Transcript - Wagga Wagga Press Conference

MICHAEL MCCORMACK

Okay, well it is great to be here at the Botanic Gardens in Wagga Wagga. This is one of the most visited places in all of the Riverina and so it should be, because we've got the miniature rail, we've got the beautiful gardens of which so many weddings, so many family events have taken place. And of course, on Lord Baden Powell Drive, we've got the Museum of the Riverina, that houses so much of Wagga Wagga's sporting memorabilia, so much of Wagga Wagga's agricultural heritage.

And we're going to be giving it a refurb, we’re going to be giving it a much‑needed spruce up, $4.2 million. I know Wagga Wagga City Council is delighted about this. I spoke to the Mayor, Councillor Greg Conkey, last night. He's very, very excited. Peter Thompson, the General Manager, has said that the new exhibition hall, as part of this refurb, as part of this renewal, as part of this revitalisation of the Botanic Gardens precinct is going to be doubling the space that it is already there on Lord Baden Powell Drive as part of the museum. So that's fantastic. And this of course is part of the overall national Building Better Regions Fund. $207 million and Wagga Wagga is the home of the announcement for this national fund today.

The BBRF, it is Round 4. 163 projects across the nation are being funded as part of this special drought-dedicated fund round. And of course we know how hard the drought has hit, not just the Riverina but indeed, the nation. We know the effects of the drought are still being felt by many communities who haven't enjoyed the rain that we have here in the Riverina and the Central West in recent weeks and months.

We've got the very best start to a cropping season, a winter cropping season in many, many years here, in and around Wagga Wagga, in and around the Riverina. Some parts of Australia are not so lucky. And even for those parts, which have had some decent showers recently, there is still the effects of the drought taking its toll, taking its toll on jobs, taking its toll on mental stress and that's why the $207 million is part of this latest round of the Building Better Regions Fund is dedicated to those communities feeling the effects of drought, feeling the effects of drought that they may well experience for many more years to come.

And of course this is on the back of the Liberal and Nationals Federal Government investing heavily in our JobMaker, job creation schemes. Of course yesterday with the HomeBuilder scheme, and that has been very well received by local tradies, local builders and local people alike. Of course with the Skills Package, with what we're doing as part of revitalising Australia through the back end, hopefully, of COVID‑19, we're still not out of the woods yet and I would encourage people to download the COVIDSafe app.

But it's been a tough time in recent months. We've had the drought. We've had the bushfires and of course we've now got the coronavirus taking such a toll on jobs and that's why everything we do is all about creating jobs, creating hope, creating opportunities, working for those Australians who've lost their jobs, working for those Australians who are backing themselves in small business and want to get a start out of this coronavirus pandemic.

And of course here in Wagga Wagga we've got so much to be thankful for, so much opportunity here, and that's why the Federal Government is backing Wagga Wagga City Council, the Botanic Gardens precinct to the tune of $4.2 million. The Riverina has benefited with the Building Better Regions Fund, since its inception, to the tune of $26 million, revitalising the area, refurbing those activities that we need to look at, those places which need the investment and mainly creating jobs.

So I might ask Dallas Tout, the Deputy Mayor, to make a few comments. And happy to take any questions.

DALLAS TOUT

Thanks, Michael. So first of all thank you to Michael as our local Federal Member and also as the Deputy Prime Minister for the federal funding from the Building Better Regions Fund.

This is the final piece of the jigsaw in our project. It is $3.9m from the State Government, about half a million from the Council, and now $4.288m from the Federal Government. As Michael said, this project will encapture the zoo, the Botanic Gardens, the Lord Baden Powell Drive and the roadworks, around there and also the museum and a brand-new exhibition hall, which will give us a beautiful contemporary museum space.

A lot of the money is going towards the roadworks to enable pedestrian access under and over Lord Baden Powell Drive. And part of the Botanic Gardens refurb of the project is called Entwine. To me, this funding entwines everything together, so it is pulling together the Botanic Gardens, the zoo, the museum and the road space to enable that to be all one precinct now. You don't go to one of them, you can go to all. And there will be inter‑connected paths and trails to each of them.

