Transcript - Stand-Up Echuca-Moama Bridge

DAMIAN DRUM

G’day, thanks very much. Damian Drum here on the banks of the Murray River here at Echuca, looking at the wonderful Echuca-Moama Bridge. Well, this bridge was obviously talked about by Eddie Hann back in the ‘80s, 1980 that was. This project has been 50 years in consideration, but it took the National Party with both State Governments back in 2013 to put their money on the table, the New South Wales National Party put their money on the table and federally Darren Chester as the Minister for Infrastructure put his money on the table to make this bridge a reality back in 2016. And later on this year we’re going to see this amazing spans actually meet across the Murray River and by mid-next year we’re expecting this bridge to be fully completed and operational.

It’s a fantastic acknowledgement of the work that Michael McCormack is doing as the Minister for Infrastructure to make sure that this project is running on time and on budget. And it’s great to be able to welcome Michael here as the Leader of the National Party and also as the Minister for Infrastructure at the Federal level and to be able to show Michael this bridge, the biggest contract, biggest infrastructure project going on in regional Victoria at the minute. It’s happening right here in Echuca-Moama. It’s an amazing project employing over 400 people in construction. It’s going to save countless hours in transport times into the future.

So, as I say, it’s a great pleasure to be able to invite Michael through but before I do that I’d just like to invite Peter Walsh, the Local Member, Leader of the State National Party, just to say a few words about this project as well. Peter.

PETER WALSH

Thanks very much, Damian. And to Michael McCormack, Deputy Prime Minister, welcome to Echuca. Deputy Prime Minister, it is a real pleasure to be a local member and show you this great project for this community here. Now I think through COVID, it reinforced how much we needed a new bridge here in Echuca when you had queues of one and two hours every day to get across the old bridge. At Easter the queue again was over an hour to get across the bridge. This will make sure that the community of Echuca and Moama can travel internally a lot easier and all those on a pass-through can get through a hell of a lot quicker.

My office is on one of the roundabouts in town and you see all the big A-doubles, B-doubles struggling to get through the town. This is going to enable all those trucks to pass straight through and head north or south, whichever way they’re going. So welcome to Echuca. It is a great project. Success has many parents, and I think we’re all very proud of this. And we’re going to be even prouder when we can actually go across. A lot of people said, “I’ll never live to see that.” They are going to live to see it. And early next year they’re going to get to go across the bridge and that will be a fantastic time. There’ll be a lot of smiles on a lot of faces. But welcome to Echuca.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Thank you, Damian Drum, thank you, Peter Walsh. Echuca-Moama, it’s tourism central. It’s a destination point. So many people come here to spend time to relax, to rewind, to refresh. It is a great place to visit. Of course, we know that these tourist destinations need infrastructure. We know, as Damian has just enunciated, as Peter Walsh has just articulated, that these places need good infrastructure to get people from Victoria across to New South Wales and vice versa. Of course, if COVID has taught us one thing, it’s that you can holiday at home and have a great time, and that’s what we are encouraging. That’s what we are promoting at the moment. And when we can put in place the infrastructure that’s going to promote and enhance these liveable places, these tourist destination meccas, then it’s got to be a good thing.

It’s great to be here. Eric Shearbold has told us just how important this is and the fact that about 97 to 98 per cent of the concrete, of the inputs into this bridge, into this bridge project, is Australian made. As Damian has said, 400 jobs. Also 1,000 indirect jobs. How good is that? When you’ve got that many people working on a project benefitting from the project, of course they’re big numbers. $323.7 million, of which $125.7 million is Commonwealth money. But it’s a project which we’re partnering with the Victorian and New South Wales Governments. So it’s three Governments coming together to build the capacity, to build this community, to make sure that we get these congestion bottlenecks out of the way forever. And this is going to be such a boom for this tourist destination.

And I know that as more people decide to stay at home, to holiday at home, to visit these sorts of great areas in regional New South Wales, in regional Victoria, then this sort of infrastructure due to be connected up, as Damian Drum has said, not too long into the future, later this year. It’s going to be a great thing for Echuca-Moama. It’s going to only build these communities, these communities which want to welcome visitors from far and wide. But, as we go through the COVID recovery, this is also promoting jobs. It’s also making sure that these places can be their best selves.

JOURNALIST

Deputy Prime Minister, with lockdowns happening Echuca was gridlocked all the way along the river. Are there plans in place to have another bridge further up the river nearer to Mildura?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, there’s 57 crossing points, as I understand it, across the mighty Murray and across the Victorian-New South Wales border. What we want to see is borders not closing. What we want to see is borders remaining open so that people can travel freely, so that we can put COVID-19 behind us. But we’re building infrastructure. We’ve got $110 billion of infrastructure, that decade pipeline investment at the moment. It’s supporting 100,000 jobs. We’re getting on with building more bridges, whether it’s at this particular crossing or whether it’s up and down the river. We want to make sure that we work with State Governments. We’ve partnered with both sides of the river – New South Wales and Victoria – to build the infrastructure that Australians need, expect, want and, most of all, deserve.

