Transcript - Press conference on the Scottsdale Irrigation Scheme

BRIDGET ARCHER

It's fantastic to be here in Jetsonville today with Acting Prime Minister Michael McCormack, Senator Jonathon Duniam and Andrew Kneebone from Tas’ Irrigation. We're here to talk about irrigation and what it's doing for the farmers in this part of the world. Last time that Michael was here we visited the Camden Dam which had just a small amount of water at that time but now we're delivering that water here through the Scottsdale Irrigation Scheme. So great to welcome you here again today, Michael, and I might ask Andrew to talk about what we're doing here.

ANDREW KNEEBONE

Thank you very much. So welcome all and also I thank Greg Howard, the Mayor, for coming along and also recognise our Irrigator Committee Chair, Michael Coote, particularly for his leadership of the balance of our irrigator committee and making this project happen. So we started delivering water in this scheme as of yesterday, which is fantastic. And I really want to thank the Prime Minister for the Federal Government's contribution to this scheme. $25 million of federal money has gone into this scheme matched by state and private investment as well. Overall we're delivering to 84 irrigators, over 106 properties and 8,600 megalitres of water from this scheme. It's a fantastic public/private partnership model that is really looking to generate a 50 per cent increase in the agricultural production of this area. So a fantastic effort for all concerned. And particularly, this has taken about 11 years to get to this point from the people who started all this off and it's a credit to everyone concerned. So I will pass it over to Senator Duniam to say a few words.

JONATHON DUNIAM

It is fantastic to have the Acting PM here in town. Our agricultural sector, our outputs in Tasmania, $1.6 billion of value to this state and the nation's economy. We want to see that grow. This stuff coming out of the irrigators here is liquid gold and so the Morrison-McCormack Government's commitment to the agricultural sector, to regional communities by backing in irrigation schemes, dam building, things that unlock so much potential is something that is changing and transforming regional Australia and regional Tasmania. It is great to have you here, Deputy PM, and over to you. 

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, thank you Jono Duniam and he is very hard working, this Senator for Tasmania. When he gets to Canberra, he's no shrinking violet, let me tell you. He's always in there fighting for tourism, fighting for regional opportunities, fighting for Tasmania. As is Bridget Archer. I tell you what, when she gets up in the Parliament to speak, people listen and they know that she means business. They know that she means what she says and she says what she means and that's what we need in Canberra. The two Liberals behind me in there fighting hard for Tasmania. And you've heard Andrew Kneebone speak from Tasmanian Irrigation about what a game changer this project is. The dream has become a reality. This has been talked about for more than a decade. Well, today, we're looking at the project just near completion. So close.

The first delivery of water yesterday – 8,600 megalitres delivering to 84 farmers who are owning 106 properties. Increasing the agricultural output by 50 per cent. And when you increase the agricultural output by 50 per cent, well, you grow production. You grow output. You grow community capacity and mainly and most importantly you grow jobs. Jobs here at Scottsdale in north-east Tasmania, jobs for the entire region. And I know that the Mayor, Greg Howard from Dorset Council, I know how excited he is about it because he rings me quite often. He actually pocket dialled me the other day, made out as if he didn't mean to pocket dial and then told me how excited he was about this project. But Greg Howard is one of those mayors – along with the other mayors right across Tasmania – who know how important regional investment is, who know how important it is to actually invest in local government, in these sorts of projects.             

And I'm really excited to be with so many of the farmers here. They are generational, family farmers. They know what a game-changing difference this is going to make to their production output. They know what a difference it's going to make to their farming operations. They're all small business people. They're all people who just want to get on and build a better community, get on and build a better Tasmania. We are looking at building agriculture to $100 billion output by 2030. At the moment it's $61 billion and little by little we're going to do it. And you do it by adding water. You do it by adding infrastructure. Here we've got both. This dam, Scottsdale Dam and the Scottsdale Irrigation Scheme, the piping, the dam, Camden Rivulet is going to make such a difference to this community and I'm really excited to be here today.             