And I suppose the last thing I want to say is that, it is in our cultural plan, it is a fantastic announcement today, but cultural things also can lead to economic things. Sometimes it doesn't always have to be economic stimulus. Cultural funding and stimulus can lead to economic and vice versa, so again we welcome the funding and the announcement of the money well spent. And it will improve an asset that is already an amazing asset into something really quite amazing in the country.

So thank you very much for the funding again, Michael.

MICHAEL MCCORMACK

Thank you, Dallas. 

JOURNALIST

I just have some questions for Dallas.

Dallas, so this funding, so you're saying it is going for the whole precinct, not just the museum. Can you just clarify that?

DALLAS TOUT

Correct. So, there was a Botanic Gardens project and also a museum project, so we've overlaid that and that was part of the Building Better Regions application, which is to pull all those into a precinct together, inter‑connecting paths so you can walk under where the railway goes already, or you can go over, because it will have pedestrian access over the top here, so you can go straight to the museum as well and then, like I said, there will be an exhibition hall there which will be a really contemporary museum space with proper lighting, proper display cases. We'll be able to display our own items or other items from around the region as well. So it is the whole precinct.

JOURNALIST

And as far as at the moment international borders are closed so a lot more Australians will be travelling from metros out here. How important is it to have massive features like this for our tourism angle to bring people to Wagga and help boost our economy in such a difficult time?

DALLAS TOUT

Yes, exactly. Exactly as I was saying, whether it is Riverside, what's happening, or up here, those sort of things, they all fit in together. "Entwine" is the word again. It all comes together.

So some people may say that's cultural funding. Well, no, it is not. It is all in together. Having those assets and that part of community that are appealing to travellers or holidaymakers and visitors who want to come here, that then flows to the economic stimulus in the shops, coffee shops and everything else that's up here. So they all come in together.

JOURNALIST

Any indication of timeframes, Dallas? Do you know when it will start? When it will finish?

DALLAS TOUT

Not at this stage because we were waiting for the final piece. I've only had a couple of hours.

MICHAEL MCCORMACK

And look, to answer that question, we hope that, you know, tenders are looked at very, very soon and contracting happens, but this is going to create local jobs and local procurement and right across the nation.

The Building Better Regions Fund is designed to do just that. 163 projects, ranging in size from a few thousand dollars, right up to $10 million or so, projects that are going to stimulate the economy, projects which are going to help regional Australians through the drought and through the COVID‑19 crisis.

JOURNALIST

I have a quick question as well, Michael. Obviously with people, a lot of people have been working at home during COVID. It has enabled a lot of people to realise they can work from home. So people who have been working in the cities could actually move to regional towns and still do the same thing. Obviously you are a regional Member. Would you be supporting people coming out here, setting up their life in a place like Wagga and with all the funding and everything that's coming out here?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK

And you're so right. It has dawned on so many people that regional Australia has those opportunities where they can work from home. And indeed, I've been working with Andrew Gee, who has in his portfolio title "Decentralisation". He is the Minister, amongst other things, for decentralisation. And he and I have been working up a great plan. He's been very diligent and very busy to get that plan formulated.

We need to let metropolitan people know that they can come and live in a regional capital just like Wagga Wagga or indeed, a place like Junee or Parkes, or anywhere in the fine Riverina or Central West, indeed anywhere in regional Australia and still be able to do everything that they can and have been able to do and enjoy in a capital city for their whole lives.

And the fact is you are only an hour's flight from Sydney or Melbourne here in Wagga Wagga. And that's the case with many places in regional New South Wales, regional Australia. You can have those opportunities to live in regional Australia, own a big backyard, have the safety aspects of everything that comes with the ambience the lack of congestion and all of those things that come with living in regional Australia.

And I've always said that these places are big enough to get a really good cup of coffee but still small enough to care, so if something does go wrong you've got that neighbourly friendship, you've got those people who you walk down the street and you know them because you met them and they care about you, and that's what the great thing is about regional Australia.

