Transcript - Yass Press Conference

10:11AM

ROWENA ABBEY

Good morning, everybody. Thank you all for turning up. Obviously there’s – we have councillors, we have ex-general managers, we have general managers, we have lots of hardworking staff who have been here to make today actually happen. But first of all I’d actually like to acknowledge that we are meeting on Ngunnawal land, the ancestral lands of the Ngunnawal people and to pay my respects to elders past, present and emerging and acknowledge them as part of our community here in Yass.

Today we’re here to officially open the Murrumbateman to Yass pipeline or Yass to Murrumbateman – it’s actually going up the hill to Murrumbateman – which has been a project that we’ve had under way for some time. We had some delays, frustrations, with pumps and various things that were coming out of Italy, so some delays in that process with COVID. But COVID’s changed the world for many people.

First of all, I’ll just do a little quick overview of the project. So it’s 17.9 kilometres of pipeline between here and Murrumbateman to the – this is the Morton Avenue pump station – to the reservoir in Murrumbateman. This was funded jointly but largely by the Federal Government. So we got $6.1 million from the National Stronger Regions Fund, for which we thank the Federal Government enormously. And we had $3.9 million from the New South Wales Government as well to add to that process and then some additional funding from the Yass Valley Council. So it’s a fantastic project that’s actually brought three levels of government working together to deliver something for our region, which is very important to all of us.

I won’t go on with more details, because I think some of the others have some of the other information to give you as well. I’d like to say thank you to you all for coming and, first of all, I’d like to welcome Michael McCormack, personally. Michael McCormack, it’s always lovely to see him. We have Perin Davey, who is a Senator in the Federal Parliament, Melinda Pavey, who is the Minister for Water in the New South Wales Government, and Wendy Tuckerman who is our local MP. And these guys together, they have worked tirelessly to make sure that we got the funds we needed to be able to complete this project.

So I’d like to introduce Wendy next to speak from Local Government and then we’re going to move up the program. Welcome, Wendy, from the State Government.

WENDY TUCKERMAN

Thank you. It’s absolutely a pleasure to be here. Thank you, Mayor, councillors. I’d like to particularly welcome the Deputy Premier – Prime Minister, beg your pardon…

MICHAEL McCORMACK

That’s my great mate John Barilaro.

WENDY TUCKERMAN

Senator Perin and, of course, the Minister for Water, Melinda Pavey. This is a great day. We understand the importance of water security in making sure that this region is secure in that regard. It’s something that the New South Wales Government is very focused on. The funds that we’ve received from the Federal Government along with the state government and the local government working together to secure this project and see it to its fruition is absolutely fantastic from my point of view. There’s a lot of work to be done in regards to water in this area and we’re working very hard. And I really want to support the Minister for her focus on making sure that this growing region is getting the water security that it needs. And it means – at the end of the day – it means support for businesses. I welcome the business chamber here today as well. It’s creating jobs. It’s what we want to see. We want to make sure that we’re having employment in this area, that people have jobs to go to but, more importantly, it’s about making sure that we’re getting great amenity through good water and a good water source. So I just really want to thank the Minister for being here today and certainly the Deputy Prime Minister for all the work that’s been done in that area. Thank you.

MELINDA PAVEY

Thanks, Wendy, a pleasure to be here as well. My eyes are just hurting from the hi-vis as I drove through this electorate. Michael, our governments are doing a brilliant job putting money into regional New South Wales in our case and regional Australia in yours, and getting things like water supplies good. Murrumbateman, I was just told by the team, the workers up here, that, you know, they’ve been on water restrictions and they haven’t come off despite all the rain. So this is about better security of water to the bourgeoning community of Murrumbateman that we drove through. And actually my favourite part of the hi-vis glare that I experienced in my eyes was all the workers on the Barton Highway. And Rowena, we’ve been friends for a while since I got into the portfolio. I didn’t want to be your friend at the beginning, because you were so pushy.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Still is.

MELINDA PAVEY

And you’ve just told me – I think it’s official because you’ve been telling public meetings – there’s this terrible rumour that you’re not running again to be mayor. You have given 13 years of your life to this community. An extra year on probably what you wanted to do because of COVID. Thank you. And your legacy, along with Wendy’s and everybody’s that worked together to get that duplication started on the Barton Highway is a credit to you all. And it was just so good to see the workers.

