Transcript - Rookwood Weir Press Conference

KEN O’DOWD

Okay, good morning, everybody. Welcome to the banks of the Fitzroy River, the second largest catchment area in Australia. I have plenty of dignitaries here with me today and they’ve all played a very important role in making this job what it is today. I know it has been talked about since the 1990s – the Rookwood Weir – and here we are today seeing these machines working in the background. And I’m looking so forward to 2023 when the job’s completed and there’s water in the weir and it’s going to replenish manufacturing and farming in the central Queensland area. It’s a great project and congratulations everyone. I’d now like to hand over to Barry O’Rourke. Thanks, Barry.

BARRY O’ROURKE

Good morning, Barry O’Rourke, Member for Rockhampton. It is absolutely wonderful to be here today. We are seeing Rookwood Weir coming out of the ground. Currently there’s about 50-odd heavy machinery trucks here and about 80 to 100 staff. That’s going to ramp up as construction continues up to around 200-odd. And the best part of this is a lot of Rocky locals are getting these jobs and it’s absolutely wonderful to see. It’s been spoken about for years and years and I’m so proud to be part of the Government delivering this now.

MICHELLE LANDRY

Michelle Landry, Federal Member for Capricornia. Well, this day has finally come. We are so excited at what is happening out here with Rookwood Weir. We came out here about 10 years ago when we were in Opposition. We were on a water tour and now this is finally happening – it’s absolutely spectacular. This is about agriculture, it’s about water security, it’s about local jobs. This week I’ve been on a water tour with the Deputy Prime Minister and looking at other projects right down the coastline. And, you know, we want to work with the Queensland State Labor Government to get these water projects up and going. The rainfall we’ve had in Queensland is significant but we don’t have enough water storage. So projects like this, getting Rookwood out of the ground, it’s just the first step. This is absolutely spectacular. So congratulations to everyone concerned.

MATT CANAVAN

Matt Canavan, Senator for Queensland. Look, it’s just fantastic to be here today. We’ve fought for Rookwood Weir. We announced Rookwood Weir and now we’re building Rookwood Weir. And building Rookwood Weir means 2,000 jobs for central Queensland. It means we’ll double the agricultural output for the Fitzroy Basin and we’re going to help grow manufacturing in Gladstone as well. All things our country needs desperately. Our country needs jobs. Our country needs dams. Our country needs water for farming and manufacturing. And that’s what the Liberal-National Government, the Queensland Government, are building here in central Queensland.

As Ken said, we are the second largest water catchment in eastern Australia. This is the new Murray Darling. The Fitzroy is the new Murray Darling for our nation. We have been a beef capital here in central Queensland for generations. We’re about to be a food capital as well thanks to the investment of the Liberal-Nationals Government. It’s great to have Beef Week here in a couple of weeks, but we’re going to have better and better beef in the future because we’ll have rain, we’ll have outputs that will help our beef industry, it will create more jobs and more businesses will be attracted to central Queensland thanks to the building of dams and creating water. You just need to add water and you create jobs and industry and that’s what this Government is doing.

GLENN BUTCHER

Hi, everyone and welcome to Rookwood Weir. What we’re seeing here today is a collaboration between the Queensland State Government and the Federal Government and it’s great to have the Deputy Prime Minister here with us today showing his support for a project which we know is delivering water security for central Queensland. This project will not only allow us now to expand our agriculture industry here, our beef industry here, but also gives the Gladstone community that security that they need moving forward with further industry developments, like the hydrogen industry coming which we know is a big user of water. What we’re seeing here today is jobs on the ground. As we’ve driven out today it’s been absolutely amazing to see the amount of work that’s been done in such a short time. We see currently 100 people on site which will double in the coming months when we start to get into the main construction of the Rookwood Weir. It’s also pleasing now that we’ve also added an extra $15 million collectively with the Federal Government and the State Government to raise the Rookwood Weir an extra 700 millimetres high which gives us an extra 10,000 megalitres of medium priority water that we can now put out to the market later on for those users in the region to get that prosperity they need for water security. So it’s a great day today being in central Queensland. I know that the Deputy Prime Minister has been around Queensland looking water projects. We’re working together collaboratively here to make sure that we can get the best bang for our buck as governments do and the best water projects to deliver security not only here in central Queensland but right around Queensland as well. It’s great to be here and it’s great to see this project coming out of the ground.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Thank you, Minister Glenn Butcher. He is the Minister for Regional Development for Manufacturing and for Water. I want to work with him very closely in good faith to build water infrastructure. Fantastic to be here, too, with Barry O’Rourke, another Member of the Queensland Government who wants to get on and help to build Queensland, help to build Queensland better and it is also great to be here with my Nationals colleagues, with Assistant Minister Michelle Landry, with the Local Member, the Member for Flynn, Ken O’Dowd and with Senator Matthew Canavan, Senator for Queensland. All of us want to build a better Queensland. We’ve got that collective goal.

