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Wednesday, 29 March 2017
Page: 3731

Mr McCORMACK (RiverinaMinister for Small Business) (12:24): In 1899, famous poet and literary figure Henry Lawson, in his poem 'Twas a Land Set Apart, wrote:

'Tis a land where national honour

Might rise with a stainless name!

And the people be wise and prosper,

And freedom forget her shame!

And the wealth of the people only

Be told by the wealth of the State—

—and so on. I have quoted a verse in my two previous address-in-reply speeches. I felt, given the new extent of my electorate boundaries, it was appropriate to use some lines from Lawson, born on the Grenfell goldfields in 1867—and now part of the Riverina electorate.

Australia and the land it has become is a place we call home and are proud. It is 'a land set apart', and the greatest assets, the richest attributes, of this great southern land are its people.

We live in a time of great prosperity, with much to be thankful for, and it is with grateful thanks that I stand here today. 'Politics is not about power; it is about people.' Those were amongst my concluding words in my first address-in-reply to this parliament on 21 October 2010, and—as I stand here now, in the 45th Parliament of Australia, the representative of a Riverina electorate quite different to the one which elected me almost 6½ years ago—that statement is truer than ever. No matter where you go or what you do, no matter the time or place, politics is always about people—people ahead of power. It is the conversations and interactions I have with people around the Riverina and Central West and across Australia's small businesses which inspire me each and every day.

People have inspired me my whole life. As a newspaper editor, the purpose of print was the people, the readers—meeting people and sharing their stories; going into bat for my community and its people. Every person has a story; every individual has a unique tale to tell. To use the community's newspaper to be our champion and to see Wagga Wagga and the Riverina and its people prosper: that was my aim, and so it was my aim, as a small business owner, building from my home's garage in Wagga Wagga, to grow and create a multiplier effect across the Riverina region. A small business, too, is about people. As our small business grew, so did the local printer, moving premises, buying bigger equipment and, perhaps most importantly, hiring more staff, proving again that regional people can mix it with the best.

To represent people in this parliament is a great privilege; it is a great honour. I stand here today as the representative of eight shires which were not previously in the Riverina electorate, and the greatest part of the challenge of our new geography was meeting its people. From Tootool to Tullamore, from Yerong Creek to Peak Hill, the people of my electorate are resilient, hardworking, fantastic, wonderful people. The number of shires and communities we welcomed to the Riverina electorate at the last election is high, and its geography is very different. The shires and communities around Cootamundra, Cowra, Forbes, Grenfell, Harden-Murrumburrah, Lockhart, Parkes and Young are each country towns with a vibrant community and a very, very bright future.

While the map has changed, the character of our electorate remains the same. We are all, in the Riverina and Central West, proudly country. We all want more jobs. We all need better mobile-telephone coverage. We all want to see good local roads and booming local businesses. Today, as it is every day, ours is a story of regional Australia—a story of great hope for our nation's future. We have a desire to see our communities grow, services grow and small businesses grow. And, more than anything, we hope our towns will be stronger and more resilient for the next generation.

When thinking about the issues which were clear in Riverina at the last election and the priorities which will drive me in this term of parliament, I want to talk about three main points: supporting small business, building inland rail and connecting country communities. If we are to build buoyant country towns, these three are the character of my Riverina and Central West electorate, and these are ambitions the Nationals share. The roads, the bridges and the rail lines, which are the arteries of our region, will entwine our enterprises—our farmers and our primary producers—with the markets which will buy from them and with ports. It will see small business succeed. It will create the jobs and opportunities country people want, with a future on which they know they can rely. And the Nationals' plan will see that destiny manifest.

Country communities are naturally communities of small business. In cities such as Wagga Wagga or Parkes, or in remote places such as Tullamore or Warroo, the local economy is only there because of small business. Small business is our country's job creator. Australia's 2.1 million small businesses employ almost five million Australians—more than any other sector in our economy. In the Riverina and Central West, the more than 15,000 small businesses I proudly represent keep jobs available locally. They do a grand job. They create opportunities for locals to invest, and they sell the goods and services our nation needs and people worldwide need.