JOURNALIST

Mr McCormack, I've just got a couple of questions about foreign investment. The proposed changes to Australia's foreign investment rules aimed at Chinese investors?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK

They're aimed at making sure that foreign entities don't come in and buy up distressed businesses, particularly agri-businesses, particularly farmland because many people are really worried about their futures. And the price has obviously dropped because of COVID‑19 and other factors. And what we want to do is make sure that Australian grown and Australian made and Australian produced is number one. And we will always do that. We will always defend our foreign ownership records. When we took government, back in 2013, the trigger for the Foreign Investment Review Board to look at any agri-business, any farmland was $252 million.

Now, Labor wanted to make that a billion dollars, a thousand million dollars, but we brought it back to $55 million for an agri-business and $15 million for farmland, accumulated farm land. Now Labor is running around and Senator Deborah O'Neill is getting all uptight about the Foreign Investment Review Boards and making out as if she cares. Well, Labor doesn't care. We do care. We are making sure that these distressed businesses are not going to be hocked off overseas at the drop of a hat. We're going to put regimented and very strict guidelines around it. But we'll be sensible, of course. Foreign investment has made this country what it is today. So it will be sensible. It [March 29 changes] will be temporary. But rest assured under a Liberal Nationals Government you will always get the right transparent, accountable foreign investment laws around our nation and Australians can depend on us for that.

JOURNALIST

Are there any particular areas that you're worried about when it comes to foreign investment in Australia?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK

Well, I just want to make sure there's a sensible, practical, accountable regime in place. And that's what the Treasurer, Josh Frydenberg is doing with these temporary measures over foreign investment.

JOURNALIST

How many people do you think have $150,000 to spend on home renovations at the moment?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK

Well, plenty, because what it's meant to do and what it's aimed to do is stimulate jobs in the economy. And sure, some people might not like every single aspect of the HomeBuilder scheme, but let me tell you there are many Australians who do like it, they want to either buy a new home, they want to either renovate a home they already have. It is a temporary measure for seven months to stimulate the housing building sector. And rest assured for the timber mills, they're pretty happy too, because it's going to mean increased trade for them. They're pretty happy about it.

I know people like Wayne Carter, here in Wagga Wagga, a home builder, Tony Bading, who is the Chair of the local Housing Industry Association, I know they're very happy about it. I know that tradies who haven't had a job in recent weeks and months, well, they're delighted because they're going to be back on the tools.

And yes, it mightn't be for everybody, but let me tell you there are a lot of Australians, particularly regional Australians who are very happy with the HomeBuilder scheme and will take advantage of it. A $25,000 grant on the back of what states are doing for first home buyers. But this is for people, for their principal place of residence, whether they're buying and certainly with the land shortage and there is potentially a land shortage, not just here in Wagga Wagga but, indeed, right across the nation, it also gives people the opportunity to renovate one of those houses that, you know, in an area where it might be a 1980s house and it might need a bit of a spruce up. They can renovate that and then it becomes very desirable accommodation to either live in or to sell.

JOURNALIST

And what do you say to critics who say that part of the HomeBuilder scheme will fail given the amount of money people will have to pay themselves?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK

There will be narks in heaven. There will be always people who want something else, but rest assured this is a temporary measure for seven months to stimulate the economy, to create jobs as part of the job‑making scheme. We are a job‑creating government. We want businesses to back themselves.

We want businesses who are home builders to put on that tradie to re-engage with that tradie that they might have laid off, they might have had them on JobKeeper or they might have indeed laid them off and they're now on JobSeeker. But we want them to re-connect. We want them to be working. We want them to be putting on their high vis, getting their hammers out and doing all the things that they do to build homes, to renovate homes.

And I'm really excited about it. And rest assured when Wayne Carter, a great mate of mine, when he's excited about it, I think we all should be. He said that people are going to be dancing in the street about this. And I'll back Wayne Carter every day of the week when it comes to things like that.

JOURNALIST

Mr McCormack, I wanted to ask whether you supported the Black Lives Matter rally that –  

MICHAEL MCCORMACK

Well, I think it is important that we do exercise tolerance and we do exercise respect and that is what is happening. But, what we don't need to do, is import the sort of violent protests that we've seen in America.

