Media event date: 
22 May 2020
Date published: 
25 May 2020
Media type: 
Transcript
Audience: 
General public

GRAEME GILBERT:

Friday night talk tonight. Our number 13 12 69. As I said, I've been a bit confused because the Weather Bureau were talking about Eastern Australia and South Eastern Australia in particular, almost having the floods of Noah yesterday, today, and tomorrow, but that doesn't seem to be the case. In fact, out of the federal electorate of Parkes it's mostly clear skies I believe, let's find out. Joining us, the Federal Member for Parkes, Mark Coulton. Good evening, Sir. How are you?

MARK COULTON:

Yes, a lovely crisp winter’s night actually at Warialda where I am, and they expect that - it might even be a frost in the morning, but we've had some lovely rain yesterday morning, 21 mills, and just perfect here for the farmers that, you know, some have finished planting crops, some are in the process. But a little bit of moisture to top up the profile and on the nearly emerging crops, it was just perfect. So off to a wonderful start for the winter crop here.

GRAEME GILBERT:

So, it's filling dams for the farmers is it? Or has -

MARK COULTON:

Probably not dam filling, that's the Achilles heel at the moment, Graham, is that - the big story is that sort of up in the in the hills to the east of us here really haven't had that run off rain. And we don't have the big storages full, but there's been good rain out on the farming land and the soil profile is very good. And so there's quite a bit of optimism around the winter crop at the moment.

GRAEME GILBERT:

Now, I want to talk to you about local government of which you are the Federal Minister. But just before we get to that, a question without notice as you people are keen to say in the chamber, across New South Wales, which is your electorate - in fact, you take up a huge chunk of New South Wales - from Monday week, travel allowed again. I'd imagine a lot of people rubbing the hands together and saying beauty, or are some saying we don't want to big of an influx too soon?

MARK COULTON:

 Both of those things. Some people obviously are concerned, but once again we've got a few industries here that underpin our economy - obviously agriculture and mining - but tourism at this time of the year is normally a big thing.

Most of my towns at this time of year would expect the caravan parks to be full ,and places like Lightning Ridge and Bourke, Dubbo, Coonabarabran, those sort of places would have a large influx of visitors and so that's been particularly difficult for those businesses, and so obviously there's a hope that if people can't travel overseas, they might take a shorter-form holiday and visit a regional area.

But there is a bit of a nervousness about this. Regional - the Bush has done very well with the infection rate, but provided people are sensible, they still keep their distance, they still maintain good hand hygiene, I believe that we can get back to a level of normality and get people going to buy meals at the local pub, or café, or the club, and stay at the local caravan park or the motel, and I think that a lot of people are looking forward to it.

There are obviously people who are very nervous about increased infection, but we do have a lot in place, Graeme, we've got respiratory clinics across many of the towns. We do have the capacity should we have any outbreak that we can get on to it very quickly now.

GRAEME GILBERT:

And I'm not being flippant, but I'd imagine there would be jobs for good cleaners because once the travel is opened up again from Monday week, motel rooms, those cabins at caravan parks etcetera, I'd imagine that they'd be getting extra attention every day wouldn't they?

MARK COULTON:

Yeah, they would be I think. We also have a lot of - not only sort of tourists, but we have a lot of people who travel for work, and at this time of the year we've sort of got farming contractors who would be working away from home that would be staying in cabins and caravan parks and the like, so, yeah, I think there is an awareness of that.

But we've got the tracing app should it get away, and this week in Victoria was the first time we've actually someone was identified through tracing app, someone tested positive, they went through the app on the phone, communicated with people who have been in contact with this person, found someone that had no symptoms at all.

The test is positive and so that person was able to be isolated and without infecting others, and so I think we can be reasonably confident.

But you are right. The cleaning regime - in my car I've got a little bottle of hand sanitizer so if I get out to fuel it up, when you get back in your wipe your hands or before you get out to wipe your hands and just little things like that, and I think that will take a lot of the risk out of it.

GRAEME GILBERT:

And it doesn't hurt to wash your hands before often, does it?

MARK COULTON:

No, it doesn’t. I’m one of those people, you know, the ppl in the bush probably aren’t big hand washers, but there's a few things that we've got to get used to that probably do seem a bit strange. One is not actually greeting people like we normally do.

We normally would give a handshake to people we meet. To me, you actually have to mentally need not to do that because it's just an instinct and probably - a bit little bit too much information - but probably I never used to wash my hands as much as I should, but now I'm much more careful about that sort of thing.

GRAEME GILBERT:

That's a right, I’ll quote you on that line for a while. And I apparently - the smart half in our household tells me I've got to apologise because last time we spoke, I spoke about she was lucky she had somebody who was brilliant in the kitchen looking after her. She said I was to say to you no I'm average at best. So I've passed that on.

