Media conference in Orange

10 December 2021

ANDREW GEE: Welcome everyone, and thank you for joining us today here at the Orange Council Civic and Cultural Centre. And we've got some very exciting news today, and firstly I'd like to welcome my parliamentary colleague, David Littleproud, who is, amongst other things, the leader of the- Deputy Leader of the Nationals. 
He's also the Minister for Agriculture. And he's standing in for Barnaby today, who is obviously caught with COVID overseas, and can't join us. So he's the stand in Infrastructure Minister today. Also, obviously got Mayor Reg Kidd and Russell Turner, the former member for Orange who served our area with great distinction [Indistinct]… sorry about that, 15 years. We've also got folks from the Conservatorium. Donna Riles is here, Rod from the Planetarium is here, and many other people as well. So, thank you very much for joining us. 
We're here today to announce that the Federal Government has officially signed off on the $10 million grant for the Conservatorium and Planetarium. And this funding has been signed off because the project is shovel ready, and it's now a greenlight and ready to go. And this is a very important milestone in the development of this project, because it means that our Conservatorium and Planetarium can now get a new home. And the Conservatorium has served this city and this region well over the years, but the cold hard truth is that it's well past its used by date. It has been much loved and well used, but the roof is leaking, it is far too small, the teaching spaces are far too limited, and as this city and this region has grown, so too has the need to expand our cultural facilities. And that's what this grant funding is all about.
It's very important that we have a vibrant cultural scene in country Australia, because one of the reasons that people want to move to our regions at the moment, is not only the unbeatable quality of life, but also the vibrant cultural scene. And you can't underestimate how important that is. It's a matter of equity between the city and country, that we have the same cultural facilities that people in the city have. It's only fair, it's only right, and it's only proper. And that's why this grant funding is so important. So many young people learn at the Conservatorium, do their music through the Conservatorium, and some go on to careers in music. They need that opportunity, we need to give more people access to that opportunity, and that's what this $10 million grant funding is going to do. Obviously, the Planetarium as well has been something that Rod and his team has fought for, for many years. And I'm just delighted that the Federal Government has been able to deliver this funding, to get it shovel ready, and get it moving. It's going to be a big project. The auditorium and concert facilities are going to seat 250, so it's going to be huge. Teaching areas are going to be included, and obviously the planetarium, it's going to be a place of culture. It's going to be a place of learning. You can find out about our Solar System works. It's going to open up a whole new world. It's going to be great for tourism as well. And most importantly, I think, for our young people to be able to learn music and appreciate music, and it's going to be a wonderful performance space as well. So it's going to add a whole lot to the cultural life of this city and this area. 
I'm very delighted that the Federal Government's been able to deliver $10 million to get this project moving, and I congratulate Orange City Council and all the folks from the Conservatorium and also the Planetarium for their hard work and advocacy through so many years. That advocacy has been going on for a number of years, and a lot of work has been going into getting the planning ready and getting the project up to this point. And I know Donna from the Conservatorium and Rod from the Planetarium have been working so hard. They've had advocates like Russell Turner, who's been at me on this for many, many years. And that community advocacy and that community push has delivered this $10 million in funding. And that's how this project has come to fruition. It's been the community coming together, many different facets of the community, recognising that there is a need here, and that people in the country and in the regions should have the same cultural facilities as people in the cities. And people in the city take these facilities for granted. They just think that it's going to be delivered as a right. And I think for too long, country communities have missed out on major facilities like this. Well, not any longer. This $10 million project plus is going to be a real landmark. It's going to be a great tourism drawcard, and it's going to help anchor cultural activities in this city and this region for many years to come, and I'm very proud to be a part of it. I'll now hand over to Reg Kidd, the mayor of Orange, and then we'll hear from Russell, and then David. Over to you Reg.

REG KIDD: Thanks, Andrew, and welcome to Orange [Indistinct].

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Good to be back. [Indistinct].

