Weddin Press Conference

Journalist: Alright, so tell us a bit about what we’ve seen here in Grenfell today.

Michael McCormack: Well, we’ve seen people who are very resilient facing one of the worst droughts on record, if not the worst, and making sure that their community is sustainable into the future. And I congratulate the Mayor Mark Liebich and his team for the way they have actually distributed the $1 million under the Drought Communities Programme to organisations such as the Weddin Mountain Muster, to the Show Society, to hall upgrades, to making sure that we’ve got lights and water at the local rugby field. But there’s so much more than that. But this builds community capacity. This actually enables Grenfell, and the little towns and villages around, to be more liveable. And it is tough. Let’s be honest, the drought is crippling right across New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria, South Australia, and it takes its toll on people’s spirits and people’s emotions and, you know, they’re quite despondent, as you could imagine. When there’s not income coming in, when there’s no rain, there’s just a general feeling of, you know: what is my future going to be?
But when we can upgrade the sorts of facilities around town, that does give people something to look forward to, whether it’s the local sporting club and their juniors have got a softer field to play on; whether it’s the town hall with a bit of a refurb – it looks a lot better so that the next time they hold a function there it’s going to be that much more inviting. And, you know, you’ve got this Mountain Muster that already attracts 100 people, with these new horse stalls. At the moment you can see around here the horses are all in just little fenced-off areas. Well in future, they’re going to have nice horse stalls which will obviously be a lot better for the horses and indeed the owners. So they’ll have even more reason to come to Grenfell each time, once a year, but not only for the Mountain Muster but for all the other horse events that they hold here it’s going to be so beneficial

for them in the future. And when you can actually have something that is inviting, people come back to a town. If they go to a town and all the amenities are outdated and old and dilapidated and falling down, it doesn’t always give you reason to want to go back there in a hurry. But when you’ve got a town that’s fighting hard against the elements of the drought and they’ve got this money, they’re spending this wisely, it actually gives visitors to town a whole good reason to come back, to tell others to come and visit, and it gives the locals that feeling of optimism. Money being spent around the town, jobs being kept in the town, and income-generating around the community.

Journalist: You were given some feedback today by some local businesses. What sort of feedback will you be taking back to Canberra? We heard a bit about FMDs and et cetera.

Michael McCormack: Yeah, well look, there’s always things that we can look at and we’ve done quite a number of tranches of the Drought Assistance Package, and you know, we need to continue to look at it. I’m pleased the Treasurer is actually in Northern New South Wales today looking at what is a moonscape, there’s no question. It’s really good for Josh Frydenberg to be able to see that. Of course, the Prime Minister has been on the ground. As soon as he came back from his important United States visit he was straight up to Queensland and looking at what he could do, and further assistance was announced. I mean, we, in this latest round of assistance Temora Shire Council became eligible for the million dollars that we’re seeing spent here at Weddin.

And you know, we will continue to monitor the situation. We will continue to stand shoulder-to-shoulder, not with just our farmers but with also regional businesses. And yes, I do understand that regional businesses are doing it tough, and the Government will continue to do what we can. Importantly, we’re getting on with the job of building dams. We haven’t built a major dam infrastructure on the mainland probably- we’ve built 20 since 2003, but the last major water storage infrastructure built on the mainland was back in about 1987; well, I want to be the Nationals leader and the Deputy Prime Minister, Minister for Infrastructure known for building dams, and we will put shovels in the ground in coming months at Emu Swamp Dam near Stanthorpe in Queensland. I think that will be the catalyst for bigger and better things.

Disappointed that Victoria has not come forward with any dam projects. A little bit- you know, I’m working with Queensland. The process has been slow. Pleased that New South Wales has come on-board and given me their priority lists. I want to work with state governments. I don’t care what their political persuasion is, to build water infrastructure because it will rain again. When it rains again, we need to harvest that water, harness it for the drought that will probably follow the next lot of heavy rainfall that we get. Because that is Australia, you know - we do live in a country of flooding rains and droughts and we need to make sure that we’ve got the water storage in the right places, in the right catchments, to use for future dry spells.

Journalist: Do you think there’s a way that the federal government can directly help businesses like fertilizer businesses retain their employees during these tough times?