Now just think of some of the statistics with this particular project – $367.2 million. That’s the commitment that the Queensland Government and the Federal Government have put down towards this project. It is the biggest water infrastructure project going on in the nation right now. And it’s happening right behind us. 86,000 megalitres of water – productive water – able to build agriculture, able to build manufacturing, able to do the sorts of things that it’s going to build in this Fitzroy Basin to the point where it’s going to create more jobs, more wealth, more prosperity for regional Queensland, for the State of Queensland and for our nation. 200 and two metres wide – that’s how wide the weir is going to be. And the spillway will be five storeys high. They’re big numbers. 200 jobs, as Minister Butcher has just indicated, when it’s fully operational, fully operational in the construction phase. And that’s what we’re doing. We’re doing this together. We’re doing this cooperatively. We’re doing this collaboratively and that’s what the community would expect. Yes, our Governments have a different political persuasion. We’ve got the Queensland Labor Government; we’ve got a Commonwealth Liberal-Nationals Government. But the community expects us to work together and that’s precisely what we’re doing. And it’s so good to come here on site to the Rookwood Weir site. I can remember coming here with then Prime Minister Turnbull back in April 2018 and we announced our $176.1 million commitment. Well, a lot of water has passed down the Fitzroy since then, but we’re now getting on and we’re doing it.

You can hear the rumble of the excavators behind me and that is so exciting. And this is going to be the catalyst for more water infrastructure. Michelle and I have been on a water tour this week. I know full well just the potential of all the projects just to name those ones in Queensland, whether it’s Hells Gates, whether it’s Big Rocks, Urannah, there are so many projects Emu Swamp Dam down south at Stanthorpe. There are so many projects that Glenn Butcher and I are going to work towards building, work towards doing. Work towards getting construction done and started over the next months and years and that’s what the community expects. It’s going to build Queensland’s wealth but, more importantly, it’s going to build the national wealth. If we’re going to meet our global food task over these next coming years we’re going to have to grow agriculture to the hundred-billion-dollar enterprise that it can be by 2030, then we’re going to need to add water. We’re going to need to get that water when it falls and use it in those dry times so that we balance out those economic and environmental impacts that we sometimes see – we always see – in Australia. This is such an exciting project to be on site. It is, as I say, transformational, nation-building and that’s what we’re doing. Any questions about this? I’m happy to answer any other questions, but are there any questions about this exciting project? Now, I’m sure the media is very excited about this, as are we.

JOURNALIST

Deputy Prime Minister, we’ve seen a lot of talk over the years we’ve even seen some of the local MPs behind you have a bit of a stoush over this. How can the people of central Queensland expect the project to be delivered on time?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, you see it today. We’re all very much best buddies. We’re all together. We’re all talking off the same hymn sheet. We’re all working together and that’s what the community expects. That’s what the community demands. That’s what the community wants and that’s what the community deserves and that’s what the community is getting. Labor, the Liberal-Nationals, working together to build water infrastructure. We’ve got the capacity to do it. $3.5 billion from the Commonwealth Government in that bucket of funds. We added $2 billion to it at the October Budget last year. And I know the Queensland Government is committed too, I think Gelnn was telling me $1.2 billion a little earlier today when we were talking about all the projects that we want to build together. So, we’ve got a 2023 construction date timeline and we’ll meet that and we’ll meet that because we’ve got some of the best companies working on this – McCosker, ACCIONA, Sunwater, of course, play a big part in this. We’ve got two governments of different political persuasions, yes, but of one commitment, very much so.