MARK COULTON:

I liked your description better.

GRAEME GILBERT:

Me too, and I'm sticking with that. Now local government, and there are certainly no shortage of local governments within your massive federal electorate, but also we're looking right across Australia, a multibillion dollar boost for local government. We're going to see a lot of money put into roads and community projects. This is just a win, win, win story isn't it?

MARK COULTON:

And the federal government – you know, local governments are basically are a creature of the State, and constitutionally are tied to the State, but the federal government does go to local government times of need.

So, they've been very effective of putting in stimulus packages through the drought, fires, and floods, we go to local government to get that on the ground result.

So what we’ve announced today is a couple of things, Graeme.

One was a bring forward of the federal assistance grants. So that's not actually any extra money but it gives them money that’s untied. They can do what they want at the start of the year, they actually know they've got that and some of them obviously have a bit of a cash by a problem because of coronavirus, but the one that is most exciting is that a half a billion dollars going into local projects.

So there's 537 councils around Australia. They will all get a payment and that's predetermined.

There was a question today, you know - is this pork barrelling is they're going to be colour-coded worksheets and things - no already they know how much money they are getting because we're using the same formula that we do for roads to recovery.

That's a tried and tested formula we've had for some years, and so they can put it on roads or maybe more preferably they'd be doing local infrastructure jobs where they could be employing people who might be finding things a bit tough because of the coronavirus and, you know, maybe painting grandstands at the footy, or you're putting up a new fence, or putting down a cycle way, or footpaths and things like that, maybe resurrecting a park or a river bank and things like that.

As well as providing employment and local procurement at the end of it, we've got something - in fact the community's got something that's going to be an asset into the future.

The councils I've been speaking to are very excited about this and they are obviously thinking of what they're going to do with the money, and hopefully after the money come through them in the first of July those projects will get underway pretty quickly.

GRAEME GILBERT:

And that's the point isn't it, Sir. They may seem in isolation small projects, but you're looking in some of those some of those smaller regions that your electorate covers, and local government are responsible for. They actually become very much the talk and the heart of some of those small regions, don't they?

MARK COULTON:

Look, exactly. I'll give you a good example, and I'll give a shout out to my local council here, where I live.

In a stimulus package they got for drought, they employed a group of farmers and people who would normally work on farms that were really struggling from the drought. But obviously these people who've got a degree of skill in a lot of things, and one of the projects they did was what's called an ‘all the abilities park’ in Warialda – because we do have a group of people with disabilities, it's just over the road from the retirement centre where there's elderly people - and they've built this beautiful park with swings that people could go on with wheelchairs and lovely gardens and places to have picnics. And

that was done by people who were really struggling at the time for the drought, it’s going to keep the community entertained for years to come.

So they are the sort of projects that I'll be thinking that are, we hope, this next round of funding that for the downturn that communities will do.

I'm sure that's what they're going to see local projects that are - the Commonwealth is not very good at going into every community and knowing, what's what, but councils do, and so that's why we go to them to help us out at a time like this.

GRAEME GILBERT:

 You mentioned the people with disabilities, and you get to mix with these people all the time.

It's amazing how much our ability these people with so called disabilities have, they’re an incredible community.

MARK COULTON:

They really are. And I think you, know, I'll be honest. Before I took this job on some years ago and I was a farmer just involved in my own sort of world blissfully unaware, quite often, I wasn't obviously wasn't aware as I am now of some of the difficulties that families have who have a child with special needs and things like that. But there are a large number of people - and one of the most special places that I go to are some of the supported employment facilities around my electorate.

There is a great one in Moree, there is one at Gilgandra, West Haven in Dubbo - and these guys that turn up every day, be involved in recycling, and a whole range of other very worthwhile projects, and are just a delightful bunch of people.

GRAEME GILBERT:

And they're so keen to do things, and there's the smile on their faces are all you need. They're not there asking for money or anything. They just want to do something and feel that they're pulling their weight, and they are pulling their weight, often 5 6 times over what's required.

MARK COULTON:

Well, they do. One of the jobs that - this is going back a few years – in Dubbo at the West Haven place there. They were putting together identity tags for the cabling for the NBN. So they would be a combination of letters and numbers, probably six or eight, that they would put together in a sequence, and that was thousands of them.

And these guys did them without a mistake. They turned up every day and put these tags together so that the cables could be identified as they were laid across Dubbo.

And I don't think, there's many people that actually could have had the concentration and the ability to actually do that, but these guys were so proud of what they were doing, but in good humour and there's a great level of comradery with the guys as well.

GRAEME GILBERT:

Yeah there's a fellow called Michael I've never met him, but Michael lives in Gympie in Queensland.

