Transcript - Interview on 3WM 1089 Radio Horsham

8:13AM

EMMA CLARK

Well, it’s a big morning in the studio. Deputy PM and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack is here, as is Member for Mallee, Anne Webster. You guys have been very busy in the Wimmera in the last 24 hours or so – lots of announcements, sod turning. Start at the start. What happened yesterday?

ANNE WEBSTER

Well, yesterday Michael and I turned up together at the riverfront precinct – the Wimmera Riverfront – to turn the first sod on the activation project, which is very exciting because, as you know, every resident in Horsham knows, it’s been going on for some time now. So, it’s really exciting to get that first shovel in the ground and I really look forward to seeing those new paths and bikeways and extensions. It’s great.

EMMA CLARK

And of course, we’re going to get a water park. That’s something I have to ask you, Member for Mallee, you live near the water, you’ve been around the water, as Mr McCormack, you might have as well. The Wimmera in Horsham is one place that really hasn’t utilised that section of river, but now we’re starting to, which is great that we’ve received the funding to.

ANNE WEBSTER

Absolutely. It was one of the things that really surprised me about Horsham because I love rivers, I love water. I never feel like I’ve had a holiday unless I’m on water or near it and coming to Horsham and seeing that gorgeous river and yes, under‑utilised, so I’m really thrilled it will be beautifying that whole area and that will stimulate activity down there. Mildura is a really classic place where we’ve done that and you can see the river for the crowds, but there are a lot of people who utilise that space, so it’s wonderful.

EMMA CLARK

Some road upgrades, some fantastic announcements there yesterday coming through about the Western Highway Golf Course Road announcement linking the south-west to South Australia and all that. Tell us a little bit about this.

ANNE WEBSTER

Well, the Deputy Prime Minister can certainly give the factual details, but we were at the junction yesterday looking at – apparently 18,000 trucks go through that intersection – I just can’t believe that number – every day. So, to have that now made workable, the design that I saw looks like it will really solve a few problems. We had further conversations about the old truck route going around Horsham, Deputy Prime Minister.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, as we were there, Anne, I think most of those 18,000 trucks rumbled past whilst we were actually there. But it’s a $4 million upgrade to fully fund the Horsham Junction intersection. This important project is delivering a major upgrade to the intersection, the Western Highway, the Henty Highway and the Golf Course Road, that’s really important. So, that’s part of the Roads of Strategic Importance and of course, that’s from Stawell to the South Australian border and indeed that’s a significant investment – $13.8 million in this year’s Budget alone to that really important corridor. I’m really impressed with the local councils around here and their ability to get money for those important – not necessarily major highways and byways, but the little country roads and the suburban streets and what they’ve been able to do as part of the Local Roads and Community Infrastructure and through Anne’s advocacy as well – and Anne’s a fierce fighter when she gets to Canberra – $73.5 million as part of those three tranches of that really important program, which is getting money out the door to councils right throughout the country. And there’s 537 of them, but the 12 that Anne represents, including Horsham Rural City Council, are getting a significant amount of money. Well, they’re getting $5.7 million. That’s really important road works and more importantly, really important road workers getting out there and doing the job.

EMMA CLARK

That was my next – obviously, the funding is magnificent, the improvements, the connection between the areas, but it’s the jobs as well.

ANNE WEBSTER

Absolutely, absolutely. Look, I was very interested to hear the DPM talking yesterday about the number of jobs, 66,000 jobs ready in the regions for people to take up. We need workers here. We need people to get ready to put a shovel in the ground and the various other jobs from doctors –

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Skilled and unskilled.

ANNE WEBSTER

Teachers, nurses –

MICHAEL McCORMACK

We had dinner last night with a few businesspeople around town and it’s significant, whether it’s health, hospitality, education, everything, orchards, meat processing plants, law firms, accountancy practices, doesn’t matter, right throughout regional Australia. The Regional Australia Institute has identified at the moment 66,000 vacancies and that is probably on the lighter end of the scale. That number is probably underestimated. There are so many jobs, good well‑paying jobs, available for people to take up right now.

EMMA CLARK

That is certainly right. I was going to say, Mr McCormack, is the heat off now the Federal Budget has been delivered or do you still keep going?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

The heat’s never off. We’ve been working tirelessly to make sure we address the issues of COVID‑19. That’s the biggest story in town. I appreciate that these areas – I come from a regional area, around Wagga Wagga in southern New South Wales and look, we’ve not had a coronavirus case for some time and the deaths in regional Australia have been absolutely minimal. Best and safest place in all the world to live, very, very COVID safe and free, relatively speaking, in regional Australia compared to other parts of the nation and certainly other parts of the world but we can’t be complacent. We need to get the jabs. We need to do what we’ve been asked to do. It’s tough because some of these decisions are made by Premiers in far‑off capital cities, but regional Australians have been magnificent. I do want to say thank you to the people of the Wimmera, people of the Mallee, for doing what they’ve been asked to do under very difficult circumstances in some cases and that’s why we’ve kept our communities largely COVID‑free.

EMMA CLARK

Certainly, we are the lucky country when we look at what’s happening in India and other parts of the world, that’s for sure. Now, onto some agricultural questions. Do you think – is it your view still that agriculture should be exempt from any carbon emissions reduction target?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

What I have said right from the very start is that agriculture is part of the solution not the problem and as we work towards lowering emissions and we’re meeting and indeed, beating all of the targets that were set and that we indeed set ourselves as part of being a responsible international player. And you look at what Australia is doing compared to some of those other countries, which are pointing accusatory fingers and saying, “Why aren’t you doing more?”. Well, we’re more than beating what we said we would do in Paris. We’re more than doing that and we’ll continue to provide solutions and agriculture will certainly provide many of the solutions. I know that David Littleproud is out, our Agriculture Minister, talking about carbon abatement, talking about what we’re doing as far as soils are concerned, sequestration and the like. And there was significant money in the Budget for just that, for soils, to regenerate to improve soils and that is part of the solution.