JOURNALIST

[Inaudible]

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, the milestone at the moment is that we’ve got excavators on site. The milestone at the moment is we’ve got the work camps, the accommodation camps up and running. And there is anywhere between 80 and 100 workers on site. So, it’s ready to go. There are people already in it. And we’re getting on and doing the job. That’s the milestone. And I think when this vision filters back through those newsrooms right across the country as I hope it will, people in the capital cities will see we’re getting on and we’re doing stuff and we’re doing it together. The State Government and the Commonwealth Government, doing it together. Doing what the community wants us to do. And this is fantastic. This is transformational. This is nation building. So often I talk at chambers of commerce meetings in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane and they say, “Why aren’t you building dams?” Proof is right behind me. We are. So the nation can know and expect that we are building dams and we’re doing it together.

JOURNALIST

And how does this project size up for more water infrastructure development in central Queensland?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, it’s creating jobs. It’s creating opportunities. And we’ve got, as I mentioned, many other projects as well. And we talked with the Townsville Enterprise Limited yesterday about Hells Gates. We talked to them about Big Rocks. I know how that is going to be so good for Frank Beveridge and the council there at Charters Towers, indeed, for that community. Once upon a time that was many more tennis of thousands than it is now. We want to build up these inland communities. We want to build these regional communities to reach their potential. And whether it’s even those coastal communities, whether it’s Rockhampton, whether it’s Gladstone, we’re going to build agriculture, we’re going to build manufacturing. We can only do it when we add water. We’ve got, of course, a hydrogen plan nationally as well. We’ve got a manufacturing plan nationally as well. We’ve got an agricultural plan nationally as well. We can’t do it without water. I know the Queensland Government wants to develop its State as well, and we’re doing it together.

JOURNALIST

Have you had a discussion at all between the local MPs about Mount Morgan while you’ve been up here?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Not as yet but I’m sure that they’ve got my ear. Glenn’s got my number. We talk together often and happy to talk to Barry O’Rourke any day of the week as well.

Do you want to add to those questions about water and then I’m happy to take any other questions you might have.

GLENN BUTCHER

So the answer to the question about further water security for the region. The Gladstone-Fitzroy pipeline going forward [inaudible] Fitzroy River is critical for the Gladstone region. The Gladstone region sits with massive industries not only for Queensland but for Australia so this pipeline is the future. This weir here in the future will certainly give security to locations just like Gladstone and its huge industries not only the huge industries that we’ve got but the he industry of the future and as the Deputy Prime Minister said, hydrogen future coming to Gladstone is going to be massive and to make hydrogen, you need water. So this weir, the pipeline proposal, it’s certainly giving security to that. What we’ve also seen here in Queensland and in the Gladstone area, particularly the Rockhampton area, is future development for irrigators to come online. Out of the first tranche of water allocations that went through, were taken up very quickly. And they are massive projects that they’re proposing along the Fitzroy River. So this is critical to what we need for our regional development. This is critical for the economy coming out of the global pandemic. So it’s great news that we’ve actually now got this weir starting in the ground. The jobs will be coming; they’ll be coming from all over central Queensland. We see a local Gladstone company in McCoskers here, we see a tier one provider, ACCIONA, as well employing local people. So jobs on the ground, water security, irrigation for the future. It all is a great story for central Queensland.

JOURNALIST

And just to confirm, the final capacity is 86,00 megalitres, is that correct?

GLENN BUTCHER

Absolutely. The initial design was 76,000. During that detailed design phase they found out that they could actually squeeze in another 10,000 megalitres by raising it 700 mills, so that’s what we’ve done. The best thing about it was it cost $15 million and it was a phone call to the Deputy Prime Minister asking him to come in and share the costs and responsibility. And within a week I had a letter from him with that support. So these are the sorts of things that we need to get these projects not only designed first but when we get into the detailed design and what they can look like for the future, if we can get extra capacity along that process and with the support of both governments, well, that’s the way of the future and that’s how we get things done here in central Queensland.