But, yep, pipelines aren’t as obvious, but they are as important to world-standard drinking water, to the growth and the opportunities. I’m also Minister for Housing and to see such great looking housing, interesting housing. I think there’s some really great designs here in these communities, it’s really positive. And they’ll have an appropriate water supply to match their beautiful homes. So congratulations to everybody involved. An absolute delight to be here. And I’ll be at home, Urunga, just south of Coffs Harbour, at about 2.30 this afternoon where it will be 23 degrees. Thank you.

PERIN DAVEY

She’s just having a little dig. Thank you all. Senator Perin Davey. I actually live west in Deniliquin but drive through this area all the time. So I too am ecstatic about the Barton Highway work. Hopefully that will just make that drive so much easier.

I want to thank all of the staff involved in this project – the council staff, the contractors and everyone else who has supported this project to ensure that it could get delivered. Yes, unfortunate delays thanks to COVID, but not from the lack of you guys putting the effort in to make sure this project got delivered. And now the people of Murrumbateman can have better quality water. Living out there and on farms as I have done for many, many years, I know that bore water can be very inconsistent in quality. You don’t know from one day to the next what you’re going to be drinking. So I’m sure everyone in Murrumbateman is very relieved that they’ll be getting more reliable, better quality, better quality consistency water to their homes.

And, importantly, this is going to enable and allow Murrumbateman to grow. It is a great place. It’s commutable distance from Canberra. It’s a very picturesque little part of the world. And we know people want to get out of Canberra. We know people want to get out of the cities. 43,000 people have made the tree change during COVID out of the cities into regional areas. And Murrumbateman is absolutely now poised to reap the benefits of that shift now that they’ve got a reliable water supply.

So congratulations to council for coming up with the plan and the idea. And the three levels of government working together, this is how we get things done – by working together. It’s not blame shifting, it’s not pointing the finger; it’s coming together –

MELINDA PAVEY

And lots of girls.

PERIN DAVEY

And I look forward to doing more of these projects throughout time. And whoever the new mayor is, because I too share Melinda Pavey’s sentiments about you moving on. I’ve now had a couple of events with Rowena in this week alone, and what a powerful, you know, forward-thinking woman. So a loss to Yass, but not really because she’s not actually leaving Yass

ROWENA ABBEY

I’m not leaving.

PERIN DAVEY

And I’m sure she’s got her sights set on bigger and better things. So thank you all for coming. Thank you, team, who put this together and made this project possible. And I’d like to invite the Deputy Prime Minister to speak.

MELINDA PAVEY

We kept the best ‘till last.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

The token male here! And I am surrounded by dynamic women. I’m surrounded by friends. I’m surrounded by people, community leaders, who get things done. People of action. And I’ll start with Rowena Abbey, the Mayor of Yass Valley. I’ve had a long association with Rowena. I’ve always admired her passion for her community, her ability to get things done, her pushiness. And, yes, she’s been a fierce advocate for the Barton Highway. And the Commonwealth and the New South Wales Government, we’re getting on with that. There’s more than $100 million of Commonwealth funding going into the duplication, going into the work that we’re doing right now. And we’re getting on with that. And we will do that because it is so important. I drive that Barton Highway very, very often, of course, coming to Canberra all the time from Wagga Wagga. And I’ve seen the work that’s done. I was very pleased, as was Melinda Pavey, to see that work camp there today and the hi-vis workers out making sure that that work proceeds.

I’d also like to acknowledge the Member for Goulburn, Wendy Tuckerman. I’ve known Wendy for a long time both in her local government role but also now as the State Member. And she’s a doer, too. She gets things done. And, of course, Melinda Pavey. Her and I go back many, many years, and delighted to be working with her to get water infrastructure built. Whether it’s in New South Wales, certainly regional New South Wales, so important. Water security means everything to these local communities. And that’s what we do in partnership together. We talk every week about what we can do and where we can do it and how soon we can do it, because that’s what people want, need, expect and, indeed demand. They deserve it. They deserve to have the water infrastructure just like this particular project here – 17.9-kilometre pipeline from Yass to Murrumbateman to make sure that the water needs are served in that growing community.

And, of course, behind me is Senator Perin Davey, The Nationals Senator for New South Wales. Covers probably more kilometres than most of the senators in the Australian Parliament. She takes her job very, very seriously, and whether she’s in the south of the state in her hometown of Deniliquin or in the north of the state, she’s listening to and acting upon what the people of New South Wales, regional New South Wales, are telling her. And she takes that voice to Canberra and she uses it often.