Michael McCormack: Well, you know, it is difficult- you know, we were already providing the instant asset right off; we’ve extended that to $30,000. We’ve got the lowest tax rate for small business to- you know, it’s down the lowest it’s been since 1940, down to 27.5 per cent. That will go down even more to 25 per cent by 21/22. You know, we are doing a lot in that business space and that’s why, I know, that we were re-elected in May, because businesses did see us as the Government of choice, the preferable Government to make the right decisions at these difficult times.

Yes, we’ll continue to monitor the situation, but of course, you know, we also need to be mindful of the fact that we’ve got a Budget surplus, we’ve got a $100 billion infrastructure roll out, and we need to be able to make sure that we, you know, use tax payers’ dollars wisely. We are doing that, that’s why we’ve got the first Budget surplus for 12 years. And we’ll continue to, you know, assess these country communities and their needs and wants and address them accordingly.

Journalist: We’re here obviously seeing what Grenfell’s done with the- the Council’s done with the money. There’s been some controversy about other councils that have been given money recently - Moyne Shire [indistinct]-

Michael McCormack: [Interrupts] Well, Moyne Shire Council was actually eligible. If they don’t want the money, that’s fine - we’ll give it to other councils who will accept the money. I mean, a little bit of politics in that too, but- and the Department actually acknowledged the fact that they did read the rainfall figures, they were one month out, but Moyne Shire actually qualified - all 13 shire councils we’ve just announced did qualify. But the Department has gone back, run the ruler over the figures again. And yes, there will be shires that probably have received the million dollars, spent the million dollars, and are still doing it tough as the drought continues and will probably need another assistance package; there’s no question they will.

I mean, I know when Weddin Shire Council spends all of its million dollars - and it needs to, there is a sunset on this - you know, and if the drought continues into 2020, you know, Weddin Shire are going to be looking to put their hands up again and saying: well, you know, we need to keep employment in the town. It’s actually about keeping jobs in town - we don’t want our farm hands, we don’t want people who work in regional businesses heading off to the cities, because often they don’t come back. They might go to a regional capital, they might indeed go to a metropolitan area and sometimes they do not come back. So we want to give people reason and cause to stay in country communities and to love those country communities.

You know, I’ve always stayed in a country community - I’m lucky, I’ve always had a job. But it’s not that easy for people who don’t have a job. There are jobs in the bush, I keep saying it. Sometimes in the metropolitan press I get pilloried for it, but there are jobs - drought notwithstanding, there are jobs in regional areas. And we want to make sure that we continue to make these regional communities very viable.

Journalist: Do you think the eligibility process is enough? Is it adequate? Griffith were pretty disappointed that they missed out this time round, obviously they’re a big irrigation area so rainfall may not affect them as much as what’s happening with their allocations?

Michael McCormack: Yeah, well of course allocations are a state thing. But look, I understand that there are probably some other communities that are also disappointed. I appreciate that Cootamundra Gundagai Council - it’s dry there, it’s dry in Junee, it’s dry in Wagga Wagga. Even though there are half decent crops there, a lot of them are being already cut to hay because they haven’t had the rain they needed in the early spring period. Lockhart is dry, you know, Walbundrie is dry - all these areas are dry, but there is a strict eligibility criteria. It’s based on rainfall, it’s based on population, it’s based on the reliance on agriculture. And it’s done independently of the political process so that I- you know, if you- it’s not done for political expedience or any political outcomes, it’s done in the proper and right and appropriate transparent way, and that’s how it should be.

Journalist: So no extra for irrigation, I guess? No loophole there for them?

Michael McCormack: Well look, we’re always looking at that. But, you know, the Murray Darling Basin Plan is the Murray Darling Basin Plan, signed off by all the states. When it doesn’t rain, it is tough. I appreciate that and I know these areas grow the food and fibre that we need for domestic supplies as well as obviously our exports. And when it doesn’t rain, they do it very, very tough. But, you know, we’ve had discussions of course as to how it can help them, but allocations are the remit of state governments. And I know the New South Wales Government is also seeing what they can do.

