Transcript - Interview with ABC Ballarat

9:11AM

STEVE MARTIN

The Deputy Prime Minister is Michael McCormack who is also Leader of the Nationals and he's our guest on the program this morning. Michael McCormack, good morning to you.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Good morning, Steve.

STEVE MARTIN

Thanks for your time. First up, are you happy with the Budget for regional areas?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Absolutely, delighted in fact. This has been a budget in fact for the regions and the regions have been very strong even through COVID-19, through agriculture, through the resource sector. Indeed, through every endeavour for regional Australia and these largely COVID-free areas in the country have been brought about because people have done the right thing. They've followed the rules, they've exercised social distancing, they've downloaded the app, all the things you would expect regional people to do, they've done. And that's why we've remained relatively COVID-free.

STEVE MARTIN

Already listeners have sent in SMSs this morning about why the Murray Basin Rail Project hasn't been funded, why it has missed out. That's certainly on the radar. It's a big regional project, it would have major implications. Why is it missed?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, the Australian Government has contributed more than $240 million to the Murray Basin Freight Rail and stakeholders in the community, they deserve visibility of the options contained in the revised business case. I've spoken to (Victorian minister) Jacinta Allan about getting that business case out there and having input into a transparent solution. I'm happy to work with the Victorian Government about the Murray Basin Rail going forward but the project has encountered significant issues so far. It's enduring problems for users and the community more broadly and what we want to see is the taxpayers' dollars being invested to the maximum for the taxpayers who are paying these dollars and the community's best interests. I'm happy to continue to work with the Victorian Government. They've got to bear in mind they've got a budget coming up in November too and I will continue to work with Jacinta and the stakeholders to progress a solution but we need to see that business case.

STEVE MARTIN

There are a lot of locals and users who are saying that line is now in a worse condition given some of the upgrade work, I say that in inverted commas, in the last year or so. Are you saying there needs to be another business case? Because there would have been a business case for that one.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

There is a business case. Victoria has it, they just haven't released it. So, what I say is release that business case. Happy to work with them but the community needs to see what's in that business case and let's move forward from that point. Now, as I say, the Victorian Government also has a stake in this. They need to come up with that business case to release it so that there's full transparency, full accountability. The Federal Government has already contributed for are more than $240 million and I'm happy to continue to work with the Victorian Government. This is an important piece of infrastructure, I appreciate that. We want to get the best outcomes for all involved.

STEVE MARTIN

In the south-west of our listening area, the Warrnambool Rail Line through to Geelong has received significant funding and south-west communities are pretty happy about that and we talked to Dan Tehan about that the other morning.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Yes, $208 million for that Stage 2 upgrade.

STEVE MARTIN

And it has been very welcomed. However, in the northern part of our listening area around Ballarat there's some concern that particularly the seat of Ballarat or the area surrounding that seat has missed out and missed out on some major projects that some lobbying has been done on for quite a long time.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, let me tell you, the fine folk of Ballarat, the allocation under the Local Roads and Community Infrastructure extension, $3.9 million. So that takes their total, if you count the $1.5 million that they would have received mid-year as a top-up for their Roads to Recovery funding, that's $5.433 million. That's pretty good. And then you take Hepburn Shire, they're getting an additional $1 million. Moorabool Shire $1.7 million. So that's for local roads and if you then take into account the fact that we've got a $2 billion nationwide road safety upgrades program. That's a significant amount of money in particularly regional roads. Now, Ballarat can also apply for the Building Better Regions Fund. There's another $200 million Round 5 of that and this is significant funding for the regions that I've been able to achieve and acquire because our regions, as I say, are going to lead us out of this COVID recession.

STEVE MARTIN

The Intermodal Freight Project, Ballarat West has missed out on funding again?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

There are lots of projects that are, yes, still on the books. We can't fund every one of them. We work with State Governments, they give us their priority lists as to what we fund. We work of that, of course. We take the advice of Infrastructure Australia and others too but, these are priority projects where we see $7.5 billion that we've brought forward with new money. We've worked off the priority list that the governments of the various states provided us and so, I'm sure that for that project and others besides, they will continue obviously to advocate for it on behalf of their projects and we will certainly listen to that. But we've taken on board the priorities of each and every state government, irrespective of their political persuasion. I'm always happy to work with any Infrastructure Minister or any Transport Minister, putting the politics aside, to get the infrastructure we need for our regions.

STEVE MARTIN

So just finally on this, Michael McCormack, what do you say to groups such as the Committee for Ballarat? We had the CEO on, as I said earlier, who says Ballarat has missed out again. There is that sense that every Federal Budget, Ballarat and surrounds does worse than surrounding areas. So, what do you say to those particular groups?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

I could be really partisan and say maybe you may be looking to your Federal member but I will be a little bit above that and say, I'll continue to work with the Victorian Government, with others around to ensure that we get the right outcomes for regional areas. As I've clearly stated, $5.4 million for local roads and community infrastructure is no small change for Ballarat City. That is a lot of money. And when you couple that with the Building Better Regions Fund and indeed all the other regional funding programs that we've got for the regions, that's a significant amount of investment and they will benefit from that. And not only will they benefit from having high-vis workers on the ground and shovels in the ground straightaway, so will all the little coffee shops and the motel accommodation and everybody around those particular projects when they're getting upgraded, when they're getting those safety upgrades put in place. This is a significant Budget for regional Australia, regional Victoria and Ballarat.

STEVE MARTIN

Earlier this morning I got an SMS from Chris. She's got a farm north of Ararat. She reckons over 35 farm workers have been dudded by this Budget. What do you say to Chris?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, farming and agriculture more generally has actually helped us through the COVID situation, and we want to make sure that, you know, for farmers that they can have that Regional Investment Corporation. We've made it easier for them to get loans. We've placed more money for on farm water infrastructure –

STEVE MARTIN

The over-35 farm workers specifically, Deputy Prime Minister?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, farming is now having a revival thanks to the fact that we've had good rains, we've had a decent season. There are crops in the ground and they're going to need to be harvested. There are fruit on the trees that are going to need to be picked and we're doing everything we can to get the right labour workforce in place, not only for those farming operators but also for the people they employ. It's a good Budget for farmers. It's a good Budget for agriculture and the National Farmers Federation's Fiona Simson has said as much. She sent me a great text last night to welcome in the Budget.

STEVE MARTIN

Michael McCormack, I appreciate your time. Thank you.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Any time at all. Thank you, Steve.

Ends 9:18AM.

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