Transcript - Press Conference in the Electorate of Mallee

Journalist: ... has announced a $1.6 billion in water saving projects for the Murray Darling Basin. At the very southern end of the Murray Darling Basin is obviously us and our river system here. Now, he’s wondering if any of the- if the feds or anyone, authorities are actually investigating alternative ways of desalination. But all that sort of stuff has been going on at the CSIRO. Is there actually being any investigations into that because of the future lack of water that’s going to be in the future from ...

Michael McCormack: [Interrupts] Well look, that’s part of it. And we need to obviously look at all those sorts of things , whether it’s you know lowering water tables and doing all those sorts of things, making sure that every precious drop of water is used to its maximum potential, whether it's agriculture, whether it's for the environment, and we do that in the scheme of things. And obviously the government takes heed of what the CSIRO tells us. But what we do need to do, most importantly, is make sure that we've we helped the farmers through this drought.

We are with the $7 billion on the table for drought assistance. We've got a $3.9 billion Future Drought Fund in place which will build up to $5 billion, and $100 million of that will be drawn down each and every year as a minimum to whatever area is affected by drought. And it's a big country, there's always some part of the nation affected by drought. But what I want to do and what I am doing is putting in place in coming weeks – I'll be making more announcements – the National Water Grid. Now I announced it during the election campaign. I want to build dams. I want to heighten, lengthen and strengthen weirs. I want to put down more pipelines like [indistinct]. We announced that during the election campaign. We'll build it, and I want to make sure that wherever we can, working with states. We have to work with states. We have to take them on the journey with us. But if the petty politics gets in the way, I want the National Water Grid to make sure that we build using the best available science – and using local stakeholder engagement – more water storage infrastructure because when I first got into Parliament I, you know, I made a real issue of this in my maiden speech. And when I first became a minister and I would go and talk to capital city forums and the like and talk about water storage infrastructure, I have to say I didn't get- I didn't- I wasn't feeling as though- encouraging sign some times from the audience.

But I'll tell you what, this drought has really brought home the fact that we need more dams. And when I say it now, whether it's in Melbourne, Sydney , Brisbane, wherever capital cities that I address - and admittedly I've got a bigger megaphone these days as Deputy Prime Minister – you do get acknowledged, you do get applause. People understand that we need to build more water infrastructure. And two Saturdays ago, the Queensland Government finally signed up to a dam, Emu Swamp Dam at Stanthorpe in the Granite Belt, that will grow irrigated agriculture there. It will provide the first dam that we've built in this nation for decades and that is a- I mean, I think the catalyst for something that the- dare I say, pardon the pun, the flow-on effects will only be huge. I think the media will get excited when we put those first shovels in the ground and the excavators roll in, when the concrete gets poured and when that water begins to fill up. And it will, because it will rain again. There’s nothing surer. And so when it does rain again, we need to make sure that we use that water when it’s dry and we've got to do it in the catchments where the rain falls. So whether it's Queensland, New South Wales, of course I’m in Victoria now, in the Wimmera. You know, where there’s pipelines that we can lay down, where there's dams and weirs that we can build we will.

Journalist: Alternative technology, is that on the radar as well? I mean one of the things is if it doesn't rain, it doesn't rain.

Michael McCormack: Well, it will rain. I mean, and we know and ...

Journalist: We’ve got rain here, of course.

Michael McCormack: You know, in the millennium drought everybody said oh, it will never rain again and we had that- we had Flannery going round saying oh, it will never rain again. You know, the oceans are rising and you know we're all doomed. But it did rain again, and when it rained – and people forget 2016 was a very, very wet year, particularly around my area and I appreciate others besides – I mean it was a very wet year. And I mean down in Gippsland last week they had an inch of rain, so it will rain again and honestly we'll be cursing the amount of rain that falls when it does because it- usually droughts are followed by flooding rains, and- as Dorothea Mackellar said.