Small business is naturally at home with the Nationals. Of the 15,000 small businesses in my electorate, around a third are farmers. As this government moves to expand the definition of small business to a turnover of $10 million from its current threshold of $2 million, many of its beneficiaries will be farmers. Ask any country person and they will tell you that when the season is good so is the town, and if farmers do well so do local farm-machinery small businesses and car dealers, as well as people who run shops in a country town's main street. In fact, everybody prospers. If farmers do well then people in our cities are fed and clothed. Our economy grows and—just as recent data on exports shows—Australia's economy becomes the envy of the world. That proud story starts with small businesses in rural and regional Australia, someone taking a risk to pursue their dream. Whether that is starting a small business from home, whether it is diversifying the farm into different commodities, or whether it is trying to grow and give another local person a job, country small businesses and their people are what make regional Australia so great.

That is why our plan to back small businesses will work. It will cut taxes for small businesses and make their paperwork simpler. It will mean more small businesses are able to write off new equipment sooner and it will make it easier for them to hire someone new. As the Turnbull-Joyce Liberal-National government's Minister for Small Business, I know this is a plan that will work across Australia. It is something people have raised with me from Wombat to Western Australia and it is something designed to put small business in the driver's seat. Locally, I know it will work too.

The Nationals' plan for inland rail and the critical country roads which connect to it is a boon for our local economy, our region and our people. Country people know it is not just an upgrade of safety for those who use the road, although that is a top-of-the-mind issue. Investing in roads and building inland rail makes freight more efficient. It constructs a corridor of commerce, the benefit of which sits almost entirely with small business. Thanks to our plan, inland rail is very much the character of the Riverina and central west. Every single community in my electorate benefits from the planned inland rail route, which calls the Riverina electorate home. It is going to be the backbone, the spine, of the electorate. With hubs at Wagga Wagga in the south and Parkes in the north, the benefit from bulk freight is clear. Farmers and small businesses will benefit from ongoing work on the Riverina Intermodal Freight and Logistics Hub at Bomen, in north Wagga Wagga, a project I support and which has obtained considerable federal funding. It is about jobs. It is about investment. This inland rail will be a boon for farmers and small business. The jobs, investment, construction and ongoing work will not only diversify our local economy but also ensure regions throughout the Riverina and central west have the bright future they expect, demand and, indeed, deserve.

This is particularly true of the Riverina electorate's northern hub at Parkes. It is the only place on Australia's map where the Melbourne-to-Brisbane and Sydney-to-Perth rail lines intersect. Parkes is a freight hub community. Its people and communities today are the realisation of the dream that Australia's bulk freight should move efficiently through its inland. I have met so many people whose lives and livelihoods in town are linked with moving Australia's assets. The people in Parkes understand this is a benefit which will live for generations. Their mayor, Ken Keith, understands that. He appreciates it and is in there supporting it. Parkes' can-do attitude and infrastructure-focused local leaders, such as Councillor Keith, together with investment from local business, show that it is a town passionate about its future—just like Forbes, with its mayor, Councillor Graeme Miller. To listen to people in Parkes is to hear the story of what we can do, not what we used to have. It is the same with Forbes and right throughout that northern area of my new electoral boundary. The passion and dedication of locals is what drives me. The hundreds of small businesses and the vibrant chambers of commerce in Parkes and Forbes are what inspire me. In fact, the Parkes Chamber of Commerce was the first one I met as small business minister, just days after my appointment.

I am also inspired by the story of Northparkes mine, led ably by Stef Loader and her team. I have recently learned that Stef will be moving on from her role and I wish her all the very best in whatever the future may hold for her. She is a great person and an inspiration. She will certainly leave the mine in an enviable position. It is a facility which is leading the world in innovative mining techniques and employs several hundred people locally. The mine is a generous contributor to the local community and the reason that many locals continue to call Parkes home.