JOURNALIST

And we know that one of the last times we were out here, applications were open for companies to access water, what about the smaller producers in agriculture, when does that open up?

GLENN BUTCHER

Yes, we’re still on track to do that early next year. I call it like setting up a shopping centre – you get anchor tenants in first, which we’ve done. Now we’re in the phase of building the weir, which means our small tenants can now come on board. So they’ll have the opportunity earlier next year, for the smaller agreements. But what we’ve also done with that extra 10,000 megalitres is give those medium users – medium water allocation users – the opportunity to come on board as well in the future. So, as I said, it’s not only securing water allocations for our irrigators along the Fitzroy River and now on the weir, but also for the Gladstone region as well giving security for industry.

JOURNALIST

Many more companies have signed up now as well? Since we were last here?

GLENN BUTCHER

No, no, the first allocations have been done. The next lot are in early next year. There will be a process that goes on where they can apply and we will take each of those individually and work them through what their irrigation needs are and what allocations they would like. So that process will happen early next year. Some water is committed to making sure that process is open and transparent so that each of those people that need that allocation will have every opportunity to get it early next year.

JOURNALIST

When neighbouring property owners [inaudible].

GLENN BUTCHER

Well, that’s all part of the process that’s going on. Obviously, that was in negotiations to get us to a point where we are today where we’re building a weir. You know, not only that, we’re still working through and it’s been very positive so far with the traditional owners in the area as well. And we’re looking forward to working collaboratively with them on future opportunities as part of this weir going forward.

JOURNALIST

[Inaudible]

GLENN BUTCHER

Absolutely. Well, part of the process of going through and getting that water now allows those companies, the two big companies that have signed up to go and start the – and we’ve already seen it – acquiring land. They’re buying lots of land. Certainly, macadamias are going to be huge in Queensland. The processes that we’ve seen, particularly in the Bundaberg region are growing and growing and growing. There’s no reason why we can’t be one of the lead macadamia producers here not only in Queensland but Australia on the basis of building a weir, which you see happening right behind us now.

JOURNALIST

One final questions, so the construction now is in-river, what’s the actual timeline – like what are the next smaller milestones for construction or completion?

GLENN BUTCHER

Obviously, there’s a lot of detail that goes into those sort of answers. What we will see now is opportunities going forward to build saddle dams, which is what they’re called, to continue to allow the river to flow through while we build this dam. The important part of today’s announcement is that we’re actually starting the works in the river, which is what we’ve seen. We were here late last year, the changes that have happened in a short time has been absolutely amazing. When you drive up to the facility, to see what’s happening behind us, you can just see the opportunities that are out there for work that is now happening in-river. So, today’s announcement is huge because we’re actually starting to build the weir here in central Queensland.

JOURNALIST

Deputy PM, let me just ask you quickly, more on Rookwood Weir, the neighbouring property owners have said that they did not realise that you were coming to town. Do you think that is correct? That neighbouring property owners and locals here didn’t realise that you were coming in?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, I don’t put a general note out to everybody and all and sundry that I am coming to town. I certainly told my political colleagues, certainly the companies knew I was coming. I don’t always put out a memo that I am coming to town and expect people to, you know. But I am always happy to meet anybody. Greet anybody. I do have to get back to my own hometown of Wagga Wagga, which I haven’t been at all week. I have been on this tour of Queensland. I have got a couple of important things to do at home. I am always happy to meet local landholders. I know their interests are our interests, whatever project we’re doing. Whether it is Inland Rail, whether it is the roads that we are building right across the nation. Whether it is indeed the largest water infrastructure project in the country. We are building $110 billion of infrastructure supporting 100,000 workers. I am always happy to talk to local landholders. So, if they want a chat I am more than happy to do that. Just not right today. I’ll be back for Beef Week.