Journalist: Yes, I suppose one of the reasons I raise that is because the Wimmera Mallee Pipeline which was a-it’s been a fantastic success story.

Michael McCormack: Huge.

Journalist: One of the reasons for it getting federal money in the first place was a justification to get water up into the terminal lakes of the southern Mallee because ...

Michael McCormack: [Interrupts] Because it stacked up. The science stacked up, the locals were behind it.

Journalist: ... we haven't- it’s been- ever since it’s been in place, no water’s got there. Or it’s got to Hindmarsh but not to [indistinct] and of course that’s where this [indistinct] come from, where these small communities are relying on their lakes. Or don’t anymore because they don't have the water there. So that's the- that's the question about the water, that’s why I asked that.

Michael McCormack: Yeah.

Journalist: I suppose- I’ll move on to another subject, can I?

Michael McCormack: Please. You’ve got the floor.

Journalist: The recycling, from a national perspective. Now Emma Kenley’s(*) come out and basically jumped the gun and said there's no way we want Melbourne's waste in our backyard. If they’re going to- if they can't deal with it from a state government perspective, recycling, the regions shouldn't have to actually cope with their rubbish, which based on a belief that- they believe that the government is city-centric. They keep saying it, constantly, okay? Now she's come out- from a federal perspective ...

Michael McCormack: [Interrupts] I don't disagree with what she's saying. Melbourne's lagged behind other capital cities as far as actually dealing with its waste problem and you know Melbourne, the actual Melbourne electorate, is represented by Greens Adam Bandt. I've never heard him get up in Question Time, I've never heard him get up in Parliament and say what are we doing about recycling? But I'll tell you what Scott Morrison is, I'll tell you what the Nationals are. We want to make sure that if you put your plastic container, if you put your cardboard box in the recycle bin, then it actually gets recycled. At the moment I read a statistic the other day and in fact, the Prime Minister quoted it, it’s only 12 per cent of recyclable material that’s actually being recycled that gets sent to the recycling centre. I mean, that’s shameful. But it starts with local governments, it’s also then state governments, but we’ve taken national leadership on this.
There are also- and I know Tim Rose, who has started up a place in Gladstone. He's actually a Wagga Wagga boy, so I’ll give my own local bloke a plug. He's actually converting rubbish waste into bio-oils and indeed oils to be able to be used in mining equipment and cars and ships. He's hoping to, you know, expanded it so that even Defence looks at it as a viable option for fuel. Now, those sorts of things need to be explored and they're the sorts of things I’m pushing, but we need to make sure that if somebody puts a recyclable piece of a product in a recycle bin that it actually gets recycled.

Journalist: So that's the sort of thing- that's from your perspective, that's what you're pushing is to ...

Michael McCormack: [Talks over] Absolutely.

Journalist: ... is to find alternatives- for fuel alternatives, for example. What about the idea of like some of the South American countries are creating bio-plastics with small boutiques set up by manufacturing industries with yucca ...

Michael McCormack: [Interrupts] Well there's all those sorts things ...

Journalist: [Talks over] Is the government ...

Michael McCormack: ... but mind you, there's a lot of things going on in South America too that I wouldn’t want to see replicated in Australia, but be that as it may.

Journalist: [Talks over] Oh of course, but is that an area of exploration that you guys are actually looking at or thinking about pondering, or are you just simply talking about let's just recycle?

Michael McCormack: No. I think the Prime Minister’s pretty serious about it. When Scott Morrison gets his mind set on something, when he says we're going to do something at a national level on recycling, I'll take him on his merit, I’ll take him on his word.

Journalist: Okay.

Michael McCormack: He's not the sort of bloke I would- having said something, I think he'll follow through on it.

Journalist: Deputy Prime Minister, we've heard from the owners of Wimmera Container Line out at Dooen this week. They're concerned that their business model might not continue to be viable, essentially, if more farmers here are putting their freight on road trains. As the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, what is your policy around the future of rail freight in Victoria?