The Riverina story is a story of the region's farmers as well—productive and resilient people who feed and clothe the nation and ensure Australia's economy is one of strong export growth and high-quality product. The very best product comes out of the Riverina and Farrer electorates. I say that not just because the member for Farrer is sitting behind me but because of a few things I will mention in a minute.

Travel anywhere in my electorate and people will tell you about mobile coverage. With challenges of varying topography and long distances between towns and populations, few people in my electorate were untouched by the need for better mobile coverage. When we came to government in 2013, country communities across the Riverina and central west—as well as right around Australia—were crying out for better mobile coverage.

First, it is a matter of safety. For those who live in remote locations or who travel on country roads, the inability to connect to emergency services when they need it most is a risk country people simply could not and should not have had to cop. More than this, the reality of small business in regional Australia today is that business happens 24/7. Connecting to commodity information and being able to buy and sell product in real time thanks to reliable mobile and internet coverage is amongst the greatest investments this government can and is making. That is why I know our plan to keep delivering for country communities is working.

While this government has invested in two rounds and will soon invest in a third of the Mobile Black Spot Program with more than $220 million over three years, the Labor Party is still yet to understand the benefits, I am afraid to say. Money from rounds 1 and 2 of the Mobile Black Spot Program has ensured increased mobile phone coverage and connectivity is provided to communities from Bedgerabong to Koorawatha, Ladysmith to Woodstock and many places in between. And there is more to come. Further funding is planned thanks to the Nationals and my constituent the Minister for Regional Development and Young based Nationals Senator Fiona Nash, who understands how vital communication is to country communities.

This government continues to deliver for rural and regional Australia. I am proud to be part of the team ensuring the people and communities of my electorate and other regions receive the programs, services and funding they deserve. I am proud of the recent achievements I have been able to deliver for the Riverina, including more than $12 million in funding in community development grants, which have seen money flow to upgrades of the Forbes netball courts and the Parkes Airport as well as the Forbes saleyards and a massive investment towards the upgrade of the levee bank in Wagga Wagga. There is over half a million dollars in funding to help make our towns safer through the Safer Streets Program. This will ensure police, local councils and communities have a better ability to reduce crime. I have had the opportunity to announce funding of closed-circuit television in Cootamundra, Forbes, Temora and Wagga Wagga.

By working together with governments at all levels, particularly local councils, we are upgrading and repairing bridges in all corners of the nation, and my electorate has benefited from our focus on funding ageing bridges through the Bridges Renewal Program. Five upgrade projects, including in the Riverina and Central West, have been successful. There has been $595,000 for the replacement of Kadina Bridge in the Parkes Shire, $9.8 million in Wagga Wagga for the replacement of the Eunony Bridge, $2.1 million in Gundagai for the replacement of the Gobarralong Bridge, $100,000 in Caragabal for the replacement of Beazleys Lane Bridge and $838,000 for the widening of McHenrys Creek Bridge in the Hilltops Council area. I was so pleased also to play a role in the Carrathool bridge upgrade. They had waited for decades for a bridge not to replace—because they cannot replace the heritage truss bridge that they have—but to be built right next door. It was with some amount of sadness but also huge jubilation that we announced that. I say sadness because the great advocate for that, Margaret Merrylees, after whom the bridge will, hopefully, be named passed away on 21 August 2016. The first sod was turned by Margaret as well as New South Wales Minister for Roads Duncan Gay and me on 2 November 2015. They had waited for decades, and the Nationals and the coalition federally as well as in New South Wales delivered.

I was also pleased to play a role during the last term of government in ensuring that buyback for water is going to be capped at 1,500 gigalitres. That is going to provide so much security, hope and confidence in the areas of Coleambally, Griffith, Leeton, Hillston and Narrandera. They were part of the Riverina electorate boundaries from 1901, but they now sit proudly with the member for Farrer, and I know that she will do a good job continuing to represent those areas. They are tremendous people. I am sorry in one sense to lose them, but I know they are in good hands with the member for Farrer.

