Transcript - Interview with 2Max FM Narrabri

ANTHONY WELSHMAN

Good morning. It's Anthony here, taking over from Ian who has to head off to do something else. But I have the pleasure of the company of the Deputy Prime Minister, the Honourable Michael McCormack and Mark Coulton, our local member for Barwon – sorry, for Parkes. Good morning.

MARK COULTON

Good morning, Anthony. Yes, actually, at the moment Michael is the Acting Prime Minister so you might notice that there's some extra security roaming the premises outside.

ANTHONY WELSHMAN

Yes, I did.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

What a better place to be as acting Prime Minister than Narrabri.

MARK COULTON

Yeah. No, it's great to have Michael here and you might remember, Anthony, back just before Christmas, we announced $44.7 million to upgrade the line from Tarrawon – or from the underground coal mine back to the inland grid at West Narrabri. And so I'll let Michael go on exactly why we're here. But it's always good for Michael, as Infrastructure Minister, to actually see how all this works so he's got a mental picture. And we're catching up with the council this morning as well to talk through some issues we've got with the connection with their intermodal port as well.

ANTHONY WELSHMAN

Well, there's some good things happening around Narrabri.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Look, indeed, Anthony. And whether it's road, whether it's rail, we want to build the infrastructure that these country towns need, want, expect and most of all deserve. And I notice there's some activity in the main street too, some federally funded activity. This is improving these towns' liveability and whether it's improving the freight task, making the roads safer, getting on and beautifying the main streetscapes, that's what it's all about. We want city people to know that country towns are the place to go.

And look, I have to say that most of these areas are COVID-free which is unlike what we've experienced and what we've seen in our capital cities. And, you know, whilst we have had some of the restrictions that capital city metropolitan areas have had, largely we've been COVID-free. And I have to say regional Australians have been magnificent in exercising that social distancing and doing everything they've been asked to do and that's why we have been largely COVID-free.

ANTHONY WELSHMAN

Well, we're very conscious with that, as you know when you walked in here this morning.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

The first thing you said was "Sanitise. Sanitise your hands" which of course Mark and I both did.

MARK COULTON

And we had to delay your 21st birthday for another year as a radio station.

ANTHONY WELSHMAN

Next year – or this year, we hope.

MARK COULTON

We hope, yes.

ANTHONY WELSHMAN

So, Prime Minister, what's your reason for being in town?

MICHAEL McCORMACK.

Well, look, to obviously look at these – the County Boundary Road. It's sort of something that Mark has been lobbying for too, so we've got a bit of an announcement later on today about that, but to have a look at the connections into Inland Rail, to make sure that we talk to council; most importantly, we listen to council and see what locals are having to say. Mark is, of course, up here regularly as the local member. He's also a minister in the Morrison Government. He places a big part in making sure that the delivery is right for this part of the world. And the budget last October, it seems like an eternity now but, indeed, it was the best budget for regional Australia I think that's ever been. And we know that regional Australia, through agriculture, through resources, both of which of course are important industries for this region, they are leading the way. They have led the way through COVID-19 and they have kept the economy ticking along.

ANTHONY WELSHMAN

Yes. So the infrastructure for the rail, I mean, we've seen a lot of work being done and a lot of preliminary work. What's the next stage for that?

MARK COULTON

So, Anthony, the original brief that Michael, as Minister, gave the ARTC was to build a railway line from Melbourne to Brisbane. And so that's the primary – been the primary focus. But now we're up to the stage of making sure that we've got the connectivity, so the local businesses, communities. So Narrabri, it's obviously the connection to the inland port, is the connection to the Walgett line. It's the connection down to Newcastle, so we can get those higher capacity trains through to the port of Newcastle. And so – and sometimes that's not that straightforward. You know, it's a complex process. And so that's – that's the stage we're up to now. And Michael mentioned the County Boundary Road which is up near Croppa Creek. It's a gravel road now that will, you know, provide a corridor into probably a loading depot at Croppa Creek up there. So they're the – that's the stage we're up to now.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

And if, Anthony, I could just cite one example of the Parkes to Narromine first section of Inland Rail, about 100 kilometres or so, 99 local small businesses. So when I say "small" anything from about two to five and perhaps even a little bit larger businesses. So not large businesses by any stretch of the imagination. They benefit to the tune of $110 million of value being put through their tills. And whether they were providing accommodation or ballast, or whatever the case might be, they benefitted. And that will be the same for the second section, Narrabri to North Star. That will be the case when, you know, we continue the Inland Rail. There's 13 sections of it as we construct the thing through to its completion in the mid-2020s. So, you know, that – that is coming to a town near you. That sort of activity, that sort of business benefit, that sort of job creation is going to happen right here in Narrabri and elsewhere.

ANTHONY WELSHMAN

Alright. So between Coonabarabran and Narrabri, I would imagine that's a fairly major bit of work because there's nothing there, is there?

MARK COULTON

Yeah. So it actually crosses over at Baradine. So Narromine straight through to Narrabri and that's probably the most contentious part in my electorate because we're basically building a railway line where there's been not one before. And so, you know, for someone who's had a property that's relatively isolated, this is a big deal for them. And so those conversations have been had right along. There's about 115 landholders between Narrabri and Narromine. And not all of them, but most of them, now are working through that final process as to – the corridor's now narrowed down to 60 metres wide and so they're having discussions now about access, fencing, compensation, those sort of things. And so that is progressing along. But it's always – it's difficult when you're starting from scratch and you're telling someone that we're going to build a railway through the middle of their property.