REG KIDD: [Indistinct] it's fantastic [Indistinct] today, but fantastic to see you [Indistinct] Agriculture. And thank you to Russell for coming in today and to Andrew. Look, this is a fantastic time. $10 million for a project that's close to our council's heart. I would like to reflect on many, many years ago, when I'd first come on council, walking down a very narrow laneway and having a look at this hall, which was a Plymouth Brethren Hall, and our mayor at the time saying we should buy this and set up and start a conservatorium of music. And I can quite honestly say I thought, what? And we went ahead and we bought it. And that was the start of Orange Conservatorium of Music. And who would have thought then- and it's true that old saying; from little things, big things grow. And certainly since then, it's grown to now, I think somewhere in the vicinity of 1400 students, the different concerts that we have. And I think more importantly, there is not a high school in Orange now, and perhaps even in our region, that doesn't have a big band. There's not a school - primary, infant - that doesn't have access to music, and a range of children learning music. And I suppose us oldies, if we want to go back, and who knows, next week I could be there learning to play the ukulele, who knows? But this Conservatorium [Indistinct] Planetarium. I just [Indistinct] over my shoulder at a regional art gallery. Second to none [Indistinct] had an extension. An incredible regional museum that has won many awards for its [Indistinct] architecture and revolving exhibitions, which we opened one last night. We've got a great regional library. We have a civic centre with a big auditorium theatre. You can park here and spend a whole week here and go and have a cup of coffee, and that's what to me [Indistinct] I know Tim Russell, and we're all so happy about that. And we can do it while we were still on council. 
So look, I mean this very sincerely to Andrew and to David, if he could pass it on to the Deputy Prime Minister. This means so much, not only to Orange, but to this region. And I can tell you, council have been behind it for many, many years. It is a huge project. One of those projects where you've got to try and pull everyone on board. And they are on board now, because although [Indistinct] green light [Indistinct] when it's going to be finished. So we're there, the architectural contractor's out there at the moment, I think it's been approved. That's nearly $1 million there. That should be finished by about August. And then I'd love to see bulldozers here, and start working in the area where it'll actually be. So I'd like present this book to the Government [Indistinct] on Orange. I think it's one of the best books you have of Orange and the region. Some fantastic photos. So you can remember the day [Indistinct], and that's really important to us. And we can remember that day [Indistinct]. Thank you very much mate.
And finally, can I just thank - and they don't get the recognition for the amount of hard work that's gone into this project. [Indistinct] partnership working in conjunction with Donna and Rod and their crews. But thank our staff. You know, this is the sort of work that happens behind the scenes, stitching things together, going back and forth. And my only [Indistinct] now - and I can do this: Come on, state government, where are you? We're about $4 million short. This is your opportunity to step up to the mark. Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: Russell, [Indistinct].

RUSSELL TURNER: Thanks very much, Andrew. It's certainly a pleasure to be here today, and a lot of things have been said. Two important things that I'd like to really highlight. These things don't come quickly. We'd all like the building to already be here and established. In 2015, I was lucky enough to be overseas at the time and I saw a concert hall and a planetarium combined in one building. And I went, this gives us an idea, because we had been trying to get funding for the Planetarium for a number of years. We needed- we knew we needed a new conservatorium. This was an idea that I thought would be accepted to the council. It was accepted by council, unanimously, because the council were relieved in some way that it solved the problem of; how we are going to get the Planetarium, which we needed, and how we're going to get a new conservatorium. And certainly over the last few weeks with the rain, it's highlighted we must get a new conservatorium. They've got plenty of buckets that will have a surplus when we get the new buildings, that have been filling with water over the last few weeks. But one more important thing that I think we should highlight today is; not only have we've been waiting for the last six years to get this building underway, but every resolution, every recommendation that's come to the council over the years as to whether we go forward, who we get to design the building, who we get to build the building, et cetera, has been- every decision at council has been unanimous. There has not been one councillor vote against any of the progress that we have made up until now. So I would hope that the new council that are just coming in, they will have the pleasure of opening this building. But I remind them that it has been a unanimous decision all along the way that this building proceed. So I'm looking forward, as a former chairman of the Board of the Conservatorium, to attending the opening. I don't know what I'll be doing in a couple of years' time, but I will be here for the official opening, and I'm very looking forward to it, and thank you to the Federal Government for their ongoing support. [Indistinct]…

REG KIDD: We'll do a ukulele duo.