He has some disabilities, but he is effectively become the spokesperson for Gympie, and when the Gympie music muster's coming up, or when the special Olympic Games are on, if the local people have been picked, he's straight on the phone to tell us about it. And one, I'm delighted to get his calls, but he's so proud to be able to be the spokesman for his region.

And there's another fellow who used to phone us every Tuesday and give us his football tips. Jeffrey, Jeffrey had great ability in knowing who played football and who was going to win – I will tell you was always the Broncos - but you know, again, they just love to be able to pull their weight, do their thing, and I'm not knocking in any sense or form, I just think it's wonderful.

MARK COULTON:

Yeah, we are in diverse community, and I think obviously a little bias coming from country areas, but big country towns are very good at being inclusive for people, and they're already, all my life in town here we have known people to have been, you know, a local identities you might say, but the community does embrace them and everyone knows them and looks out for them. So it's really good.

GRAEME GILBERT:

And we should also recognise that their parents because I'm sure sometimes it's very difficult at home, sometimes, you know, it can be a bit different to raising a child that doesn't have a psychological illness or a mental illness or a physical disability.

MARK COULTON:

Yeah, some families do, and I deal with them a lot, and my office does, you know, with the rollout of the NDIS and other things, quite often they'll come across road blocks or hiccups and it's quite enormous what some people deal with, and we're – I’ve got a great deal of admiration. But as I said before, I took this job on probably rather ignorant of whole a lot of people that live with in my own community.

GRAEME GILBERT:

And just coming back to your community, we were talking before about local government in the broader community. Back to the electorate Parkes, and we know that some are some members are lazy, some members actually get in and fight for their community, and you've won some grants for volunteers in the electorate.

Groups like - and this isn’t all of them - but people like the Baradine Campdraft Association, Coonamble meals on wheels, and I'll tell you what, meals on wheels, they’re just fabulous. Tibooburra District Progress Association, as I say, and others, but you've won some funding for them, and that'll all go to local projects.

MARK COULTON:

Yeah, they will we've had a few grants this week. The FRRR - Foundation for Rural and Regional Renewal - they've put in some good grants across my patch and so I'm always pleased to support volunteer groups, I'm very proud.

I think my electorate, last time there was any sort of a census done just under 50%: 48 or 49% of the people that live in my electorate volunteer some sort so they might be in the CWA, they might work at the canteen at the junior league they might be netball umpires or they might be in the Rotary Club or the Lions club but your local show other race club or whatever.

But that's why I love living where I do, our entertainment basically is being involved in community events and it's good I think what I found is that maybe $5,000 for a local club to upgrade their kitchen or buy a new barbecue or something means in sometimes far more than maybe if you’d announced a million dollars to do the road up that goes into town because those volunteers, they work hard raising funds and if you can just give them a few dollars it makes an enormous difference for them.

GRAEME GILBERT:

As a Federal member and you've been there a few terms now this will put you right on the spot, who is easier to deal with Local Government or State Government?

MARK COULTON:

Well, I guess it's in State Governments, I tend to work with the individual members, and I've got four State members within my electorate, so I have relationships with them.

Local governments as a local member I've got 18 councils actually in the Parkes electorate and what my view is that and obviously those councils come from different political backgrounds and whatnot.

But I'm of the firm view that whoever that council is and the Mayor is of that area that's the person that that community has voted for and the council to represent them.

So, I take that very seriously and I pay great respect to the mayors and councils. Actually, today with I rang all the 18 mayors or sometimes I got the general managers today of my Councils and I spoke to one of my favourite mayors and I'm sure you’ve heard her is Lilliane Brady - 88 or 89 I think, she's still a mayor of Cobar and she's been very unwell and spent time in hospital.

GRAEME GILBERT:

Oh, God bless her.

MARK COULTON:

My conversation with Lilliane, she’s still got plenty of fight going and she's as sparky as ever and even at 89 the conversation today I told her about that Cobar was going to get some money for the stimulus package but she went straight on to what else they're working on, we want a mining training facility here we want this; we want that.

GRAEME GILBERT:

I say good on her keep pressing the Federal Member.

MARK COULTON:

And that's what her job is, and that's the relationship that I like to have.

GRAEME GILBERT:

So, at Christmas drinks when you're talking to a mayor do you say hey, hang on I'm doing the work of 18 of you characters and at the state level, and you say to Dugald Saunders I'm doing the work of four of you fellas.

MARK COULTON:

I was a mayor for a little while and so you're probably a little bit closer to individuals.

I think that was one of the frustrations when I came into Federal Parliament when I was the mayor, I knew who lived in every house in town.

Obviously, I don't now, and you tend to deal in a broader scope. So like today's announcement I was very proud of, but when it comes to the implementation and desire these programmes that will go down to local government, so they are sort of more hands on closer to a community.