ANTHONY WELSHMAN

Yeah and I know that from people that I've talked to, that I know, that are maybe in that problem. You know, they're saying, you know, “what are they going to do?”, “how am I going to get from one paddock to the next paddock without it interfering with my livelihood?”

MICHAEL McCORMACK

And the same happened when we – when we duplicated the Hume Freeway. And let me tell you, having travelled on the goat track that was the Hume Highway, back on the old Hume Highway back to go to the NRL grand final. In fact, the Sydney Rugby League grand final back in the early 80s to watch my mighty Parramatta win the grand final.

ANTHONY WELSHMAN

A long time ago.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

1982, I can remember it well. They won it in 1981. I went there in 1982 to watch them beat Manly, just by the way. And compare that road then to that road now. And there were the same sort of problems. Albeit there was a road there but they had to go a few kilometres east or north or west or, you know, whatever the case might have been, but they still had to cross through properties, but for the greater good of the nation and for the greater good of those local communities and for the road safety outcomes. And it will be the same with Inland Rail – for the greater good of the nation – for getting trucks off the road and for making sure that we get that freight task, you know, delivered and better it's going to be a world of difference.

ANTHONY WELSHMAN

Yeah now I notice – I heard through the grapevine, as you get in the country towns, that where the railway line is going around Narrabri that, you know, it's pretty close to civilisation. What's – and I think people are worried about the noise, you know, going over viaducts and this sort of thing.

MARK COULTON

Yeah, look, it's always a balance but, once again, it's having that, being in a position because already there's so much infrastructure here. There's already, you know, Narrabri has been a port that uses rail for cotton and grain, has been for some time and so it's important that we've got that connection there. And it's also the shortest route to connect onto the existing line north of town. But I note, you know, there's some people that you and I know very well that are going to have their houses demolished completely. And so it is a big deal for some people. But ultimately, you know, there's a railway line goes through the middle of Gunnedah with the trains going through on a regular basis. My grandmother lived on that for a long time and we'd go and stay there. And after you're there for a couple of days, it was just background noise. And so – and we don't have that – you know, we're not like Gunnedah. It is skirting around the edge of – the edge of the west and ultimately connecting out just near the warehouses on the northern side of town.

ANTHONY WELSHMAN

Well, there's plenty of infrastructure out there. Now, coming back from [indistinct] that you mentioned the last couple of weeks ago, the road from Turrawan to Narrabri, where will that connect? Will that connect at the –

MARK COULTON

That's – that's one of the –

ANTHONY WELSHMAN

Narrabri to –

MARK COULTON

That's one of the – one of the discussions we're having with the council today. At this stage it will come into Narrabri West. But it's all part of the – Ernst & Young or EY as they're now known, have been tasked with doing the research into the business case for the connection of the – of the Walgett line, the Hunter line with the Inland Rail as well as the inland port. And so that – that work is being undertaken at the moment. But that's the crucial bit that we get right so that we've got the absolute maximum efficient. But at this stage it will still come – the bit we're upgrading is still on the existing track. That's just going to have a heavier line and replace the steel sleepers with concrete sleepers so that it will be able to take the heavier axle loads.

ANTHONY WELSHMAN

Alright, and you're not going to tell me why you're here?

MARK COULTON

Well, I'm here to look after my good friend, the deputy – Michael McCormack to make sure that he doesn't come to any harm while he's in my electorate. But no, it's always good. Michael and I have been – turned up in Canberra a similar time. I've been there a little bit longer than Michael. And it's almost, you know, when you've got visitors and you want to show them around your house, it's almost – I always feel the same with my electorate. I'm incredibly proud of where I represent. And so it's important that, you know, the local councils – and we're meeting with today not only Narrabri but Moree and Gwydir councils, that they – they've got direct access to the person that's actually making the decisions and that, in this case, is Michael. So, no, it's a great day for me to always have Michael in my part of the world.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

And even though we've got a bit of an announcement with the County Boundary Road and having a look, obviously, at Inland Rail and other things, it's not always that you come for announcements.

ANTHONY WELSHMAN

No.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

That you come to visit these communities and from here I'm going to Townsville. I'm then going up to the Northern Territory and then heading down to Tasmania. You can't get around the entire country in a week and you can't get around the entire country at the moment with some of the border restrictions in place. But important that when you've got – you know, when you're in this role and look, I do it whether I'm Acting Prime Minister or not but it's important that I get out to the regions and it's important that I hear from people who, you know, have done, I'll say again, a magnificent job in keeping their communities largely COVID-free.

ANTHONY WELSHMAN

Well, thank you very much for your time today.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Thank you, Anthony.

ANTHONY WELSHMAN

Prime Minister.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Indeed. Thank you very much.

ANTHONY WELSHMAN

It's nice to have you in.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

21 years young, the station this year. That's a great achievement.

ANTHONY WELSHMAN

21 years. We had a little bit of a celebration last year –

MICHAEL McCORMACK.

Well done.

ANTHONY WELSHMAN

But because of COVID, we had to break it down. So let's have a 21st.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Coming of age. Well done.

ANTHONY WELSHMAN

So that's good.

MARK COULTON

We've already had a big cake.

ANTHONY WELSHMAN

We've had a cake, we can have a little one. Thank you very much, and I hope you enjoy your stay in this area.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Always love Narrabri. Thank you so much.

ANTHONY WELSHMAN

Thank you.

MARK COULTON

Thanks, Anthony.

Media contacts:

Jo Williamson, 0418 475 668
Dean Shachar, 0418 202 860