Transcript - Huonville Press Conference

BEC ENDERS

Welcome, everybody. Thanks for the media being here today. And this morning we’re meeting on the land of the Melukerdee people, which is lovely, our local Aboriginal community. It gives me great pleasure to welcome the Deputy Prime Minister, the Honourable Michael McCormack, and also the Senator of Tasmania, the Honourable Jonathon Duniam. Jonno spends a lot of time here in the Huon Valley, and we really appreciate his support and his regularity in the Huon Valley. We also have the Honourable Mark Shelton, who is the Minister of Local Government, and also Nic Street, our local MP, Liberal MP. Thank you for being here as well, Nic.

So today we’re here to celebrate, really, the official completion of the Huonville Stormwater Diversion project. And the actual stormwater, length of the stormwater pipeline is 1-kilometre long. It diverts the flow of water from our main draining system into a water catchment. There’s been a lot of people involved in this project, which I would like to take the opportunity just to acknowledge. But, importantly, this stormwater project, which has been generously – we’ve received funds from the Australian Government – thank you – of $1.6 million towards this project. And then the Tasmanian Government have provided us with interest-free loans to be able to complete the project. And they need to be acknowledged as well for their contribution.

The stormwater allows obviously us to increase our capacity of drainage here in Huonville. Huonville is a growing place so it’s really important that this project was completed. It also will give us future protection for our people that live here but also for those businesses that operate from here in Huonville. The capacity of the stormwater system also allows us to respond to those frequent rain events that we will increasingly get over time. So that’s really important.

It has also enabled us to open up some really prime, general residential land which we wouldn’t have been able to do without this project. Huonville is growing and there is a demand, and we need to meet that demand, so this project helps fulfil that.

And so as far as thank yous go, I’d like to thank any staff member or contractor that’s literally had their hand involved in this job. We’ve got a great result here, not only functionality-wise but as aesthetically as well, which is really important. I’d like to say a special thank you to Malcolm Russell, who is our project officer for this particular project who saw it through from start to end. And also to give special acknowledgement as well for the contribution from project officers and staff, Len Bester, Sue McCarter and also Jade Jones. They all really put a lot of work into this project and into the design work.

So thank you very much. Without further ado I’ll hand over to the Deputy Prime Minister.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, actually, why don’t we hear from Mark, first.

MARK SHELTON

Well, ladies and gentlemen, again, it’s lovely to be down here in the Huon to have a look at what’s been going on. A fantastic process and I’m privileged to be here acting on behalf of the Government, of course, which assisted the local council, Huonville Council, on the work that they’ve done. Now I also have to thank the Acting Prime Minister for coming down. Michael, welcome to Tasmania, and hopefully you enjoy your short stay. But, acknowledging, of course, Nic Street, the local member, and Senator Jonno Duniam with us today, as well as the mayor, Mayor Enders, and of course, as a previous mayor of Meander Valley Council, acknowledging all the council staff and the work and effort that they have to put in to a project like this. It’s been a project that’s taken a number of months to complete and was completed through last year and has been – had some water flowing down through it as I understand and it’s been tried out.

So this is a fantastic project because it embraces, of course, the three levels of government – state, local and Federal Government – in coming together to overcome a problem that local councils have had for a number of years and opening up, of course, some land that hasn’t been available in the past as Mayor Enders said. And that, as I understand it, will allow a 71-lot subdivision. And I saw some sold lots on some of the lots as we come past there today. So for the council it’s a fantastic opportunity to make sure that, you know, a growing community has the opportunity to develop. It’s not only that, because good planning as well has been able to infill an area that hasn’t been able to be filled before and, of course, prevents that storm inundation that’s about. So from an economic point of view and a social point of view, fantastic to see the three levels of government coming together to overcome a problem that’s been around now for a number of years. And look, that’s what we have to do as far as governments go – working together to overcome our problems.

So it’s my pleasure now, I believe, to go to Senator Duniam to add a few more words. So thank you all for being here.

JONATHON DUNIAM

Well, it is great to be here in the glorious Huon Valley with our Acting Prime Minister, who makes a habit of every time he’s got this job coming to Tasmania, which is most pleasing for us in this State. There is no bigger backer of regional communities than the Morrison-McCormack Government, and this project is another example of how we are fostering growth in communities and supporting these communities to realise their potential. So it is pleasing to have you, Acting PM, thank you for joining us.