JOURNALIST

And lockdowns have thought us that we do need that infrastructure sooner rather than later to, you know, carry the trucks across those two states.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, absolutely. And I come from Wagga Wagga. It was part of the COVID bubble that was created when we unfortunately had some of those lockdowns which were, you know, done at a moment’s notice. Border communities were reeling from the fact that there were decisions made in Melbourne which closed borders. And I appreciate – and I’m not going to Premiers – they did what they thought was best for their public health. But it did create a lot of angst, it did create a lot of uncertainty for business. It created a lot of uncertainty for kids just getting to and from school. Nobody knew it better than people who lived on these New South Wales-Victorian – in these New South Wales-Victorian border towns. And it was a huge impost.

We’re hoping, of course, that, as I say, with the vaccine rollout that COVID will soon be but a memory. And, you know, not a great memory, but, again, I say it has taught us a few things – and that is that regional Australia is the safest place in all of the world in which to be. Safest place in all of the world in which to holiday. That’s we’re building the infrastructure to make regional Australia even a better place.

JOURNALIST

This one is unique in that it has two overpasses is part of the project. Is this something that will be carried on to those other bridge projects that might happen on the Murray?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, absolutely. And as was explained, this is the first cantilever-type bridge that’s being built with the Victorian Government partnering since the Bolte Bridge, which was finished in 1999. So this is an engineering masterpiece. The scale and scope of this bridge is magnificent. It’s great to come here and see it. Last time I was here, well, there wasn’t anything but a few gum trees around and the occasional kookaburra laughing at Damian Drum. But this is a huge project. And I’m proud that I am, in fact, a colleague of Damian Drum and Peter Walsh because this is what Nationals in Government do. This is what we get on with. We build infrastructure, we identify the needs and then we get on. We partner up and we build.

JOURNALIST

Deputy Prime Minister, you’ve spent a fair bit of time with Peter and Damian this morning. What other issues affecting regional Victoria have you been discussing today?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, where do we start and where do we stop? I mean, obviously we’re doing our best to build back after the COVID recession that we had to have. This has been a very trying 12 to 15 months and we’re not certainly out of the woods yet. And so job creation, making sure that agriculture can even grow, despite the drought, despite bushfires, despite flooding in some areas and despite COVID, agriculture grew from a $60 billion enterprise to a $66 billion enterprise and that’s on the back of everything we’ve done to promote and enhance markets when the Chinese markets have proven a bit difficult in recent months. So what we’re doing is we’re making sure that agriculture can only grow in the future. We endeavouring to partner up with, of course, the National Farmers Federation and its ambitions to grow agriculture to be a $100 billion enterprise by the year 2030.

So we’ve discussed, of course, jobs in agriculture. We’ve discussed jobs in mainstream regional communities, because it’s not always just about agriculture; it’s about jobs per se. And, of course, we’ve provided the support through JobKeeper. That had to, of course, come to an end, but we’re making sure that people know that there are jobs out here in regional Australia. The Regional Australia Institute has identified more than 55,000 jobs in regional Australia right now. So Peter Walsh as the State Leader of the Nationals in Victoria, myself as the Nationals Leader of the Federal Parliamentary Team are out there spruiking the benefits of regional living.

I know Damian Drum wears the carpet out into my office coming in with ideas about how more people can move to regional Australia. And the Regional Australia Institute actually has a campaign at the moment, Move to More, so that people who live in Sydney, who live in Melbourne, can understand full well the benefits of regional living, come and take that tree change, move to a regional area, they’ll never regret it.

JOURNALIST

[Indistinct] runway upgrade. [Indistinct] regional airports [indistinct].

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, there’s $2.57 million on the table and it’s part of a Community Development Grant working with the Lions Club. We understand that, of course, these airport strips are very important. I landed on one today, landed in a regional airport today. Every other day of the week I’m landing at an airport strip. Some are very elaborate and some are not. That’s why we’ve got these programs and infrastructure funding programs in place to make sure that we can get regional aviation to grow into the future. Cohuna is a very important place. We understand that it needs an airport, it needs a viable airport, and that’s why we’ve put that money towards it. And, of course, as you identified, there’s other programs that they may well apply for in the future. But we’ll work with the Lions Club, the proponents of that project, to make sure that this is a goer.

JOURNALIST

There were some questions around that $2.57 million, whether the Lions Club could appropriately take that money over given that it wasn’t dedicated to them when it was granted. Is that something [indistinct]?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

My department’s working very closely with the Lions Club to make that happen.