That’s why we need to build more dams, so that we’ve got more water storage and we’ve got more water for these dry times. That’s why we’re looking at it now. And look, I’ve only been the Infrastructure Minister since February last year. Fact that we’ve got to this far, the fact that we’ve got the National Water Grid Authority which started this week, you know, I’m ticking those boxes, it is a slow process, I understand that. We’ve got to get the states on board. But what I want to do is get the best available science with the national water grid authority, but still use local stakeholder input because that’s important. And you look at the two big water projects – one which is almost finished, and one which will be shovels in the ground very soon, that is the Scottsdale irrigation project, 11,300 megs, it’s already 5900 megs full, or half-full, a little bit over half-full in north-east Tasmania. Those irrigators, those farmers back themselves with $12.03 billion of their own money. At Stanthorpe they back themselves with $24.3 million of their own money. If they’re willing to do that, then I can’t understand why the states wouldn’t want to come on-board.

So we’ve put $47 million – if you can’t the $5 million for enabling rates for the Emu Swamp project – up; state government, they’ve put $18 million. For the project at Scottsdale in Tasmania, we put 25; state put 20. So we’re putting up the bulk of the money, but sometimes you have to get these states kicking and dragging to the table to sign the dotted line. I’m pleased that Anthony Lynham has done it for Emu Swamp. Looking forward to what other projects we can do. Delighted that Melinda Pavey and John Barilaro are working so closely with me to do what we can in New South Wales. We’ve got a list of projects, we’re talking virtually on a daily basis now to- how do we fast track these, how do we get them happening, because it’s not just to appease city voters and to make sure that we tick off all the boxes there because there is a loud hue and cry, it’s also to do the right thing by regional communities and to do the right thing by the nation.

I talked about this in my maiden speech in 2010, and we’re seeing action. It’s good.

Journalist: What’s impressed you about the projects that Weddin has put together with their money they’ve been given?

Michael McCormack: Well, they’re so diversified. We’ve got projects from right throughout the local shire. And it’s not just Grenfell township, but it’s also Quandialla, it’s Greenethorpe, it’s a lot of the little communities around, Caragabal- where else have we got? We’ve got netballs courts, we’ve got ovals, halls, you name it, there you go, we’ve got it; portable grandstands, disabled toilets, you know, replacing light poles; Quandialla, high flow standpipe; you know, that is critical to- it’s not just critical for farmers, but it’s also critical if something goes wrong as far as a fire and they need to water quite urgently.

So you know, there’s- there you go, that’ll add up to a million dollars. How neat have you done that? Adds up to the last cent, well done Mark.

Mark Liebich: I think I’ve got to put 20 cents in because we were 20 cents out.

Michael McCormack: [Laughs] No, no. it’s good. [Indistinct]

Mark Liebich: It’s great work, great work. But I mean, we’ve tried to put the money into projects that are going to benefit the community by looking after local businesses, because that money then supports, I suppose, the local employees which then feeds through the supermarket and goes through the community. So whatever we’ve done here, we’ve tried to look after the people within the community. And try and put the money towards water projects like the union ground and the standpipes, and try and help the little communities such as Caragabal and Greenethorpe and Quandialla with $50,000 each towards their halls, so that we can try and stimulate things there and help make the local communities that are doing it very tough in those areas to feel good there as well.
Michael McCormack: When you’ve got the rugby club, you know, gone from 50 juniors to 100 juniors…

Mark Liebich: Yeah.

Michael McCormack: You don’t want those 100 juniors being discouraged because the ground they’re playing on is hard as cement. You want them to come back, you want them to continue to play. I mean, we could have the Wallabies of the future coming right out of Greenethorpe, who’ve actually been inspired to play because their ground is decent to play on, and that’s kept them interested, that’s kept them going when they’re young. And who knows, we could have the next Wallabie captain coming right out of Greenethorpe.

Journalist: I guess, on your behalf, very excited to have Michael here and taking him around to see what you guys have done.

Mark Liebich: Look, yeah, we really appreciate Michael coming, and actually putting his feet on the ground. And being a country person, he understands what happens in the bush, so it’s great to have him here, and it’s great to acknowledge Michael’s comments earlier about our projects and how good they are for the community, because that’s what we’ve tried to do. We’ve tried to feed that money back through the community so that we’re helping local business, and then that money stays within the community, because the communities regionally are doing it very tough at the moment. So whatever we can do to support our local communities is what we’ve tried to do.

Michael McCormack: And working in tandem with Steph Cooke, the Nationals member for Cootamundra, the local state member who’s been very…

Mark Liebich: [Talks over] Steph’s been fantastic.

Michael McCormack: … good on the ground working hard. That’s what you expect passionate members of Parliament to do. We’re local members and we want to strive to do the best for our local people.

Mark Liebich: Yeah, exactly.