And while I do have the opportunity to speak, I do want to acknowledge the Acting PM’s commitment to our state. Only recently as a strong advocate for small businesses and for regional communities in particular, the Acting PM championed our call to have the Bass Strait Passenger Vehicle Equalisation Scheme extended. And so the result of his work, his lobbying and a commitment he’s made to our State, we have free car travel for tourists coming to our state and cars travelling on the Spirit of Tasmania. This is a wonderful thing. It will help our tourism industry, many of them here in the Huon Valley when we have people that come on the Spirit, hop in their car and head south. They’ll be spending their time and their money in places like this. So it’s a wonderful announcement and I just wanted to take this opportunity to thank you, Acting PM, for that wonderful commitment to our state and thank you again for being with us. So over to you.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Thank you, Senator Jonno Duniam, a champion for regional Tasmania. A champion for jobs. And as Mayor Bec Enders has said, this is about job creation. It’s also about providing a stormwater solution. And certainly when it rains – and it rains very heavily here – we know that those sorts of pieces of infrastructure come in so handy. They are essential for flood mitigation and for getting the water out as quickly as possible.

And as the Local Government Minister, Mark Shelton, has just said, this will and has provided for a 71-block subdivision, residential subdivision to be developed. I hear there’s interest in actually have a supermarket come here, too. This is going to be so beneficial in the future. I had the pleasure of having a meeting with Mayor Bec Enders just prior to this launch, although, as I’m told, the rain event has already officially opened the stormwater drain. But she tells me about the progress. She tells me about the interest in the Huon Valley, in Huonville, as a place to come to make your future life all that more rewarding. Because we want to increase the liveability of these regional centres. And with COVID, with droughts, with bushfires, with everything else that has beset our regional communities in recent years, we know that these places are the places to live for the future. And by investing $1.6 million in federal money and around about $4 million all up in a project such as this – we did it through the Regional Jobs and Investment Program – we know that we are improving and increasing the liveability of regional centres such as Huonville. And as the local member, Nic Street, will also tell you, that is so important because it does create jobs – around 40 or so, Malcolm Russell, the project manager, told me, around 40-50 jobs in the construction. But for the people who live around here and the people who will live here in the future, this will provide flood mitigation. And that is, as we all know, anybody who lives in a regional centre near a water course knows, that can be so, so important when you have a big rain event.

But Jonno Duniam is a champion for, as I say, not just regional Tasmania but for the entire state. And he and I confer often about what is needed. We had the pleasure of having breakfast with Premier Peter Gutwein this morning and I’m catching up with Michael Ferguson a little later on today up north. We know just how important Tasmania is going to be in the recovery from COVID-19. COVID‑19 has had such an effect on our economy, but with the measures that we’ve put in place, certainly for health outcomes but also for the economic recovery, the regional areas of Tasmania, the regional areas of Australia are leading the way in that recovery.

Scott Morrison knows that, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg knows that. And that’s why we are investing so heavily in – as a Nationals and Liberals Government, that’s why we are investing so heavily in regional areas. And the Peter Gutwein Liberal Government here in Tasmania is doing the same. And we work very well in concert with one another. But certainly with local government. And Mark Shelton has got one of the most important portfolios in the Gutwein Government, and that is in local government. Because it all starts with local government. That’s why it’s great to partner with Bec Enders, with certainly the Huon Valley local government area, beneficiary of $1.56 million as part of the Local Roads and Community Infrastructure Program where the 537 councils right across the nation are going to benefit from that money that they can put towards a roundabout, putting a lick of paint on a town hall, whatever the case might be. It’s going to provide for jobs. It’s going to provide for local procurement and it’s going to provide for projects such as this, which is going to make such a difference for these communities going forward.

JOURNALIST

We’re obviously good at small target projects here in Tasmania, but do you concede that Tasmania is very obviously failing at major infrastructure projects when it comes to the Bridgewater bridge, Hobart light rail, Macquarie Point and now probably the new Spirit of Tasmania? Do you concede that we’re failing on that?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

There is a new air of optimism about building big infrastructure and making sure that Tasmania has a part of that. $110 billion of infrastructure right around the nation and Tasmania is very much part and parcel of that. That is why Michael Ferguson and I talk just about every three days about what we can do to build those big infrastructure projects. Seventeen of the last 21 dams nationally have been built in Tasmania. And so that’s a big tick. And whether you look at road projects across the state, they’re happening. They’re happening right now. I’ve come down here many, many times in this portfolio since I’ve become the Deputy Prime Minister back in 2018 and worked with the State Government, worked with Jonno Duniam to increase and improve infrastructure in this state. And we work very closely – very closely, hand in hand – with the Gutwein Government. I know Scott Morrison and Peter converse very often about the infrastructure that Tasmanians need, want, expect and deserve. And we’ll continue to do that.