Michael McCormack: Look, there'll always be a future for rail, there'll always be a future for trucks. Yes, we've got- we want to see more rail put down. I know the Victorian Government has not done well with the Murray Basin Rail Project, and despite the fact that we've put tens of millions of dollars of Commonwealth money, we've yet to see where that money is being spent. But look, I'm having a meeting with Jacinta Allan on Monday and in good faith I will work here with her to see what we can do for the future. Yes, we want to see more products on rail. There's no question, but there'll always be a future for trucks, there'll always be a future for rail. The two can work in tandem with one another and that's essentially what we’re doing.
We're investing $9.3 billion in inland rail. That's not going to be at the expense of road freight because there'll always be the opportunity for road freight and we've got some of the best trucking companies in the world. And without trucks, the nation stops, it truly does. But at the same time we

do want to invest in more rail, we do want to invest in more opportunities there but we have to work with state governments and we will. I'm actually pleased that the Victorian Government is the first government to sign up to the intergovernmental agreement on inland rail. New South Wales followed, and I’ve still yet to get Queensland over the line but I'm sure they will given the fact that about $6 billion of that project’s actually going to be invested in Queensland. But it's an opportunity for all of- all those three states, indeed the nation, to see the benefits of rail and to benefit from it.

Journalist: So based on- based on I suppose what comes out of your meeting with the Transport Minister next week, do you think the Federal Government will be prepared to commit more money to the Murray Basin Rail Project?

Michael McCormack: I'll- I'll be weighing up my options after the meeting and I'll be seeing exactly how determined and committed- it is, at the end of the day, the Victorian Government's responsibility. But look, I'm happy to work in good faith, I know, with Jacinta and I know the Prime Minister and the Victorian Premier had a very productive meeting the other night.

And you know, we want to work with governments of any persuasion to get infrastructure built. Whether it's road, rail, sea ports, airports, facilities such as this, we want to make sure that governments who want to work with us will. We’ll invest in their states and we are doing that. We're spending $100 billion on infrastructure. No Federal Government has ever done that in the past. And as Nationals, Anne and I want to make sure that the regional areas get our fair share and we will be doing that.

Journalist: How do you think we're going on decentralisation, your whole concept? We've been talking about it for a while now.

Michael McCormack: Good. Oh we're actually delivering and you know, only this week, last week in fact, last week- make that last week, I opened the Australian Maritime Safety Authority in Coffs Harbour. So already, there's around a dozen jobs. That'll grow to 20, 27 eventually 50 in- within 12 months. That's going to be fully operational, that's getting jobs out of Canberra and into the places they should be. And if you look at- there are many places, we'd look at the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, we've moved that into regional Victoria. It's also going to have a presence in regional New South Wales and South Australia as well. So you know, and there's many opportunities like that. The Grains Research Development Council,-Research Development Corporation, Agrifutures, that's moved into regional New South Wales, saving rent. I don't see them growing much wheat in Barton. They do grow a lot in regional areas and that's why we are hell-bent on making sure that we promote decentralisation where and where possible.

It's also up to business as well. Business should see the opportunities that are available in regional areas. I mean you look at a place like this, you know, where there's power, where there's water, where there's a committed local government with good local leadership. I can’t understand why businesses would expand in a congested city. And you know if you read the ABS data and you see all the activity going on in - indeed in Melbourne - it's going to be Australia's largest city in the not too distant future. Why wouldn't some of those businesses that are looking to set up, looking to establish in Western Melbourne, why wouldn't they look at a place like Horsham? Why wouldn’t they look at Mildura, Swan Hill, elsewhere and think to themselves, for our future, for our employee’s sake we'll go there. And certainly the National Party encourages that and I'm sure the local government and councils would look to see what they can do to entice them as well.