That’s why we’re making sure that we’re getting on, as the Commonwealth, as the State, and as Local Government, collaboratively, co-operatively, working together to build the sorts of infrastructure we see here today. This project was $6.1 million under the National Stronger Regions fund. That fund has now morphed into the Building Better Regions Fund. And in the Budget on Tuesday night that fund went from $200 million to a $250 million, servicing the needs and wants and expectations of regional New South Wales, regional Australia and helping councils such as Yass Valley to build the sorts of community infrastructure that it needs.

But on top of that there was $1 billion for that Local Roads and Community Infrastructure fund. There was another $1 billion for road safety upgrades, and that’s why Melinda Pavey said she saw so many hi-vis workers around, because the Liberal-Nationals Commonwealth Government in conjunction, in concert, with the Liberal-Nationals State Government and, indeed, other governments right throughout the country, state and territory, are getting on with building out of COVID-19, getting on with that securing our recovery. Because COVID-19 has affected all of us. It’s affected communities but regional Australia has been its best self. It’s been the best place in all of the world, the safest place, indeed, to live during COVID-19. We’ve had very few case rates, indeed, it’s been the safest place, as I say, in all of the world in which to live, and we want to make sure that we continue that.

Perin Davey mentioned the 43,000 people from metropolitan areas who’ve moved to regional areas in which to live because they wanted to have a bigger backyard. They didn’t want to look at the traffic as they drove to from work each day. They wanted to have that lifestyle. They wanted to live in a community in which it’s big enough to get a good cup of coffee and small enough to still care. And, indeed, regional Australia offers that prospective, offers that opportunity and will continue to do so.

66,000 jobs are going at the moment in regional Australia, and this sort of project – and I have to commend also the engineer here at Yass Valley, Kuga Kugaprasatham, for his involvement and everybody who’s wearing a hi-vis vest here today who will staff this, who will maintain it, who will make sure that it works perfectly.

So well done to all concerned. Well done particularly to Yass Valley. It’s an exciting place in which to live. It’s just commutable distance, as Perin Davey has said from Canberra, and it’s growing, just like regional New South Wales and regional Australia is. Any questions?

PETER WALKER

Michael, what do you see as the time line to finish the dual carriageway on the Barton Highway?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, look, we’re working with that through the New South Wales Government. I’m hoping that it’s, you know, as we finish one section we get on the next. You know, I’d love to see it finished by the mid-2020s. It’s something that we need to do. But, look, I’m happy if we can bring works forward, then we will do that. It’s like whether it’s water infrastructure, whether it’s road infrastructure, we work with states, we pay on milestones. And we’re not only doing, of course, the Barton, we’re doing the Princes, we’re doing the Bruce Highway in Queensland. We’re getting on with building a better regional Australia. That’s what it’s all about. And we’re also making sure that those road safety measures are in place. And whether it’s the Barton or any other road, whether it’s any other country road, we’re putting bitumen down. We’re putting those audio tactile strips down. We’re putting rumble strips down, and we’re doing it right across the nation.

JOURNALIST

Just on the pipeline, why was this project selected by the Federal Government as one to back?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, it was done under, well, as far as the Federal Government was concerned, we put $6.1 million towards the $14.2 million project under what was called the National Stronger Regions Fund. So the council applied for that funding in a very competitive process. Generally that fund, just like the BBRF, is oversubscribed six to one, but it measured up. It stacked up as far as the jobs were concerned. It stacked up so far as the productivity outcomes were concerned. It stacked up because it was just a very good project to do.

And the people of Murrumbateman deserve the same water quality as anybody else right around the country. And, of course, it is difficult when you’ve got a growing community and an additional demand on that water supply to have the consistency of the water quality, to have, indeed, the volume of water that you need for a growing community. And so it was considered by the department. It then went through, of course, to the Ministerial Council to make sure that everything was tickety-boo, and it stacked up. So that’s why we funded it.

JOURNALIST

I’ve got a question for the Mayor, perhaps. Rowena, what’s the history of this project? Can you outline the actual need in the community, how it first came about? I believe it’s some 10 years ago.