JOURNALIST

We’ve done plenty of press conferences for new roads and new irrigation projects –

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Precisely, that’s my point exactly.

JOURNALIST

But you have to concede, we’re dragging our heels on the big ticket items, though.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

We’re getting things done. We’re getting things done. It’s $110 billion of infrastructure. Rome wasn’t built overnight, nor were the Pyramids. And so we are very much – we have got a plan going forward. It’s a 10-year rolling infrastructure plan. $110 billion, a record amount of money. And I know the Tasmanian Government is partnering with us. As I say, Michael Ferguson and I, Senator Jonno Duniam and I, we converse – or Jonno and I do just about every day and Michael Ferguson and I talk just about every other day about the infrastructure that Tasmania needs. And we’re getting it done.

JOURNALIST

Will the National Party field candidates at the next federal election?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Most likely.

JOURNALIST

In Tasmania?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Most likely. We’ll certainly field candidates right across the nation because we know and understand that when you’ve got a Coalition Government like we have in Canberra, a Liberal Government like we have in Hobart and in Tasmania, that’s when you get infrastructure built. That’s when you get partnerships. That’s when you get collaboration and cooperation on projects such as this. And that’s what is best for this country as we recover from COVID-19.

JOURNALIST

Just returning to the Spirits, how likely do you think it is that they will be built in Australia?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, look – the what, sorry?

JOURNALIST

The Spirit of Tasmania.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Look, you know, we’re doing things, as I say, in collaboration. We’re hoping that we do have a local manufacturing outcome. I know Karen Andrews as the minister responsible for that is working extremely hard all the time to get manufacturing happening. But, again, we will weigh up those things as we go forward. You know, these are outcomes that our government will always assess and look at. So, yeah.

JOURNALIST

Just on hotel quarantining nationally, are we seeing Queensland coming out and saying they’d like to potentially send people to outback or mining towns and use those facilities. Is that something that all states should be doing – looking at other options apart from hotel quarantine in the capitals?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, I know Jane Halton has been entrusted with the task of looking with the States to look at quarantining options. We are, of course, understanding fully that the States have the jurisdictional responsibility for quarantine. We’re working very closely with them. We’ve got 1,500 Australian Defence Force personnel helping the states with all manner of relief and recovery efforts out of COVID-19. Quarantining very much part and parcel of state governments’ public health responsibilities. But we’ll work through the National Cabinet process. We’ll keep taking the best possible advice from the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee and we’ll operate on that advice.

JOURNALIST

Do you think that regional communities could actually cope with quarantining international arrivals with, you know, medical and security staff, and do you reckon –

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, again, it is the State Governments’ responsibility and obviously the State Government will look at risk assessments, look at their capability and provisions to be able to keep that stringent public health outcome as number one. The first order of priority with COVID-19 is making sure we’ve got the right health outcomes. And the second order of priority and, of course, tied in with that, dovetailing in with that, is the economic recovery. Now we’ve done very well on both fronts. We’ve done very, very well. It’s very sad that 909 people have lost their lives. Very, very sad. But when you compare our health outcomes with any nation elsewhere in the world we’ve done very well. And we’re getting through making sure that we’ve got the vaccine. Astra Zeneca will save lives. We’ve got 140 million doses. We’ve put not all our eggs in one basket. We’ve looked at Pfizer as well. And we will make sure that next month when the vaccine starts to roll out that all Australians will have access to it. We’ll also help out with our Pacific Island friends, because that’s what a good neighbour does. We’ll make sure we get Australians through this. We’re very pleased that we’ve got good support overnight from scientists, from health experts, about our strategy with the vaccines.

JOURNALIST

The World Health team has now arrived in Wuhan to investigate the origins of the pandemic. How confident are you that they’ll be able to carry out their work unhindered?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, that is a matter for the World Health Organisation and the Chinese government. And I’m sure that the World Health Organisation, being the august organisation it is, will make sure that its enquiries in this regard are what they need to be.

JOURNALIST

What do you hope the investigation will reveal?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

That’s a matter for the World Health Organisation. You know, I’m sure that, as I say, they will take their work as seriously as they always do. They’ll take their work and undertake it in the most professional manner, as they always do and they’ll get the right outcome.

JOURNALIST

Should China be penalised if they weren’t transparent about those early case numbers?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, again, the World Health Organisation will look into this, will find the right reasons and undertake their studies, as they also do, very, very diligently and I’m sure they’ll come up with the answers they need.

