at the moment it’s hit some of those sectors and some of those businesses in particular hard, but we’ll work through that in a responsible way, as you’d expect.

JOURNALIST

A draft of the Government’s electric vehicle strategy has been leaked. Do you think it does enough to encourage people to switch over to electric vehicles?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, at the moment we’ve got perfectly good petrol cars that many people choose to drive. And as technology changes and more charging stations are put in place and people look to that sort of thing, well, yes, I’m sure that we’ll go down that path. But at the moment most people are choosing either unleaded or diesel cars to drive around in. They can get from point A to B without having to stop and charge for a few hours. I know and I appreciate that there are many charging stations that are bobbing up around the countryside and that is good. But we’ll work through this in a responsible way, as you’d imagine. We’ve got the Office of Future Transport Technology, we invested heavily into that operation. We are looking at what we will need to do. Because at the end of the day, too, petrol excise pays for road upgrades. And we’ve just invested $2 billion in road safety upgrades, not to mention the one and a half billion dollars for Local Roads and Community Infrastructure. If everybody was driving around in an electronic vehicle, an autonomous vehicle, you know, we have to find a way to supplement that money that is currently going into road upgrades and road safety options.

JOURNALIST

Why won’t the coalition provide direct financial help to drivers to switch over?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, at the moment the numbers of electronic vehicles are minimal, so minimal that we actually haven’t – we’re concentrating our efforts on making sure that we’ve got the right road safety options. We’re concentrating our efforts on supporting emerging technologies to support those stations where people are able to stop, charge their batteries. But at the moment the technology is in its embryonic stage. Yes, we are addressing issues through the Office of Future Technologies, we are doing all those sorts of thing, as you’d imagine, but we’re also concentrating more on getting the nation through COVID-19. That has probably occupied more of the Government’s time than you’d expect electronic vehicles have this year. And that’s probably the right emphasis for the Government to have placed during 2020.

JOURNALIST

A government-led inquiry yesterday recommended agriculture-specific visas to help farmers. Will you push for this in cabinet?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, we’ve done a lot in the space of making sure that we’ve got the right labour force. It’s been very, very difficult for us this year because, of course, we haven’t had the influx of backpackers helping to do all that seasonal work that they’ve always been relied upon to do. And we’re tens of thousands short of labour force. It’s been difficult. Thankfully, we’ve got most of the cherry crop off and that harvest has gone ahead. January is going to be a difficult time because we just don’t have the backpackers that we would normally have. And yes, we’ve extended their visas, we’ve done everything we can. We’ve made it even possible to gain permanent residency with less time in regional areas. So we’ve provided those options as well. We’ve been very responsible in that regard. But I say again – it will be difficult. We’ve asked farmers to register their interests with the Farm Hub website to say when they’ll need workers, how many workers they’ll need and certainly we want to make sure that we can connect workers to farming opportunities.

But it’s not just farming; it’s in many other sectors as well. You go along these main streets you’ll see a lot of “For hire” signs in businesses in regional Australia. The Regional Australia Institute has identified 54,000 jobs in regional Australia right now. So I say to people, if you don’t have a job and you do want to work, there are plenty of good, well-paying jobs in regional communities. And these regional communities are large enough in which to get a good cup of coffee, small enough to care. And that’s the big difference between a regional community and some far-flung [indistinct] community where unemployment is high and the options are in some cases very low for job prospects.

JOURNALIST

So perfect conditions for an ag visa then.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, we’ve always worked through that. And it’s not just an ag visa. But we are certainly making sure that we connect farming opportunities and labour opportunities with the actual people who need to do them. So we’re always working through that. There’s more than just – we’re working through the National Farmers Federation, too. Now they’re very happy with what we’ve done so far to connect workers with farm jobs. But it’s not easy in a situation where you just don’t have the number of people because of COVID-19 who haven’t been able to come to our country as they normally would and pick fruit and do all the sorts of things that they would normally do, have a holiday then spend all the money on their way out of here and everybody’s happy – win-win. But we just haven’t had that situation this year because of COVID and the restriction to international travel.

JOURNALIST

Deputy Prime Minister, what’s the feeling in the town at the moment? I guess quite a low morale after [indistinct] year with COVID. What’s the feeling in the town after this year?

BILL WEST

[indistinct]

JOURNALIST

Do you think because we’ve had such a good year with harvest and rain people are willing, I guess, to open up their wallets a bit more this year and spend a bit more at Christmas?

BILL WEST

I think some of the cheque books of the farm executives have been loosened quite a bit. And I think some of the Government stimulus packages throughout COVID-19, coupled with the confidence that’s now been generated in the economy, I think people will looking to have a good Christmas and be, I think, generous, but I think everybody’s still very, very cautious – appropriately so – but still getting out and having a good time and enjoying this festive season, which is about [indistinct] mankind and having a good time [indistinct].

JOURNALIST

Do you think we are seeing a bit of a flow-on effect to our retailers yet or still –

BILL WEST

It’s very hard to tell. I think some of the retailers [indistinct] lift and retailers still [indistinct]. Maybe that’s a part of the business model. Hospitality was certainly hit very hard during COVID. [Indistinct].

JOURNALIST

And we have one more late-night shopping event this week. How was it last week? Was it successful?

BILL WEST

[Indistinct] but it’s still considered successful. [Indistinct] shop local and have a nice time. [Indistinct].

JOURNALIST

Thanks.

ENDS 10:47AM

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