We have always been measured and respectful here in Australia. And if people are going to march on the weekend and I appreciate that Wagga Wagga is doing it, please exercise those social distancing measures. They are there for a reason. We don't need to see a second wave of the coronavirus. Please, exercise social distance but, by all means, if you feel you want to march then do so, but do it peacefully.

Our police here in Australia play a great role. They are the first to run to an emergency when most people are running away from it. And they do do a great job. And we need to always remember that. But, we also need to obviously be tolerant and be respectful. And there is no place for racism anywhere in the world and certainly not here in the beautiful city of Wagga Wagga where we've got the Fusion Festival, where we integrate both the indigenous culture, as well as our great multicultural city. We always have been and we always will be.

JOURNALIST

Just on that Michael, I've been speaking to a lot of our Indigenous elders this week. One of the things they did say is that they feel like we've got NAIDOC week and it is a week where we celebrate Indigenous culture and then we go away like Christmas Day. It happens once a year.

MICHAEL MCCORMACK

ANZAC Day. All those sorts of things. They all have their moment in the sun, but I think people do appreciate that racism should not be tolerated at all any day of the week. I think just like we are mindful of our veterans every day of the week, just like we should exercise our respect for other cultures and certainly our First Nation people every day of every week.

JOURNALIST

Is there something we can do better to make it every day of every week?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK

Oh, we can always do things better, yes.

JOURNALIST

Quite a few of our readers say that they don't support the rally because "All Lives Matter". What do you think about that kind of sentiment?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK

Well, all lives do matter. And I know you speak of your readers. Sophie Walsh, former The Daily Advertiser journalist was caught up in protests in London. And we don't want to see those sort of violent protests here in Australia. We don't want to import that sort of racism, that sort of hatred and that sort of intolerance here in Australia. We are a very respectful country. And certainly here in regional Australia, I think we're probably even more respectful than most. Like I say, it is a city which cares, always has done and that's why we've always been mindful of these things. That's why, you know, people like Joe Williams and others are always on the front foot to make sure if there is any outbreak of racism they stamp it out quickly and stand up against it.

You know, one of the greatest events that I've been to, as the Member for Riverina and indeed, as a citizen of this great city was the corroboree that Joe Williams and Geoff Simpson and others put on down on the banks of the Murrumbidgee. I mean, they've been doing it for tens of thousands of years, but they revived the practice for the first time for something like 120 years. It was one of the most awesome events that this city has had. And I hope that they repeat that every year because it was just – for those who weren't able to get there, or didn't think it was going to be such a big thing, I urge and encourage for next time it is held to get down of the banks of the Murrumbidgee and celebrate our Indigenous culture because it is fantastic and we should always be mindful of that.

JOURNALIST

Will you be walkingtomorrow, Michael?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK

No, I am actually going to Canberra tonight which is what you have to do when you're the Deputy Prime Minister, you are very busy all over the nation and unfortunately I'll be in Canberra well, fortunately, I'll be doing quite a bit of work there.

But, indeed, I wish those people who do march well, but, please, be mindful of the fact that we don't have that sort of intolerance here in Australia and just exercise restraint and respect and do all the right things. Our police force here, led by Bob Noble, marvellous people. Those people who wear the blue uniform, first responders. They're always the ones to run to an emergency, where others are running away.

So we should be mindful of that and we should be very thankful for what our police do. And I just ask everybody to exercise respect tomorrow.

JOURNALIST

What do you mean by we don't have that sort of intolerance here in Australia?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK

Well, we don't. We don't have the sort of racism outbreaks that we see in America and the sort of violent protest that began in Minneapolis after the unfortunate death of George Floyd. We don't have that sort of thing in Australia and nor should we.

JOURNALIST

What do you think of Donald Trump's response to some of the protests?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK

Well, Donald Trump is Donald Trump. I'm just glad I live in Australia and I live in Australia in a country that is led by Scott Morrison. We exercise restraint. We exercise respect. We have faith in our Australian ability to continue to do that. I'll leave the American politics to America. Thank you so much.

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