Doorstop at Junee Bulk Freight Future Symposium

Michael McCormack: Fantastic to be here at Junee for the Inland Rail Symposium and we’ve got a number of stakeholders from the ARTC, to local farmers, to of course shires – local shires around here, Temora and Junee. Great to be here with the member for Cootamundra, the hardworking Steph Cooke. She knows how important this Inland Rail is – she knows how important it is to get it right and that’s why we’re here today to listen to local stakeholders, to see how local shire councils, farmers, businesses can benefit from what’s going to happen with this 1700-kilometre corridor of commerce.

It is going to be a transformation, such a game changer particularly for regional Australia, particularly for areas such as the Riverina and Central West. Because we know that the CSIRO have just recently independently assessed that it’s going to be a cost saving for manufacturers, for small businesses, for farmers, for producers of not $10 as the original business case suggested but indeed $76 on average per tonne. So that’s a significant saving, that’s a significant game changer for these local businesses, for these local farmers for whom the benefits will be in more investment, more opportunities for our markets that we’ve established through our free trade agreements with South Korea, with China, with Japan and elsewhere. But also in the creation of more regional jobs and Steph Cooke and I are working hard every day to help the creation of more local jobs which provides for communities such as Junee.

Junee has been a rail town for 130 years. So it’s got great heritage there but we want to make sure that that heritage has a future as well. We will make sure that places such as Junee – we heard from the Deputy Mayor Matt Austin today how Junee can benefit from the Inland Rail, we’re looking to further wealth creation and job creation in places such as Junee, places such as Wagga Wagga, Parkes. Indeed, right up and down the line, this is going to be a game changer for Australia, particularly for regional Australia and it’s great to be here in Junee for this symposium.

Journalist: [Indistinct] just with the Inland Rail project, it hasn’t been a smooth process given the effect of the route on some properties. How are negotiations going [indistinct]?

Michael McCormack: Well, there’s been years of consultation and of course, yes, there are some farmers for whom the Inland Rail is still going to have an impact and I just spoke to Eric McKenzie a minute ago, he’s understandably concerned, it’s going to go through his property and I understand that. But you can’t build nation-building infrastructure without having an impact on some farmers.

And as we reduce the corridor from in some places as it is at the moment, five kilometres wide, down to a more final route alignment between 50 and 60 metres, you’re going to make sure that fewer and fewer farmers, indeed, hundreds of farmers are not impacted by the Inland Rail. Of course, there will be some farmers who are, I understand that. The ARTC, as they’ve always done, will continue to work in consultation with those farmers to get the best outcomes for all concerned.

And as for the project, well it’s delightful that just recently, the latest shipment of steel was dropped off at Parkes for the Parkes to Narromine section. This is Whyalla steel, South Australian steel, Australian steel and that means Australian jobs. So we’re using Australian products on the Inland Rail. I know there are many businesses whether they’re making ballast, whether they’re making steel, they’re benefiting from the Inland Rail. They’ll continue to do so; it will continue to create jobs for regional Australia.

Journalist: There’s a lot happening with bulk freight at the moment. There’s the construction of the intermodal hub at Wagga and the national logistics hub in Parkes. Is there going to be enough demand to sustain all this new infrastructure? What might that mean for country roads?

Michael McCormack: Well, absolutely. Well, for country roads – I’ll answer the last bit of your question first. For country roads it’s going to mean fewer trucks on the road. There’ll still be of course, for those wonderful regional transport trucking companies, they’ll still get plenty of work, don’t worry about that. The freight task is expected to double over the next 20 or so years for freight infrastructure across the nation. So there’ll still be plenty of work for our transport companies. But already the infrastructure that the Commonwealth – that’s just the Commonwealth, not the state, which is spending $94 billion over the next four years on infrastructure.

But already what the Commonwealth’s done in recent times has potentially saved thousands of accidents on our road by better roads, by more rail, by better infrastructure. That’s what we’re doing, we’re saving that freight task, getting trucks off the road, we’re saving lives, we’re making

sure that we improve supply chains, improving productivity outcomes for people and this is only going to create more jobs. So it’s good news all around.

Journalist: On infrastructure – and I’d also like to ask you some questions about Indigenous issues for the SBS at the end if that’s okay. But on infrastructure first, you said it’s an age of infrastructure inside but the latest ABS statistics which came out on Wednesday showed construction and building activity figures show that infrastructure spending is down 4.9 per cent in the March quarter and 13.5 per cent on the previous corresponding quarter. That’s got to be alarming, isn’t it?

Michael McCormack: It’s a 10-year rollout. It’s a 10-year rollout of a $100 billion and you know, fact is, you can’t do it all at once. You go anywhere in regional Australia whether it’s a remote, regional, rural, country, coastal community, go into any inland centre at all, large or small, indeed, you go to any metropolitan city you will see cranes, you will see hi-vis workers, stop-go people, you will see excavators, it’s rolling out everywhere you go. Better roads, more rail, you know, public [indistinct]. We are building a better future for our nation. And while some months might be as high as the corresponding month a year ago, two years ago, whatever the case might be. Fact is, it's a 10-year plan, rolling out over a decade.