ROWENA ABBEY

So part of the planning for the Yass Valley focused on where the growth areas should be, and it was agreed within the community that there were two areas for growth – one was in Yass and one was in Murrumbateman. And as you would imagine, to grow any area you have to have infrastructure. So the one thing that Murrumbateman had been lacking and has been lacking for many years is secure water safe to drink. The bore water, as mentioned before, is not reliable. It is not always consistently healthy. It gets a lot of treatment but it actually doesn’t provide that long-term water security, which no community can grow without that sort of security. The next thing is because it can now grow and we’re going to solve the problem with the water supply, a school, a primary school is the next thing that’s being built. That’s how you build a community. You have to actually start with the infrastructure to make it work.

JOURNALIST

The history of the project goes back some 10 years, is that right?

ROWENA ABBEY

That’s right. Part of the decision to grow Murrumbateman and then how to find the solution to the water. We reviewed looking at bringing water from Murrumbidgee River. We looked at lots of different options, and the one that made the most sense was the volume of water that we have here in Yass, in the Yass Dam, which we raise. So even through the drought, we actually had water security, unlike many other areas. So we spent the money on making sure we had supply and security of water, and then the next part of that phase is actually to ensure that the villages have security as well.

JOURNALIST

So how much has the issues with water quality in the Yass Shire lately sped up this project?

ROWENA ABBEY

This project’s been on the books for, as you say, nearly 10 years. The speed has had to do with funding. At the end of the day, we have to have funding to be able to deliver projects. It’s a small community. We can’t afford to do everything, which is why we have to apply for grants like every other small community. And when you’ve got a good business case and the team put together a rationale and a reason and a business case to make sure it worked, we were successful in our grant funding.

JOURNALIST

How much water is this pipeline going to be shifting and if the intention is to grow the community of Murrumbateman, will this be adequate to still support growth in the area?

ROWENA ABBEY

The supply of water will be sufficient to meet the needs of 3,000 houses at this point in time. The future will be – we will still have to look at from our planning. We’re looking at Murrumbateman to grow to about 10,000 people, and we will have to find another longer-term secure water supply for that to happen. We are in discussions with various departments and ministers over what we see is long-term security over the next 20, 30, 40, 50 years. So those plans will come together as we continue to discuss them with various government departments.

JOURNALIST

Where would this community be without this pipeline at the moment?

ROWENA ABBEY

Well, it would be restricted in its growth. Essentially it can’t grow, can’t build. Council would have restricted the number of houses that get approved because we can’t actually rely on the water from the bores.

JOURNALIST

And where is the water coming from?

ROWENA ABBEY

The water is coming out of the Yass Dam. It’s treated in the Yass treatment plant, which is currently undergoing some small improvements to try and alleviate the problems with colour and smell. And we are still finalising the design of a new upgraded water treatment plant. The old treatment plant probably won’t take the volume of water as Yass communities and Murrumbateman communities grow. So we’re actually in the process of finalising that design. The team – you can see them all up there – are working really hard with the State Government to ensure that we actually get the right design to make sure that when going forward we’ve got the solution that deals with colour, smell and hardness of water, which is tough on not only houses but small businesses, that hardness of water is tough on machinery, coffee machines, for example, which we all love.

PETER WALKER

Rowena, can I just ask a question?

ROWENA ABBEY

Just let her finish and then I’ll come to you.

JOURNALIST

So that issue hasn’t been resolved yet. So the water that will be moving to Murrumbateman could still be discoloured?

ROWENA ABBEY

It’s coming out of the plant in a clean, it is coming out clean. We have high manganese, so it’s just different times of the year we get the colouration and the smell. It particularly happens in summer or with flood events. So we are, we have an agreed process to try and improve that colouration and so when we have a flood event that doesn’t happen. So the water leaving here is clean, good water going to Murrumbateman. Thank you. Sorry, Peter.

PETER WALKER

Maybe you might explain to the group, and I think it’s important, that the council in their foresight has adopted a settlement strategy from 2017 to 2036 and beyond for the whole of the shire for Yass, as the centre, to grow to approximately 20,000 and Murrumbateman to 10,000. Plus it’s got the villages. So maybe I think it’s such an important document which the council has built up over a number of years and adopted in ’17 and again reaffirmed this time last year. So, Rowena, you might just like to give us some –

ROWENA ABBEY

I did actually mention that at the beginning, that we had a settlement strategy that focused on two growth areas, which was Murrumbateman and Yass. And hence needing to go to that infrastructure that Murrumbateman needs to allow it to grow. So I think I might have covered that.

JOURNALIST

How full is Yass Dam at the moment? It must be, is it at capacity?