What I don’t want to see is people who are stock producers, so beef producers, lamb producers, those sorts of farming endeavours being unfairly slugged by higher taxes to get the emissions target down. They very much will play a part in the future, but I don’t want to see farmers and factories unfairly slugged by any taxing regime and we won’t do that on our side of politics. Anne and I have certainly been vociferous in that degree and it’s technology not taxes to reduce emissions.

EMMA CLARK

On to one of the next big topics and Anne, you’re heavily involved with that as well. How satisfied are you with the Murray-Darling Basin Plan at this point?

ANNE WEBSTER

You know, it’s a very interesting question, Emma. This week, I heard from various players, various stakeholders, whether they’re irrigators or environmentalists and the statement was that there is discontent amongst all of them, which probably gives you an indication that we’re on the right track. You know, you’re not actually pushing one stakeholder group out of the picture. Everybody has had ample opportunity to provide input. Yesterday, I had the Minister Sussan Ley in Mildura talking about the environmental components and the water flows. There are different arguments that come up in different parts of the electorate and I listen to them all and bring them back to the table. Those conversations need to be had, but I think, generally speaking, we are on track.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

I famously voted against the Murray-Darling Basin Plan when it was first introduced into Parliament by Labor all those years ago. It’s a workable and adaptable document. It’s not going to please everyone, as Anne has just said. Indeed, when it rains you find – farmers and our environmentalists, and our farmers are the best environmentalists, by the way – but both sides of the debate just get on and do what they need to do, generally speaking. Our farmers are always busy and the environmentalists, well, they’ll never be happy anyway – those are certainly the left end of the extreme. But we need to continue to make sure that the water infrastructure that we said we would deliver is delivered through the states. We need to make sure that we continue to have programs both on‑farm and off‑farm to maintain those efficiencies and we need to maintain those upgrades to the system to ensure that we do continue to grow the world’s best food and fibre. These areas, the Wimmera, the Mallee, regional Victoria, my area in the Riverina, Murrumbidgee irrigation area as well, they grow the world’s best food and fibre and right up and down the system we rely on the Murray-Darling. People in river communities deserve to have those jobs and Anne and I will continue to fight for those jobs and continue to fight for the best for those communities.

EMMA CLARK

What about tougher regulations for floodplain harvesting in the northern basin so more water gets down to the bottom to the southern region?

ANNE WEBSTER

Well, this is fundamentally what the New South Wales Government is seeking to do. It definitely needs to happen. In terms of people across in my electorate, everybody wants to see that happen. It’s appropriate that when water comes on to your property, that it is measured and that there is accountability for how it is used. Everybody wants that. We want transparency. The water market is another discussion. We want transparency and so it should be. So, we’ve got more work to do and it’s always in cooperation with the states. Minister Keith Pitt is doing a fantastic job and making some adjustments that he needs to make and drawing the state water ministers into the conversation and seeking to move forward.

EMMA CLARK

Fabulous and before I let you both go, especially you Deputy PM, Mr McCormack, you were here a couple of years ago. You had the wombat – the good luck wombat with you. Here you’re just with Anne this time. No offence there.

ANNE WEBSTER

Reasonably cuddly.

EMMA CLARK

How important is it to get out to regional areas like Horsham to show your face not just for the funding announcements but to catch up with people on the ground?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, I spend my life in regional Australia. I love the place. It is the world’s best place in anywhere to live. Indeed, I always say about these areas, large enough to get a good cup of coffee, and I’ve got one at the moment, and small enough to still care and it’s so true. These regional communities punch well above their weight when it comes to agricultural output and when it comes to making sure they lead the recovery. Only yesterday, you know, I was talking to the Mayor, talking to Anne, talking to others and they’re pretty proud of what they’re doing and whether it’s through agriculture, whether it’s through, indeed, on a more broader scale, the resource sector, those two sectors alone as well as construction, infrastructure, have led the way through COVID and are leading the way out of the recovery process. We’re a long way from recovering from COVID but indeed, regional Australia has been its best self. Anne and I will continue to back it. I’ll continue to turn up. Anne will certainly too. I don’t know too many MPs who get around their electorate as much as Anne does and she’s a fierce fighter not only in her electorate. It’s one thing to talk a big game in your electorate, but she gets to Canberra and she’s a fierce fighter. She wears the carpet out into my office demanding more infrastructure, demanding more projects for her area and that’s what a good local member does.

EMMA CLARK

So, he hides under the desk when you’re on your way?

ANNE WEBSTER

Pretty much. That’s what he does. I’ve got to say, too, look having the Deputy Prime Minister here is very meaningful for everybody across Mallee, because sometimes regional communities can feel like they’re a little bit invisible in the big scheme of things and I think to have somebody I would consider very important come to our region is a real tick of, “Yes, we know you’re there. Yes, we know that you’re important”, in Canberra.

EMMA CLARK

Perfect. Well, thanks so much for your time, guys, today. Good luck today. You’re hosting a breakfast a little bit later on?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

We’ve got a few things on. We’ve got people to see and places to go so I’m looking forward to it.

ENDS 8:26AM

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