JOURNALIST

Do you think it’s actually, you know, possible to conduct an investigation in a country such as China that doesn’t actually value democracy and freedom?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

I’m not going to get into a debate about what China should or shouldn’t be doing. I’m concerned – our focus has always been on Australians’ health, Australians’ health outcomes and rebuilding our economy. That’s why projects such as this – albeit a stormwater drain, you know, little by little – projects such as this and larger projects such as the Bridgewater bridge and other major water infrastructure projects etc right across Tasmania are helping build our economy, rebuild our economy, from, you know, any number of things, not least of which, of course, is COVID-19. So that’s my focus, Scott Morrison’s focus. He’s taking a well-earned break. He’ll probably be looking forward to getting back to work on Monday. And I’m sure that through he and Josh Frydenberg and Peter Gutwein and others, Jonno Duniam and myself, you know, we’re getting on to rebuild Tasmania, to rebuild Australia as we should.

JOURNALIST

Just in terms of if the Queensland government was to pursue a regional model, would the Federal Government help out with ADF personnel and other things to make it happen?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, we’ll weigh up that request if it comes. But Annastacia Palaszczuk has already got on-farm quarantining arrangements. She’s discussed that, she’s talked about that. I know they’ve got a model in place for Gladstone for the resource sector et cetera. We’ll look at that and any request that comes in, as we have done all the way through. As I said, there’s 1,500 Australian Defence Force personnel working closely with state governments as we speak to ensure that we get the right outcomes.

Of course, States are limited by their policing and their ability to make sure that quarantining is what it needs to be. And that’s why when there was this virulent strain, the UK strain of the virus, that the quarantining was reduced by half. But I say again, New South Wales has led the way as far as quarantining is concerned, and they should be commended for the work that they have done. We are bringing as many Australians home as possible, and that’s important, and that’s why we’ll continue to work with the States through the National Cabinet, through the AHPPC. It’s worked well so far. We’ve taken the best possible medical advice and we’ll continue to do so.

JOURNALIST

Returning to the Wuhan investigation, are you concerned that that investigation is going to hamper the mending of the relationship with China specifically when it comes to trade tensions at the moment?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Our phone lines are always open. Our doors are always open as far as diplomatic relations with China and trade are concerned. I know how important it is for the producers here in Tasmania to ensure that we continue our trade with China, which is worth $149.6 billion. It’s our largest trading partner. Tasmania produces a lot goods that go to China. We want that to continue.

JOURNALIST

What’s your take on China rejecting Australian cherries on the grounds that the Chilean ones are better?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

They’re not better; they’re certainly not better. I’ve tasted both Batlow and Young cherries. Now, I’m a little bit biased because one of those areas is very close to my electorate and the other one is smack bang in the middle of my Riverina electorate and they were the biggest, plumpest, ripest, most tasty cherries I’ve ever had. And they went down very well on the Christmas dinner table, let me tell you. But I’m sure wherever else they produce cherries in Australia, they are the best. And you want to get stuck into them; they’re great. Red, juicy, plump. Beautiful.

JOURNALIST

The best cherries come out of the Huon Valley.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

So there you go. And whenever we produce cherries, they’re great, fantastic.

JOURNALIST

Just returning to the vaccine, big business has called for National Cabinet to clarify employer and employee rights over vaccinations fearing legal action if the federal government doesn’t lead the way. What is the Federal Government guidance? Can employers compel workers to get vaccinations?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, that’s why we’ve got the National Cabinet process in place. It has worked very, very well. I know they’ve met any number of times. We’ve taken the best possible advice from the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee, the AHPPC, wonderfully led by Professor Paul Kelly and before him Brendan Murphy. We’ve taken that advice. The national cabinet process, we’ll discuss that with the Premiers, with the six Premiers and the two Chief Ministers and the Prime Minister. They’ll have those discussions and they’ll bring about the best outcome.

JOURNALIST

Given that we’ve had a couple of doughnut days, as I think they’re called, should the states all open their borders?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, that’s, again, a matter for Premiers. I’ve never been in favour of borders being closed, but state Premiers have done what they needed to do, what they thought they needed to do, to keep their people safe. And I say again, we’ve done marvellously well as Australians. And I say again, too, thank you to Australians for being their best selves, for exercising social distancing, for wearing masks when required to do so, for making sure that they’ve self-isolated. And by and large Australians have complied with those requests by health authorities, by Premiers, by Chief Ministers and by the Prime Minister. So they’ve done the right thing. We respect them for it, and I respect the Premiers’ decisions to try to keep their people as safe as possible and going forward that’s why the national cabinet process is so important.

