Acting PM drops into Gippsland

Nationals leader Michael McCormack visited Gippsland last week, focusing on infrastructure issues. He was in Gippsland at the invitation of Gippsland MHR Darren Chester.
Nationals leader Michael McCormack visited Gippsland last week, focusing on infrastructure issues. He was in Gippsland at the invitation of Gippsland MHR Darren Chester.

NATIONALS leader Michael McCormack visited Gippsland last week for the third time since February, on this occasion as Acting Prime Minister.

With PM Scott Morrison holidaying in Fiji last week, Mr McCormack had assumed the top job.

He spent last Thursday talking to Wellington, Latrobe City and East Gippsland shire representatives in Sale, before travelling to Rosedale and Mirridong Services in Yarram to visit residents living with disabilities.

Infrastructure was a key theme of the visit, and Mr McCormack inspected stalled Princes Highway duplication works on the Princes highway at Kilmany, which are awaiting state government funding.

He said the federal government and Gippsland MHR Darren Chester had delivered $60 million in upgrades for the Princes Highway just in the last budget.

"... and of course we've still got $132 million on the table for the duplication particularly between Sale and Traralgon," Mr McCormack said.

"We want to see the duplication happen.

"I had a meeting with the Victorian Minister for Transport Infrastructure Jacinta Allen recently, which was a good meeting ...

"I said to her that we have $132 million on the table and are waiting for the additional 20 per cent from the Victorian government - that commitment from the Victorian government of $33 million to make sure that we get this stretch of road done.

"Thirty-three million dollars we want, we expect, we need, and that Gippslander's deserve from the state Labor government here in Victoria."

Mr McCormack said he looked forward to working with Ms Allen on a number of infrastructure projects, including the Sale alternative truck route, which presents the conundrum of easing traffic flow into Sale, while at the same time not hurting visitor numbers.

"I want to work with Jacinta Allen and other ministers right across the country," he said.

"We want to get shovels in the ground, we want to see high-vis workers, we want to see people with stop-go signs, witches' hats and excavators in the background, that's what we want to see.

"We want to make sure that as a federal government we get on with our $100 billion infrastructure building program right across the nation."

Mr McCormack said his government was determined to see infrastructure projects completed.

"We'll do it, if the state government's not willing to come to the party, we'll do it anyway because we just need to get these things done," he said.

The Prime Minister will meet with Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews next month to discuss the state's priorities.

On other topics, Mr McCormack said he wanted to make sure the region had a good supply of base load power, following concerns that the Victorian renewable energy target could force the closure of Yallourn Power Station.

"We want to make sure we've got a strong economy in Gippsland, we want to make sure that we've got the right power stations, and make sure that we've got the right people operating those power stations," he said.

"As a federal government, we're all for base load power and for making sure we've got the right policies in place to force downward pressure on energy prices, while at the same time having reliability in the power grid.

"The Labor way, which was rejected at the last election, was going down the path of just having renewables.

"Renewables are great when the wind's blowing and the sun's shining, but rest assured we need the right energy mix - that's what we're working towards."

The Nationals leader also encouraged Melbourne-based businesses to decentralise to address the shortage of jobs in Gippsland.

"Mark Coulton (Decentralisation Minister) is very keen to visit this area soon," he said.

"There are great outcomes to be had by decentralising businesses to places such as Gippsland.

"People don't have to stay in traffic for an hour and a half just to get to work and don't have to stay in traffic for an hour and a half just to get home.

"And when you haven't got people who have spent three hours a day looking at the brake lights in front of them, they come to work with a far better attitude, they come to work far more productive, so I look forward to businesses looking elsewhere rather than just the big end of town."

Mr Chester said it was encouraging to see another Liberal leader make the trip to Gippsland.

"This steady stream of federal government ministers puts Gippsland at the forefront of the minds of the decision makers in Canberra working on issues important to our region, such as support for our primary industries and our infrastructure priorities," Mr Chester said.

The s topover by Mr McCormack also means the scoreboard for visits to the region by both sides of government leaders does not look impressive for Labor.

Eight Liberal leaders have now visited the Sale region since February, compared to a select few from Labor, with state leader Daniel Andrews the most noticeable absentee during one of the region's worst droughts in history.