JOURNALIST

Will this scheme be replicated in other areas of Tasmania?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, it can and it will. We've added in the recent Budget, the October 6 Budget which Josh Frydenberg, the Treasurer, handed down. We've added $2 billion on top of the $1.5 billion that we already had for the National Water Infrastructure Development Fund. I have to say Tasmania is leading the way. It was 16 out of 20 of the last dams built in Australia, built in this state. And now we add this one. It shows that Tasmania is actually leading the way when it comes to progress, when it comes to delivery of water infrastructure and dams. And so I say to Tasmania, well done. We put $23.5 million to this project. The Tasmanian Government put $20 million. The local irrigators, they put $12 million of their own money, backing themselves, taking that risk and making sure that they wanted to grow their operations. And you only do it, as Andrew Kneebone has just said, with that co-investment, with everybody talking on the same page, with everybody rowing the same way. And that's what we've been doing here, private/public investment and making sure that we get things done. So there's no reason why this sort of scheme can't be rolled out right across this state, can't be rolled out right across the country. Tasmania leading the way and others should follow suit.      

JOURNALIST      

What impact will it have on the local economy?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Massive. Absolutely huge. And I think Jono Duniam gave a figure there before, it's going to grow the local economy to the tune of millions of dollars and that's what we need. And it's also going to grow local jobs. It's also going to grow local investment. When you add water, you add population. You add jobs, you add regional security. It's such a game changer as Andrew Kneebone has said again and again for this area and so I congratulate the north-east Tasmanian region and I say to other regions, if it can be done here it should and can and will be done elsewhere.     

JOURNALIST

Was this rollout delayed? Because was it meant to be sort of end of last year, October or was it always meant to be –

MICHAEL McCORMACK

We would all like to see projects happening earlier but we have had a global pandemic and that has slowed things up in some degrees and some areas. But it was always going to be completed this year and it has. And I'm very excited to be here today with getting that bit of misted water. You feel as though whilst it's not coming from the dam and not coming from the actual project, you get the sense and the ambiance, so to speak, of when you add water. And I'm sure the farmers are delighted at that.   

JOURNALIST

How was your flight this morning?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

The flight was good. The flight was very good. Yes and that's why it's important that I wanted to make Tasmania my first visit. When the Prime Minister said he was going to Japan, I said, "I'm going to Tasmania." He said, "Why are you going down there?"  I said, "Well, Bridget Archer told me that when I had the very first opportunity to go somewhere, it was her electorate. She said 'I need you to come, I need you to come and visit this Scottsdale project and talk to locals, more importantly listen to locals about how good this project is'." As I say, she is a fighter. Her and Gavin Pearce and Jono Duniam and all our team down here are fighters for Tasmania. Tasmania is very well represented in the Federal Parliament by these people and we want to make sure that we tell the whole nation how good Tassie is and how good agriculture is down here.                

JOURNALIST

Do you think the amendment of the Broadcasting Act goes far enough to save regional broadcasters?      

MICHAEL McCORMACK                

I'm working very closely, of course, with Paul Fletcher, the Communications Minister, as to rolling out a project to help regional broadcasting and regional newspapers. Under the public interest news gathering program, we've invested tens of millions of dollars into making sure that we've regional journalists, just like yourself and camera crews from regional bureaus and elsewhere covering the news that matters to regional people. And regional people want to see other regional people and other events that are happening around their state on local news. It's so important.

I'm a former journalist of 21 years standing. I can remember when I was a newspaper editor in Wagga Wagga, I had 58 people in my newsroom. So I know how important it is to have local people on the ground covering local events. We don't want to see our regional television broadcast and our regional newspapers just full of national news, just full of, dare I say, international news. We want to see local events covered. We want to see local faces in papers and on the local bulletins that night and that's why it's so important and that's why Paul Fletcher and I are very much working to that end, to that effect. But we're listening to the owners. We're listening to the stakeholders and we're listening to our communities about what's important to them and regional journalism is important to them.