JOURNALIST

The Prime Minister visited in November and again in December. You’re here now. We’ve had the announcement that there’s free car travel on the Spirit. Is there an early election in the air for this year?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

I’m a regular visitor to Tasmania. I’ve been coming to Tasmania since my wife Catherine and I visited here in the 1980s, as she reminded me this morning. I looked a lot younger then apparently – I had different coloured hair. But, you know, I love Tassie. And why wouldn’t you want to come to Tassie? We’ve done, as Jonno Duniam championed, advocated for, fought for as determinedly as he always does, that vehicle rebate. We’re making sure that – I promote Tasmania, of course. I know the Prime Minister with his mullet-haired mate from the footy club up north, he loves coming to Tassie. You know, why wouldn’t you want to come to Tasmania? It’s a great place to visit.

Mind you, that said, yesterday at this very time, yes, I was in a press conference getting my retinas burnt out in 41-degree heat in the shade just about in the Northern Territory. I came from there to here. What a wonderful country this is. What an amazing place. And that’s why I’m really delighted that so many people, given the fact that they can’t travel overseas, are taking the opportunity to see such places as the Top End, to see such beautiful places as Tasmania.

Now, Prime Minister Scott Morrison and I, we are big believers in Tasmania. We’re big believers in what Peter Gutwein and his Government are doing for this State. And we want to make sure that through COVID-19 recovery that Tasmania is helping to lead the way along with the other regions, along with the other states and territories. The regions hold the key to the COVID recovery. And that’s why Jonno Duniam is such a fighter for this particular area and for Tasmania in general. That’s why we’ll go on visiting, we’ll go on delivering, we’ll go on investing in Tasmania and elsewhere.

JOURNALIST

The Tasmanian community depends quite heavily on social security payments. I think they’re the main source of income for about 60 per cent of Tasmanians or it might be 40 per cent, sorry. Do you accept that the changes to JobKeeper and JobSeeker will represent a big hit at a time when our recovery is just starting?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, we can’t keep the assistance going forever. It was always scaleable, it was targeted, it was always temporary. And Josh Frydenberg, the Treasurer, said that when he announced the JobKeeper and JobSeeker arrangements. He very much said that. There are 50,000 jobs as identified by the Regional Australia Institute. We want to get people back to work. And that’s why we’ve put in place those measures, but that’s why we’ve also reduced taxes. That’s why we’ve also put in other measures to benefit those people looking for work, to reconnect employees with employers, and that’s why we want to get Australia back as fast as we can to some sort of pre-COVID level.

That’s why we’ve put in place the aviation assistance measures that, you know, now stretch to around $2 billion. And that’s why we’ll of course continue to assess the situation. But, as Josh Frydenberg said yesterday, we need that recovery to happen. Australians have done very well through the health outcomes. I know that Minister Greg Hunt has been very pleased with, but there’s more work to do both on the health front, more work to do both on the economic front, but all the way through we’ll be with Australians and helping them and reassessing the situation as we go.

JOURNALIST

But does not reducing household incomes not only not be helpful to people but undercut the possibility of an economic recovery?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, there’s always be people who, you know, for one reason or another slip through the cracks, and that’s why we’ve got a welfare safety net system. There are also many jobs out there. I appreciate that, you know, it’s not always easy for Australians to travel. I appreciate that it’s not always for Australians to take up the job that might be on offer. But that job might be on offer might not be your forever job; but it might be a stop gap in between finding that forever job. And we want people to look for those jobs, whether it’s in agriculture, whether it’s in, you know, any of those other good paying jobs that are in regional Australia right now. There are jobs out there. Please look for them if, you know, you have the ability to do so. I appreciate that, yes, for some times are stuff and times will be tough going forward. But that’s why we’ve got that welfare safety net. That’s why we’ve got all those provisions in place and the highest minimum wage in the world. You know, we are a very generous nation, but the time to start that recovery is very much now.

JOURNALIST

Just on a really left field note potentially, I don’t know if you’re familiar with the case of Joe the Pigeon that came from America into Australia. But it’s been considered a biosecurity threat and is probably going to be put down. Is that something that the high powers of the federal government to intervene on? There has been a bit of backlash against that?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

I’m not aware of Joe the Pigeon, I’m sorry. I’m sure Joe the Pigeon has contributed mightily to the economic outcomes of, you know, avarium bird life from whence Joe the Pigeon came. But, look, I’m unable to give you an answer because I’m not aware of Joe’s plight or flight or future. Happy to look into it and get back to you. Good luck, Joe. But if Joe has come in a way that has not met our strict biosecurity measures, then bad luck, Joe. Either fly home or face the consequences. Thank you.

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