Journalist: Just on infrastructure. On Tuesday, Infrastructure Australia released a report essentially calling on the Government to ramp up its spending on key transport roads and other services now. You've mentioned some of the projects in that sense, but do you recognise that more is probably needed than what is being done, particularly in the Wimmera?

Michael McCormack: I really welcome that report and I know how much Anne has delivered already. She's only been in her- you’d almost measure it by weeks not months and certainly not years. And you know, we just had a meeting with the Swan Hill- people around Swan Hill about their new bridge. I know that Roads to Recovery funding has been increased in the last budget by 25 per cent for all of the 537 councils around Australia, so that they get the opportunity to invest that money. And sure they might argue and I'm sure if the Mayor were here, she'd probably say - well we'd like more and of course they would, and as the economy grows we'll be able to provide more money, to make local decisions at a local level about local roads to help local people. The fact is we're spending $100 billion on infrastructure. No government has ever done that before and the Reserve Bank Governor, Dr Philip Lowe, has sort of said- has said we need to bring some of that forward. Scott Morrison has said it; I've said it. And we want to do that but we have to work with states and we also have to work within our means and our capacity to be able to have the equipment, have the concrete, to have the labour, to have the skills, both unskilled and indeed, the high geo-tech engineers and the like. We have to make sure that we don't rush things such that we're not doing the job properly, it has to be done in a in a staged process, in a phased process and that's what we're doing. But where states can bring projects forward, we're encouraging them to do just that.
That's why in recent weeks I've been having ministerial meetings. I've spoken to each and every one of my infrastructure and transport ministers right around the nation. I've spoken to Premier Palaszczuk, I've spoken to Premier Berejiklian in New South Wales. I know the Prime Minister's had a very productive discussion with Daniel Andrews here in Victoria. We- and I've also spoken to Premier Marshall in South Australia. So we want to get on with the job of building the infrastructure that Australia needs and whether it's regionally, whether it's here in the Wimmera, indeed, whether it's the $4 billion we're spending on busting through congestion in urban areas, through car parks and the like, we'll do it.

Journalist: Okay. Well as part of the reporting around this Infrastructure Australia audit, it's also been noted that the Government is cutting migration by 30,000 as a way of also driving down congestion-

Michael McCormack: [Talks over] No, it's not just driving down congestion, it's because the cap has not really exceeded 160,000 significantly in recent years – the cut-off point was about 190,000. But we need to make sure that, yes, certainly our population strategy is one part of it, but also there’s jobs. We want to make sure that if there are jobs there, that Australians are taking them. We've got a policy by which we encourage migrants, we’re a very generous country. But we need to also make sure that we've got the infrastructure in place and that also that regions are also being serviced by people who are coming into the country. We don't want them to be in enclaves in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. We want them to see the full benefits of what Australia has to offer. And when it comes to what Australia has to offer, people should also look to the regions.

Unidentified Speaker: We might have to wrap it up, guys. Sorry just so everyone can move onto their next appointments. Just from the [Indistinct] last question.

Michael McCormack: Emma.

Journalist: Let's talk about why you're here today - delivering. You just mentioned delivering. You're delivering for the Wimmera and the Horsham community and I heard you earlier on, before any of us were recording, saying how much a revitalisation project can benefit the community and get people out and about. It's great that this is an election promise and sometimes people are pessimistic and think it's not going to happen.

Michael McCormack: They shouldn't be pessimistic when I promise it or when Anne promises because I don't ever over promise and under deliver. If we say we're going to do something, we will do it. And Anne is a doer. I've heard her maiden speech the other day and I was filled with excitement and inspiration by the fact that here’s somebody who's going to get on with the job of doing such things as improving the river precinct, of putting this facility in here which will be world class, state of the art out here at the saleyards. She is somebody who when she says she's going to do something, will do it. Now councils are looking for local submissions and they'll get the tenders happening. Local contractors will benefit from that. The entire region will benefit from that. But rest assured it will be done.

Journalist: That’s it, that’s all I wanted.

Michael McCormack: Wonderful.