RUSSELL TURNER: Yeah, exactly.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, thank you, and it's great to be back in Orange and representing the Deputy Prime Minister, who's locked away in Washington. But can I just congratulate the Orange Council and Andrew Gee? Because the cheque is cut, and the Federal Government is kicking our part in. And we're just saying to State Government, if you kick the tin, this can happen even quicker and take the burden off a regional council who has done so much. Who's done all the heavy lifting and has worked with the federal member to make sure this has come to fruition. And this is, as Andrew said, very important to the community because it has that amenity of living that many in capital cities take for granted. But we in regional Australia deserve just as much. And to have the commitment of the Council, the foresight, and the committee that have that passion to want to make sure that this gets delivered is a very special thing that we in regional Australia should be very proud of, that we have people prepared to do that. So to the Council and to Andrew, this is a significant investment in you, your passion, your commitment to your community. So it's a great honour standing in for the Deputy Prime Minister today that we can say [indistinct]… look you square in the eye and say the cheque is cut.
Can I also say I'm here in my capacity as Agricultural Minister, and as a commitment, the National Party, [indistinct]… So the commitment that the National Party was able to achieve in sign up to net zero was to look at some of the unintended consequences of carbon farming. And so today we work through that final phase of making sure that the safeguards, the mechanisms to protect productive agricultural land, to protect the product- sorry, protect communities, is put in place. And so the final phase of consultation around providing me, as the Agricultural Minister, the powers of veto on carbon farming projects on individual properties up to 33 per cent will be finalised by 14 January, in which time we will then, as a federal government, [indistinct]… This is about ensuring there are no unintended consequences. What we've seen is we've seen foreign companies, big investment houses in capital cities come out, buy up large areas of agricultural land, productive land, and simply walk away and throw away the key. And that's had perverse outcomes, not just to a local economy, taken families out, taken away productive landscape, but it hasn't been managed. And what's happened is we've seen pests and weeds emanate from this. And so while carbon farming is an important tool, one in which we want to continue to provide to our farmers in a balanced manner that says that up to 33 per cent of their property they can put under carbon farming, it has to be in balance that we protect the productive landscape and we protect those communities. I'm having a great day today.
So can I say this is just common sense? We have seen some of the impacts of this, and this will mean that it will also align with our biodiversity stewardship program, that we are the first country in the world that have been able to measure biodiversity. And so that will align with the carbon farming, which will mean our farmers will now not just be able to get a carbon abatement payment, but they will be able to get a biodiversity payment. And that voluntary market will start within the next couple of weeks. We will have our trading platform up and going, and we will also have the seal, the brand in which you will be able to put on your beef, on your sheep, on your wool, on your wheat, that will be able to be sale- sell- marketed as a biodiversity product, one that has the most sustainable credentials in the world and one which the rest of the world is now acknowledging.
So this is an important step in protecting our landscape, making sure farmers are part of the solution [indistinct]… achieving net zero and making sure we're protecting our communities along the way. So big day, not just for Orange, but for agriculture right across the country. And this is just what happens when you have the National Party holding the Government to account, making sure that we are able to deliver for regional and rural Australia. Any questions or anything [indistinct]…

QUESTION: Yeah, just- sorry. Just on the carbon farming, the 33 per cent. Is that fair? And what if a farmer, you know, has very marginal country [indistinct]… as a productive farm, and they want to keep it all [indistinct] carbon farming because its more economic for them to do that?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, unfortunately there's been a perverse outcome where we've seen, particularly in north-west New South Wales and south-west Queensland, where we've seen passive investors come in and buy up an individual property, 90,000 plus acres. So very cheap amounts, up to $10 an acre, $20 an acre, and simply walked away and haven't actually managed the landscape and taken away the productive capacity of that property by putting it in trees. And the economics of it isn't there for those communities. They are the ones that foot the billing. That's the perverse outcome. So what we're saying is we're getting the balance right between rejuvenating landscape that needs to be rejuvenated through carbon farming and biodiversity and making sure that it's being actively managed rather than just walking away. Because what's happening is the neighbours are the ones that are footing the bill of actually having to address the pests and weeds that are emanating out of these properties that have been entirely locked up, and we continue to need to feed this country and clothe this country. And so getting that balance right and capping that is in fact what the NFF and AgForce and a number of New South Wales farmers we've all consulted with, they see as a balance in getting the right measure in ensuring that we can participate in reducing emissions with getting a passive income, but also maintaining and increasing our productive capacity. And that's about what getting a balance and achieving that through a common-sense policy like this will give an economic benefit, environmental benefit to our communities and to our nation.