Journalist: What's more important – protecting your surplus or stopping the nation falling into a recession?

Michael McCormack: Well the fact is, we are making sure that we've got a surplus. We said that, but Labor hasn’t produced a surplus since 1989. Fact is, we've produced the first surplus for 12 years and we've done that through prudent, measured, considered economic management. Josh Frydenberg and before him, Scott Morrison, now the Prime Minister, have done a great job as the Treasurers of this nation.

Journalist: [Interrupts] But aren’t we already-

Michael McCormack: They’re working in tandem with the – please let me finish – working in tandem with the Finance Minister Mathias Cormann. Fact is, we do have economic headwinds from overseas and we'll closely assess our position on what we can do. But we can also make sure that we are essentially recession proof by building stronger markets, by making sure that we build those trade agreements. Labor never produced a free trade agreement to save themselves and they scoffed at what we were doing when it came to the Trans-Pacific Partnership-11 – a $13.3 trillion opportunity, let alone the free trade agreements that we've arranged with Peru, with China, with Japan, with South Korea. These are building Australia's economic wealth and we'll continue to make sure that we build on that.

Journalist: Aren't you ignoring the Productivity Commissioner and the Reserve Bank Governor in his last speech, when he clearly laid out that money is cheap at the moment and he was giving you advice to say borrow more, spend up and spend up on infrastructure.

Michael McCormack: I know Philip Lowe well; I went to school with him. In fact, another we talked about Laurie Daley in the symposium – a great Riverina product we don't only just have sports stars here, we have people like Philip Lowe who went to St Michael’s Regional High School, and I'm proud to call him a school mate. Now of course we listen to what Philip Lowe says, he’s the Reserve Bank Governor. We listen to what the Productivity Commission says, but we also listen to the people of Australia. And they spoke loud and clear on 18 May that they wanted a Liberal Nationals’ Government in Canberra working for them. They knew and they know that in the past and now and in the future, that we are the government of choice, that we will make sure that we do our very best to ensure that we have economic productivity and activity [indistinct]-

Journalist: I don’t think you're answering the question though. Haven't you ignored their advice that you should be spending more on infrastructure and bringing that infrastructure spending forward?

Michael McCormack: Well we’re spending $100 billion on infrastructure [indistinct].

Journalist: That’s over 10 years though. I mean, we're on the verge of a recession now.

Michael McCormack: Well, sure, but you can’t do it all at once. You cannot build all the infrastructure at once. There's only so much that those companies who provide the sorts of infrastructure and build the right infrastructure and are the best people in place to do it. You know, you have to be able to work in tandem with our states as well and I’ve called on the state governments. I was delighted that the New South Wales Government is working very closely with us and looking forward to yet another announcement at an opening with Gladys Berejiklian the Premier in Sydney tomorrow. But the fact is you can't build it all once. I've called on the state governments to bring forward the projects that they feel can improve productivity, can improve the job creation and looking forward to going to Queensland later this morning, to again, hold more talks with the Queensland Government. And I urge and encourage that governments such as them and Victoria, to do what they can to work with us.

Journalist: For the SBS. Do you support Indigenous recognition in the Constitution…?

Michael McCormack: [Interrupts] Yes I do. Always have.

Journalist: … and Indigenous voice in Parliament?

Michael McCormack: Well I do support an Indigenous recognition in the constitution – I think that's really, really important and I know that Ken Wyatt gave an outstanding speech this week in Canberra, extolling the virtues of just that. And as for other things, well the fact is that can take part in the national discussion as we go forward. It's not the Government's position to have those sorts of select spots just for Indigenous participation in the Parliament. We've already got Indigenous participation on merit. And I congratulate those Indigenous members who’ve got there on merit. And I know Ken Wyatt and Linda Burney are going to work very closely to help try and close the gap even further to make sure that Indigenous recognition is included in the Constitution as it should be and on other Aboriginal matters that are so important to our nation for a better future.

Journalist: Was the party room informed ahead of time about the plan for Indigenous recognition [indistinct]?

Michael McCormack: I don't discuss things that go on in the party room.

Journalist: A second question from SBS. There seems to be some division in the Coalition about how to best go about Indigenous recognition. An example is Barnaby Joyce saying they should work within the current format and just have more indigenous Senators. If you can't reach consensus within your own party, do you think it's possible to get consensus with the Australian public?

Michael McCormack: Well the fact is we're working towards making sure that we have Indigenous engagement in the Constitution and we're doing that on a bipartisan level. And I hope that Linda Burney and Ken Wyatt work very closely together to get better outcomes for all Aboriginal people. That's the goal of this Parliament. The fact is we've got a lot of other issues on the go at the moment too. The fact is, and we're working to making sure that we build a better Australia, and that's what the people on 18 May, that's what they said they wanted. That's what they have with the Liberal Nationals’ Government and we're working hard to build a better Australia – we're doing that every day.