JOURNALIST

Has your position on the one-to-a-market rule changed at all?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, it was always about getting regional journalists at events like this. It was always about regional journalists and more of them, covering regional events. I've never swayed from that. Of course, we need to go through and talk about ownership and how that affects local communities. We need to make sure that whatever we do finally announced as part of legislation is the right thing for our regional communities. The media market is so wide and so diverse now as opposed to when I was a regional newspaper editor and the internet and other forms of social media have changed the media landscape. And I appreciate that, the competition for advertising is vast. Of course, people spending their ways and spending their money differently to what they used to. A lot of people are now watching Netflix as opposed to watching the news. And we need to get people making sure they know and understand the importance of regional journalism and regional news and that's why, as I say again, the Liberals and Nationals are working towards bringing about the best policy for reform in this regard and we will keep doing that.

JOURNALIST

And finally from me, it's reported that President Trump plans to withdraw all US troops from Iraq and Afghanistan before the end of his term. Does this leave Australian troops vulnerable and will we follow suit?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, Australian troops are the best of the best. Always have been, always will be. We've always worked in conjunction with our allies, with our neighbours and with our friends making sure that we've the best possible safety and the best possible measures for our troops and we will always do that. Of course, those discussions will take place at the highest level. We will talk about these things with our Five Eyes and with our other allies as to the best possible outcomes. Not just for our troops and others besides but also in the countries in which we're serving. Also the countries in which we're doing these peacekeeping operations. We want to make sure that if our troops are needed, they will be there on the ground. The remarkable work and I appreciate we've lost 42 of our bravest in Afghanistan over the many years we've been there, it has been the longest conflict that Australians have ever been involved in. Longer than Vietnam and of course, longer than Malaya and Korea, and the two world wars and the Boer War. It has been the longest conflict we've ever been in but we've made such a difference to the lives and livelihoods of particularly women and girls in Afghanistan, who can now freely go to school, who can now go to university, who can now take a job that wasn't afforded to them before. So the work that we've done, the service and sacrifice that we've performed in Afghanistan has been very, very important. But we will make the right decisions at the right time in regards to our level of commitment going forward.

JOURNALIST

I have a bit of a background question on irrigation. Apart from this scheme, what are the schemes in Tasmania that are earmarked? Are there any others?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Maybe you should ask Andrew Kneebone that but like I say again, we are spending $2 billion extra on top of the $1.5 billion for the National Water Infrastructure Development Fund. Chris Lynch is now heading up the National Water Grid Advisory Board and they're going to be providing direct input to myself as to what we need to do as far as irrigation. And I'm really looking forward to working with Andrew Kneebone, really looking forward to working with Michael Ferguson and Premier Gutwein to see what we can do further for Tasmania but also taking advice from such people as Bridget Archer and Jono Duniam. Because they know what are the best local community needs for irrigation, for dams and for water going forward. But I'm very, very looking forward to spending some of that $2 billion additional money in Tasmania. But I'll get Andrew Kneebone to add to those remarks.

JOURNALIST

[Interjecting] Does the one in the Northern Midlands, is that federally funded as well?

ANDREW KNEEBONE

The Federal Government have committed $100 million to the first five of our programs, so they are the Don Project which has gone through water sales and is about to go to business case, the Northern Midlands, Fingal, Tamar Valley and the Sassafras Wesley Vale scheme, the Federal Government have put in $100 million towards those five schemes and $85 million is coming from the State Government and the balance of the funds for the $260 million-odd will come from private investment. And we're looking at a further two schemes, the Southern Midlands Scheme and South-East Integration Scheme as well and we're currently putting together a funding submission which will go to the Deputy Prime Minister very shortly to see if we can get additional funding.

JOURNALIST

So this will increase Tasmania's farmland?