The big-ticket items and the large dollar sums do attract a lot of attention and deliver great outcomes for our communities, and rightly so. However, it is often the smaller, more local projects and amounts of money we spend as a federal government that can mean the most. The highly successful Stronger Communities Program, now replaced by the Building Better Regions Fund, with a specific focus on regional Australia, has enabled key local projects to be funded to benefit community groups and organisations with everyday needs. Great examples include $5,000 for a new antenna and transmitter for the community radio station in West Wyalong in Bland Shire, $6,000 for air conditioning of the Beckom Hall in Coolamon Shire and just a bit over $8,000 for a community barbecue in Ariah Park in Temora Shire. These are a few examples of many smaller amounts of funding that deliver a great benefit to my country communities.

With a positive plan that delivers for country people and their communities, I stand in this place proud, always, that we remain focused on regional people, the very people who elect us. The people of regional Australia have shown yet again that they want the Nationals to be their champion in the federal parliament. As I stand here today, the Nationals are the only party which can lay claim to holding all its seats in the House of Representatives and the Senate, as well as welcoming another member of parliament—the member for Murray—at the last election. We did very well. For a political party in our modern climate, that result is truly extraordinary.

For decades—in fact, for almost the 100 years since our party was formed—they have been writing us off; the pundits have been predicting the demise of the National Party. Newspaper columns and popular opinion every day say that the Nationals' best days are behind us. How wrong they are and how wrong they were the last election. With many of my colleagues across the country in very tight contests, none of us underestimated the scale of the challenge on 2 July. Let me tell you: no Nationals member will ever take their electorate for granted. None of us did that, because we know that our electorates deserve the best. None of us took for granted that we would get the credit for the infrastructure that we have built and the investment that we have made in our communities. We do not look for glorification; we just want to see things get done, and, under a coalition government, that is what happens. We all knew, and we continue to know now, that regional people are unique. They are special and they deserve a dedicated voice which understands their needs, their wants and their aspirations. Central to this is the fact that they want someone who listens. National Party members, and Liberal Party members too, listen to our electorates. We are in focus. We are in tune.

When the new boundaries of the Riverina electorate were gazetted in February last year, my local Nationals team and I knew that we had a big challenge before us. In my electorate, many communities with which I had not been familiar were welcomed into our electorate's map. In the past in Parkes and Forbes, the Nationals' John Cobb in Calare and Andrew Gee, then in the state seat, were local members for many years. The people of Parkes and Forbes had good local members in those two, and people there knew that the Nationals cared. I want local people in those towns to know that I care for them too. The same is true of the other communities in the then shires of Cootamundra, Cowra, Harden, Lockhart, Weddin—which takes in Grenfell—and Young, previously represented by the member for Hume and by the member for Farrer. They had had coalition members in the past but they had not had a National, in some cases, for more than 20 years. In each of these towns the hearts of the people beat a familiar tune: country people proud of their communities and passionate about our future. That is the philosophy of country people: having a go.

In the time remaining, I would like to personally thank the many members of my campaign team who were spread across the Riverina and central west: Bruce Adams, Erin Adams, Ian Armstrong and his wife, Jennifer, Laura Bruce, Cathy Cleary, David and Ruth Fagan, Wes Fang, Pam Halliburton, Margaret Hill, Dominic Hopkinson, Barney Hyams, John Minogue, Dorothy Nash, Mark Olson, Gretchen Sleeman, Richard Sleeman, Lesley Vennell, Robert Vennell and Anabel Williams. There were many more and they all came together to make sure that the Nationals had a good result.

I also pay tribute to and thank my three beautiful children, Georgina, who came with me on many road trips—I think she enjoyed it a bit too much—Alexander and Nicholas, and my wonderful and unwavering wife, Catherine. Her ability to make me realise the importance of taking time out to honour and celebrate the special moments and milestones of our collective lives is important. She keeps me humble. It serves as a reality check for me and ensures that I can continue to be the best father and husband that I can be. This is a tough role, and it is one that we all put ourselves up for, whether we are Labor, Liberal, National Party or whatever, so we all need the love and support of our family and friends. It is important to remember that no-one is alone. Politics is not about power; it is about people. I re-dedicate myself to the service of the communities and the people I represent.