We all have different roles and the state members obviously have different roles as well sometimes people get a little bit confused as to who has responsibility for a lot but mostly, we get on pretty well.

GRAEME GILBERT:

Now, I know you've got a meeting to get to so, just very briefly Sir, across that vast expanse of an electorate of Parkes, are there people growing barley for export there?

MARK COULTON:

Yes, this is quite concerning for them. I've had a few phone calls and the barley growers they're quite large growers, many of them. And you know, I was Assistant Trade Minister before and so I was involved in negotiations mainly in the Asian area.

GRAEME GILBERT:

But they have been kicked to the gut overnight there's no pre warning was just massive.

MARK COULTON:

Apparently there was, we’ve actually been negotiating this for about 18 months, the barley one, that came to a head there's no doubt about that last week, but it's been in process there's been pages and pages of documentation done on behalf of the barley growers but also numerous meetings.

And even when I was the Minister that main priority as it is now but, it seems interesting, a lot of the growers that have contacted me said; Look, we understand that this could be difficult for us but we also, want you to make sure that you're looking after the interests of the country as well.

We've got other markets, I was in Vietnam last year and there's an Australian owned factory and flour mill where Australian barley is processed, and Australian wheat is processed then resold around the Asian region.

And it looks like India's interested in our barley and part of the Indonesian free trade agreement as a feed grains in that we are trying to spread our risk out.

But also there is no sense in going to war with China because they are still a major partner, a trading partner and we've got to work these things out and we can't cut off our nose to spite our face, so we put in our best efforts in to resolve this issue but it's come at exactly the wrong time and people that are sitting on tractors tonight, planting barley obviously would be concerned about what's going to happen at the end of the year when they have as the crop.

GRAEME GILBERT:

And you mentioned India and, of course, what we have a very proactive High Commissioner now in Barry O’Farrell who will always put Australia and Australians first, but it's such a growing market and some would say, it's not going to be too long when population with China is going to be pretty well level pegging they're becoming more and more a rich nation and they certainly are an area to look out for Australian exports.

MARK COULTON:

It's very close to us, geographically 1.3 billion Indians, but they do have a very active farm lobby and so we've had issues with the Indians for some time on chickpeas and the difference is the chickpea growers in my electorate deliver their chickpeas to the depot in a road train and the Indian chickpea growers deliver their chickpeas in a wheelbarrow.

GRAEME GILBERT:

All right, yes.

MARK COULTON:

But the Indian chickpea growers also have a boat so there's a lot of political pressure from the farm sector there's millions of farmers obviously in India and so sometimes it's a little bit frustrating.

The ag sector is quite a hard nut to crack in India because they're on the tropics it's a monsoonal country and some years they have big crops and some years they don't, so the market one year we're getting top dollar chickpeas into India, the next year they don't really want to buy it because they've got a big crop themselves.

So the potential is there and I've actually been to India when I was Assistant Trade Minister, I think I had a half a dozen meetings with the Indian Trade Minister and I met with the Indian Chickpea Association and others trying to make sure that we can get he secured in that market and it will be a good one, but it's a pretty tough one to crack, politically.

GRAEME GILBERT:

Because you've got those other areas too, out of your electorate into China haven’t you, like, there is beef that goes across, wine in various degrees.

MARK COULTON:

Roger Fletcher’s abattoir at Dubbo, At the moment the Chinese market is the main one, he sells to countries all over the world, but the Middle East is closed down it's getting slower into America and Europe, but for him, China has been a very important market and so a lot of people are going to realise that when they send their their sheep to the local sale and there’s a good price for them that's because more often than not that sheep will find its way in a container going to China or another country.

So, the trade is very, very important.

I get little bit frustrated sometimes when people say we don't need to trade with China it's just all too hard, we will tell them to get nicked.

But it's the growers and the farmers in electorates like mine that would pay the price and, so I get a little bit frustrated sometimes if commentators and even some of my colleagues in Canberra who want to be quite bullish about some of the things they say but it's the meat workers, at Casino or Dubbo or the barley growers that would wear the price, if we escalate this any further, so that's why we're working with the utmost diplomacy to try and solve these problems so that we can keep those markets open.

GRAEME GILBERT:

Very much so once again, big pat on the back from me and the listeners for that local government initiative announced today and also what you continue to do you're right on top of the issues whether it's barley or beef or wine or coal or just good will between us and the rest of the world.

MARK COULTON:

Thanks Graeme it's always a pleasure. Thank you very much.

GRAEME GILBERT:

There he is, Mark Coulton the Federal member for Parkes and boy does he have an electorate and a half, just massive, takes up about a third of the land mass of New South Wales, is also the Minister for Local Government, Regional Health and Regional Communities and some good issues there.

Talk tonight.