ROWENA ABBEY

Full. 100 per cent.

JOURNALIST

100 per cent, like all the others?

ROWENA ABBEY

Like everyone else. Ours didn’t get more lower than about 82 per cent, even in the drought. Good job, Kuga. Any other questions for any of the others?

JOURNALIST

Maybe just for the Deputy Prime Minister, if that’s OK.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Thanks, Rowena, for dobbing me in.

JOURNALIST

You mentioned the growth of regional towns, people moving out of the cities to go regional. How do we make sure that we are keeping up with growth and, you know, continue to support small, regional and rural towns to make sure that the infrastructure isn’t overrun as people move out?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Really important question. We will continue that investment into regional towns, whether they are small villages such as Murrumbateman right up to the big regional capital hubs. And Melinda and I, we will work very closely together to make sure that we’ve got that right water infrastructure in place. Pool Toole and I will work very closely together to make sure that we’ve got the right road infrastructure in place. And, indeed, that’s what Liberal and Nationals do at both levels of government – Federal and State. And, of course, we work with our Local Government friends as well to make sure that we’ve got the right measures in place in the right places.

As we know, there’s 66,000 jobs going at the moment. The Regional Australia Institute with their Move to More campaign, they’ve identified that number. They want to fill those places. And, indeed, those jobs just aren’t in orchards and meat processing plants, they’re also in law firms, they’re in accountancy practices, they’re in health, education, hospitality. Right across the spectrum there are good-paying jobs in regional Australia going right now. So I urge and encourage Sydneysiders and other capital city dwellers besides to contemplate that move to a regional area. You won’t regret it.

And we will keep pace with the needs and wants of infrastructure right across regional Australia, because that’s what we do. The women behind me, they are community leaders. They want a better place for their families, as do I. We live in regional Australia. We invest in regional Australia. We’ve got no intention of going anywhere else. And so I want my regional communities, just like other regional communities, to be their best selves and to have the right infrastructure so that we entice people. And not just people to move here, but people to visit here, people to holiday here, people to spend money in our regional communities. They are the best places, particularly at the moment as the virus spreads its deadly curse right across the world. Regional Australia has been the most COVID-free and safest place anywhere to live.

JOURNALIST

Ongoing costs of the project? Has someone asked about that? I’m just wondering is there like, an ongoing funding model?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Kuga, do you want to step up to the plate? They will be met, I can tell you that. We will continue to make sure that the pipeline runs with the necessary money at whatever level of government it requires to fray it. How about that?

MELINDA PAVEY

And exploring solar.

ROWENA ABBEY

At the end of the day water rates are paid by the users. So the maintenance and ongoing system processes are done through our rates process. So we have water rates, sewer rates and you have land rates. So the water rates stay particularly for water, making certain upgrades.

PETER WALKER

I have a question for Michael McCormack. What is the chances, Michael, of [indistinct] speaking of people in the Yass Valley –

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Sorry, Peter, start that again.

JOURNALIST

I said I’d like to ask you a question of where does the Federal Government and ACT Government and New South Wales stand on getting another source of water to back up the growth in the Yass Valley from the ACT? Is that extending the pipeline from Murrumbateman to Hall to bring water back?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Thank you, Peter. We are always investigating all sorts of options to make sure that we serve these growing communities. And that’s why I have that good working relationship with Melinda Pavey at federal-state level to make sure that we do explore those options, to make sure that we do have the right water supply. Because water is the country’s most valuable resource. Yes, we send a lot of coal and a lot of iron ore overseas and it brings us a lot of value, export dollars, that pay for schools and hospitals and the like. But our most valuable resource is water. Perin Davey will tell you that she comes from a Murrumbidgee irrigation community. She comes from the Murray irrigation community. She’s not far from the Coleambally irrigation community, which grows much of the food and fibre that our nation needs and exports and has for our own domestic purposes.

But this area here, too, its agricultural output is significant. And we’re trying to grow agriculture to $100 billion by 2030. That’s the plan. That’s the plan that David Littleproud, the Agriculture Minister at a Federal level is putting in place. I know he works very closely with Adam Marshall at a State level and his other State counterparts. But whether it’s community water, agricultural water, water in general, we will always explore those options. I’ll work closely with Minister Pavey and we’ll make sure that we’re providing the right amount of water in the right places to serve these particular valleys.

Very good, thank you very much.

ENDS 10:41AM

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