JOURNALIST

On Inland Rail, is there any chance that the route is going to be reconfigured to end in Toowoomba, firstly. And secondly do you support an extension to Inland Rail to Gladstone?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, it will be connected to Gladstone from day one. But the original plan and scope that was agreed upon before I became the Infrastructure Minister, did not include the Inland Rail going from Melbourne to Gladstone. But that said, it will be connected to Gladstone from day one.  When I took over as the Infrastructure Minister, we had a $50 billion portfolio. You now have got $110 billion. So you can see the commitment that I have as the Minister. You know the commitment that The Nationals have to build a better regional Australia. We are always looking at these projects. We are always building on these projects and programs. It is a rolling infrastructure program. When we finish one particular project whether it is rail, whether it is airports, whatever the case is. We are then looking at the next project. We have probably already got the business case, the EIS done and we are already starting on that. More than happy to look at those things in the future but the original scope, the original Cabinet decision was to have Brisbane to Melbourne. 1,700 kilometres, a corridor of commerce. This is transformational. They’ve been talking about that project since the 1890s, well it took The Nationals in Government to get on and do it.

JOURNALIST

Just to clarify, the extension to Gladstone is not a possibility, it is going to happen?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

No, no, it will be connected. The Inland Rail will be connected to Gladstone from day one. There is an interconnected railway network, it will be connected to Gladstone from day one. But the Inland Rail, per se, is going from Melbourne to Brisbane and we’ll do that. And like I say all our projects and all our programs and everything that we offer as part of the infrastructure roll-out that we are doing right across the nation, it is a continuing thing. It just doesn’t just start and stop when we get the projects that we’ve finished and completed.

JOURNALIST

Are you open to an alternative case study though that is showing that the Inland Rail is actually [inaudible].

MICHAEL McCORMACK

I’ve seen the dollar amounts too and at the moment the Inland Rail is Melbourne to Brisbane. I am always happy to look at alternative proposals, always happy to look at business cases, always happy to talk to proponents who feel that they have a case to put forward. That’s what I do as Infrastructure Minister, I’m out there talking to people on the ground every day and lots of people have lots of great ideas to build regional Australia and to build our nation better and that’s what we are doing with our $110 billion infrastructure roll out. Did I mention that it is supporting 100,000 workers? It is great. It is fantastic.

JOURNALIST

[Inaudible]

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Sorry, I can’t hear you.

JOURNALIST

[Inaudible]

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, what we are doing is we’re actually meeting all our performance targets. That’s what we are doing. It is all about performance, not necessarily targets off into 2030 and targets into 2050. We are more than meeting and beating the targets that we said we would do to meet our obligations, our international obligations to do what we said we’d do by 2030. We are more than in advance of what we said we’d do as far as lowering emissions and to meet our 2030 targets. 2050, that is another matter again. But what we are doing importantly is we are meeting out performance targets. That’s what you would expect and that’s what we are doing as a nation. And what we won’t do and what the Prime Minister has said that we won’t do is cruel farming, cruel factories, cruel jobs and put household prices through the roof as far as electricity is concerned by some sort of target that some other people would expect us to do by 2050. Yes, we are lowering emissions. But we won’t do it at the expense of farms and factories and workers. We won’t be taking lectures from those people who sit around their cafes and wine bars, as the Prime Minister has said, in capital cities. You see what we are doing out here. This is going to develop central Queensland like never before. That’s the important thing. We are getting on with the job of building a better Australia. We are getting on with the job of lowering emissions, but we are doing it in a responsible and pragmatic and practical way. We are not going to put on carbon taxes. We are doing it through technology. We are doing it through innovation. We are doing it through building a better Australia. We won’t be doing it through taxes. That’s the Anthony Albanese way. That’s the Greens’ way and what we don’t want to see is an Albanese-Adam Bandt Government. Because that’s exactly what they’d do. They’d tax the hell out of all Australians to meet some target that the people who sit around in cafes in Marrickville and Newtown would have us do as a nation. Well I am here for central Queensland. I am here for the jobs of regional Australians and we will meet our performances, we will meet our emissions targets and we’ll do it in a responsible way.

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