QUESTION: Can you maybe just elaborate a little bit on how those powers of veto will achieve- you know, help the Government achieve that net zero commitment?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: So, anyone on an individual property above 15 hectares, if they decide to participate in an ERF project under carbon farming, if it is more than 33 per cent of that individual property, they will have to apply to the Federal Government, and the Minister for Agriculture will have the veto powers in which to decline that application if they believe that it is not in the interest, the productive interest of agriculture and of the end of the communities in which that property resides. So that's the important aspect. There will be- while these powers will be provided to me, will be ones that I'll continue to work through and engage with local communities, local mayors and councillors to understand the impacts this would have on their communities. Understand what it has on agricultural production, not only on a local basis, but on a national basis. And this is making sure that this last phase of consultation sets out those powers in a sensible and transparent way.

QUESTION: The Prime Minister says he wants to have less government in people's lives. Isn't that just creating more red tape?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: No, this is what- not all regulation is bad. Governments still need to regulate where there are perverse outcomes. And if you head to North West New South Wales into the small communities that have been damaged by carbon farming, if you go to the small communities of south west Queensland that have seen a reduction in their population of families leaving because passive investors and big companies from the city have come in and simply thrown away the key and left the land sit there, they are the ones that have footed the bill for this. And so sensible regulation, sensible red tape can work in our favour. But we should try and get out of government's- out of people's life as quickly as we can, where it makes sense. Thanks.

REG KIDD: Can I just throw in one thing? This is a good one. This will be the first environmentally and culturally sensitive [indistinct]…


REG KIDD: Combining culture and the environment.

QUESTION: Thanks for that, Reg.

ANDREW GEE: But you're welcome to have a look at the plans, and Reg can take you through those. The only other thing I wanted to say about this conservatorium and planetarium is that it was made possible by the community coming together. And when it is built and finished, it will also bring the community together and will do that for generations to come. Younger community members. More senior community members. Everyone here as a community, it's from the community, and it is going to be for the community. And I think that if this pandemic has showed us anything, it's that when our country communities come together, we can do anything. And we've done it again with this conservatorium and planetarium. And it's not just with COVID that we've seen our communities coming together. You've had floods, you've had the mouse plague, you've had drought, you've had bushfires, you've had all of that. And through it all, our country communities have come together, and we've come through. And that's what we've done with this conservatorium and planetarium. We've come together, and we've made it happen. And it will always be here for the community as one. Thanks, folks.

QUESTION:   Just a couple of questions on the conservatorium, sorry, quickly. It's obviously been talked about for, you know, 15 years. The money was announced two years ago. Why has it taken all this time to finally come to the table with the cash?

ANDREW GEE: You want to go, Reg?

REG KIDD: Yeah. No, no, no. I think that's perhaps not a good way of actually putting it, because I think there's two things have to happen is that we have to do estimates and a lot of work on how much it was going to cost. The second part of that is how we move into a different site. Then you have to look at how you're going to fund it. And part of that process has been looking at sources of grant funding. Now, with the first lot of grant funding, they've been successful in [indistinct]… Federal Government grant. Now, those grants are pending [indistinct]… that the project will go ahead. That's architectural drawings and knowing that now we have a resolution for council earlier this year that irrespective when knowing you had the 10 million, knowing that perhaps the sale of the old site would bring in several million. The Council, all things being equal, may have to take out a loan. And the Council has unanimously to yes, we want to do this is, then we can say, we're definitely going ahead. Then back to the Federal Government can say, yep, we will sign off on the money because it is going ahead. So that's the process, yeah.

QUESTION: Have you got start and end dates for construction?

REG KIDD: Look, I think- look, I think the- I think it's about August [indistinct]… got to be back with the architect's plans. That would go through Council [indistinct]… Then it'll be put out to contract [indistinct] various parts of it. So I would hope by mid to three-quarters through next year there should be work commencing [indistinct]… And that work, I suspect, will take [indistinct]… 18 months, couple of years. There'll be no doubt about that. But now the commitment will be there. So no-one can jump on that side. We're doing it. We're going to go. So if anyone's got a few spare [indistinct]… people you work with got a spare couple of million dollars, I'm only too happy to take it. And I'll make sure that your name's on the plaque.

ANDREW GEE: So the Federal Government's been working with Orange City Council for a couple of years on this, and $10 million is a big commitment, and you've got to make sure that the i's are dotted and the t's are crossed. And that means working with the Council, getting quantity surveying done, getting it all priced and quoted, and actually getting it shovel ready. And now it is shovel ready, cheque's been cut, and we're ready to go.

QUESTION: Thank you.