Journalist: Do backbench concerns within the Coalition threaten to derail the constitutional recognition process?

Michael McCormack: Well again, I say I know Ken Wyatt and Linda Burney are going to work in a bipartisan way to ensure that we do the most we can and the best we can to have Aboriginal recognition in the Constitution. The fact is, if we put it up to the people – and it is a referendum – if we put it up to the people, we have to give it the best outcomes and the best hope that it's going to succeed. You look back at referenda in the past, and not many have succeeded. In fact, it's only about eight or nine or 10 have succeeded over more than 40 referendums since Federation.

So we need to make sure that when we put it up that it gets passed. It's like local government recognition in the Constitution. I believe that local government, as the first level of government, the first level that is so important to so many people – I believe it should be also acknowledged in the Constitution. If we're going to put these things up, we have to do them on a bipartisan basis to ensure that they have the best possible chance of succeeding.

Journalist: What do you think of Barnaby Joyce's idea for reforms to the Senate so more people [indistinct] Australia elected?

Michael McCormack: Well again, it would have to go to the people by way of constitutional referendum, and if you’re going to do that, you need to make sure that it has the best possible chance to succeed. Look, of course, I want to make sure that regional Australia gets the best possible representation. You know, and that’s what I’ve always been about. That’s why I’m delighted that each and every one of the 16 National Party Federal members in the Lower House, in the House of Representatives, were re-elected to Parliament. Or indeed, in a couple of cases, Pat in Cowper and Anne Webster, they were elected for their first terms and they will make such a difference. And I was delighted that Perin Davey was chosen to represent New South Wales for The Nationals. I think that’s really, really important. But to have, you know, representation of the regions in the Senate on a regional basis,

well that would have to go to the people, and the people have to decide by way of a constitutional referendum.

Journalist: Will regional Australia be a priority?

Michael McCormack: Regional Australia is very much a priority. And when you’ve got the Minister for Infrastructure as a regional member, of course regional Australia is going to get its fair share. And every part of my working day is spent on making sure that regional Australia gets its fair share and I’ll continue to do that.

Journalist: What form of work you think would you like to see in an Indigenous voice to Parliament actually take in practice?

Michael McCormack: Well, we’ve got an Indigenous voice in Parliament. In fact we’ve got …

Journalist: Well you didn’t appoint to Parliament.

Michael McCormack: Well, we’ve got an Indigenous voice in Parliament. We’ve got Ken Wyatt.

Journalist: To Parliament.

Michael McCormack: To Parliament?

Journalist: As in, you know …

Journalist: [Interrupts] The Statement from Uluru.

Michael McCormack: Well, Indigenous voices have always going to have that level of discussion and discourse with the federal parliament. In fact, it is …

Journalist: This proposal was being discussed, it’s currently under discussion by your government. What will …

Michael McCormack: As in constitutional recognition?

Journalist: As in constitutional recognition. You know, in by or based on the Uluru Statement. What form would you like to see?

Michael McCormack: Well, I’ll let the experts to decide what form of words are going to be in the constitution. Fact is, I know it’s been talked about, I know it’s been talked discussed, but I’m sure that in the foremost of time that that will be even further discussed to get the right form of words that are going to be acceptable to the Australian people. Because you put anything with the Australian people, they ultimately get the choice and the vote as they should. We live in a democratic society, and the Australian people, they need to be able to have a form of words that they are contended. That they are happy with. And I’m sure when that time comes, that those form of words will be correct because they’ll go through, hopefully, on a bipartisan level. At the moment, Linda Burney and Ken Wyatt are working very closely together, and I’m sure and I hope that that continues.

Journalist: You don’t have any personal preference on how you like to see that play out?

Michael McCormack: Well, I’m sure as I say, Linda and Ken are working closely together. They’ll have a lot to say about this, as well as the other Aboriginal members of Parliament. We’ve got other Aboriginal members of Parliament, but also all members of Parliament will have a say on this. But say to Aboriginal Groups right across the nation. I’m sure the Wiradjuri – the people who I represent here in the Riverina and Central West – they’ll have a say as well as other Aboriginal nations in our one country. So they’ll all have a say, and we look forward in doing that.

Journalist: The energy issues, a big issue for The National Party. Do you know what is stopping Angus Taylor getting the State energy ministers together for this meeting that is supposed to be happening?

Michael McCormack: Oh sure he’ll get them together in due course. And I look forward for the big stick legislation passing the Federal Parliament, because that’s something that we need. The best deterrent laws in place so that energy companies know full well that if they continue to charge people highly for their energy needs, the Government will look very seriously at breaking them up. We want to make sure that we get the best possible outcomes when it comes to energy, and that big stick legislation will do just that.

Journalist: What’s your position on nuclear power?

Michael McCormack: Well, the fact is, we need to discuss all forms of energy. Nuclear power isn’t on the table as far as the Federal Government is concerned. At the moment, we want to get our big stick legislation through. But that’s not to say it won’t be part of the discussion in the years to come.

Unidentified Speaker: Thanks guys.