JOURNALIST

Moving on to the Murray Darling Basin rail. Are you [indistinct] upgrade, is that something that will be happening as part of the [indistinct]?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, we’ve put now more than $400 million towards the Murray Basin rail. This is an incredible amount of money. We’ve done our best to work with the Victorian Government. It hasn’t always been easy. I’ve had any number of discussions with the Minister – and even the kookaburras realise how difficult this project has been. But just recently we put another $200.2 million on the table. That’s on top of the $240 million we put before. Five million of that, the recent money, was towards planning. So I want to partner with the Victorian Government. I want to work in good faith with the Victorian Government. It hasn’t been easy, but it’s not about the Government, it’s not about politicians; it’s actually about the people in those communities who want to transfer grain, who want to put more freight on rail. That’s what it’s about. That’s who it’s about. And that’s what we’re going to be doing. There’s been, as I say, more than $400 million put towards this. It’s a very important project. I just want the Victorian Government to get on with it.

JOURNALIST

[Indistinct] Road upgrade. Where are those discussions at?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Look, I’ll have to take that one on notice. But, as I say, we’ve got $110 billion of infrastructure at the moment we’re rolling out. Regional Victoria, indeed, Melbourne, is all part of that big infrastructure build. I’m happy to work with any Government of any political persuasion to get things done. That’s what people expect.

JOURNALIST

What use is having more national cabinet meetings to address the vaccination program if the vaccinations are still missing?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, what we’ve done is we’ve secured another 20 million Pfizer doses, so they’ll be arriving at this stage later in this year. We want to make sure that the vaccine rollout is as efficient as possible. Yes, there’s been difficulties. Some of the doses were not available from Europe. And I understand that there was a mad scramble amongst European countries to protect as many of their own vaccines for their own people as possible. But that’s why I’m pleased that we’ve got CSL in Melbourne doing our own sovereign manufacturing capability as far as the AstraZeneca is concerned. We’ll take the best medical advice. We’ve done that all the way through. We’ve got the AstraZeneca. We’re producing it locally. We’ve got those additional Pfizer vaccines – 20 million in total, and we’ll get out, we’ll make sure that if we have to go through twice a week national cabinet meetings to make sure that everybody’s on the same page, that’s what the Prime Minister will do.

JOURNALIST

Do you think vaccine passports are a good idea?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

It’s possible. If the medical experts tell us that’s what is a good idea, if the State health authorities say that they’re willing and prepared and able to do that, then that’s potentially a goer.

JOURNALIST

Deaths in custody, should the nation feel ashamed of more than 400 Indigenous Australians have died in custody in 30 years since the royal commission?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

No death in custody is ever good. None. And we want to work with communities, with Indigenous peaks, to make sure that we, you know, don’t have any deaths in custody. This is a tragedy. Of course it is. And we want to make sure that we prevent at all levels and at all stages any possible or potential death in custody, of course.

JOURNALIST

Do you think the Prime Minister should apologise to Christine Holgate as [indistinct]?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, look, the Prime Minister has made statements towards this regard, and I’d refer you to those comments that the Prime Minister has made. I you know there’s a Senate estimates inquiry going on at the moment and that’s the proper way to do things.

JOURNALIST

Was Kristina Keneally [indistinct]?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

I’ve no idea, but Kristina Keneally is always about the photo ops, she’s always about the political stunt. She’s never, you know, really there for the people who she sometimes claims she is. I mean, she made various statements about regional funding the other day. I mean, she wouldn’t have the foggiest about regional funding quite frankly. But, you know, doesn’t mind putting it up on Twitter, doesn’t mind putting out that vitriol. I’m concentrating on making sure that our regional communities can get the funding that they deserve. I’m proud of that. And I’m also proud of the fact that we’ve put in place measures so that Australians who do want to come to the country come here in the right way. Now I appreciate this is a very difficult and sensitive topic, a difficult and sensitive issue that, of course, we will be working through, continuing in the right and proper way, as you’d expect us to. Under Labor, I mean, there were so many people who came here by boat, so many lives lost in those 50,000 arrivals by those hundreds if not thousands of boats that arrived when they shouldn’t have. And now Labor wants to turn around and criticise the Government for stopping the boats and protecting those people’s lives. I mean really, it’s a bit rich. I don’t take lectures from Kristina Keneally on that or any other topic.

JOURNALIST

Do you think it’s a bit suspicious that she was told there were no planes available soon after [indistinct]?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, again, I say I’m not aware of the circumstances. That would be a matter for the Immigration Minister or the Home Affairs Minister. I’m not aware of the full details. You might have to ask that question to them. Thank you very much.

Media contacts:

Dean Shachar, 0418 202 860
Caitlin Donaldson, 0428 389 880