ANDREW KNEEBONE

It will increase the amount of agricultural output that is capable from that farmland because it updates – it underscores the reliability of the water supply that's needed so that people can then go and make investments in putting in additional crops, in putting in additional infrastructure. So, yes, these are all based on increasing the agricultural output to meet $10 billion by 2050 in Tasmanian terms and $100 billion all up by 2030 nationally.      

JOURNALIST

How long have you had this property for? Tell us a little bit about it?

CAMERON MOORE

This property here, it's down in Jetsonville. It has been in the family for about 10 years now so it has been predominantly – well, it has been dry land agriculture for sheep and beef.

JOURNALIST

What has it meant, this new Irrigation Scheme, for you?

CAMERON MOORE

So it's meant that we've been able to expand the current vegetable production that we do. So into onions, potatoes, carrots and beetroot.    

JOURNALIST

What were you growing before?

CAMERON MOORE

So we've been growing that mix of crops on other farms that we own around Scottsdale. So this farm here, as I said, has just been growing beef and sheep.

JOURNALIST

Any ideas on how much extra value this will put into your farm?

CAMERON MOORE

Well, it's very hard to put a value on it but obviously when you develop something, it does. There is other factors at play at the moment, property prices seem to be increasing. I'm not 100 per cent sure on that. But, yes, agriculture is certainly where you want to be at the moment.

JOURNALIST

The scheme has been in the pipeline for a while. When did you decided that you wanted to take part?

CAMERON MOORE

So we've always been interested in the scheme. We've obviously been irrigating on other properties but at the initial outset of the water sales, we signed up for this property plus the other properties we've got.      

JOURNALIST

Was it costly to do so?

CAMERON MOORE

Yes, look, any investment is certainly costly. I suppose it just comes down to the economics and where it all plays out. But without the Federal and State Government support, it certainly wouldn't have been able to happen.

JOURNALIST

Are you able to increase any jobs on your farm?

CAMERON MOORE

Yes, look, it’s certainly going to increase some employment opportunities. It will mean that we’ll end up putting more throughput through the packing shed property supplying predominantly the eastern seaboard markets of Australia.                

JOURNALIST

How needed was this scheme? I mean, what changes have you seen on the farm in terms of the climate?              

CAMERON MOORE

The scheme has only been open a day so obviously there's not a lot of change. But there's certainly lots of activity running around the district putting up irrigation schemes with centre pivots and all sort of forms of irrigation. Yes, certainly there has been lots of activity around.

JOURNALIST      

What type of infrastructure did you have to put in to be able to take part in the irrigation?

CAMERON MOORE

So obviously we ended up with a box and water comes out of it so we have to control the water after that. So we've so far put in about 1,200 metres of poly pipe and underground electrical cable, 750-odd metres of power-lines. So, it has been a reasonable investment of somewhere around $400,000 so far.            

JOURNALIST

What was the rainfall like in this area prior to this?

CAMERON MOORE

Look, it's a very secure area for rainfall. We've probably had one of our best seasons on record for grass growth and rainfall. This time last year we could have really, really used an Irrigation Scheme because it was a very dry spring. So it does vary but generally it's pretty secure production.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Farmers are also going to be very pleased that we're upgrading that Sideling section of the Tasman Highway and that's going to make such a difference because they will be able to get the produce very grow via the dam and via the Scottsdale Irrigation Scheme to Launceston, to market quicker, via B-Doubles which is going to be very important. We're upgrading that with the Tasmanian Government. A significant investment there. I know Bridget Archer has fought hard to make sure that that became a reality but certainly important particularly in Road Safety Week. This week is Road Safety Week and I say again to anybody there, make sure that you follow the rules and obey all the warning signs of fatigue and those sorts of things. Don't drink and drive. Don't get distracted by mobiles when you are behind the wheel of a car. It's so important. We want everybody to get where they need to be sooner and safer. Thank you very much.        

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