5 May 2023

McCormack calls for Labor to match Coalition commitments and return veterans funding

| Chris Roe
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Michael McCormack

Michael McCormack says Labor should match the Coalition’s preselection promises in next week’s budget. Photo: Chris Roe.

Federal Member for Riverina Michael McCormack has taken aim at the Labor Government ahead of Tuesday’s budget, calling for the Coalition’s election commitments to be upheld.

“Next Tuesday night when Jim Chalmers goes to that despatch box to unveil his first real May budget, there will be cuts and those cuts will hurt regional Australia the hardest because they always do,” he said.

“Labor’s budgets are always cruel to regional Australia and we’ll see that next Tuesday night.”

Mr McCormack outlined three Riverina investments that he said he would like to see “restored”, highlighting pre-election promises made by the Coalition ahead of last year’s federal election.

“I’d like to see $45 million restored that was pledged by the Coalition,” he said, listing the promised $20 million dollars for an AgriPark at Charles Sturt University, $20 million for a Wagga Wagga airport terminal and $5 million for a veterans’ wellness and well-being centre.

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While the Coalition’s cash commitments for CSU and the airport were clearly contingent on the outcome of the election, Mr McCormack said it was now incumbent on Labor to support the regional infrastructure projects begun by the previous administration.

While he acknowledged the commitment of $250 million for road repairs, including almost $2 million for Wagga, he said the Government was stalling.

“We’ve already seen that Catherine King (Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development) is reviewing every one of the infrastructure projects under the $120 billion … infrastructure investment pipeline.

“Now that’s just code for Labor, delaying, stalling, holding everything up.

“I say to her, get out and actually support those projects, which the Coalition was supporting.”

two men shaking hands

Wagga Mayor Dallas Tout and MP Michael McCormack at Wagga Airport ahead of the 2022 federal election. Photo: Supplied.

When asked why the much-needed airport upgrade was not begun under the Coalition, Mr McCormack pointed to Wagga City Council’s priorities and federal investment in the Equex Centre, the PCYC and the Riverside precinct.

“Had they chosen to not do those projects and (the money) went to the airport terminal, well, the airport terminal would have happened but you know, there’s only limited funding,” he said.

“Whilst I appreciate a lot of people point the finger and say, ‘Oh, well you’re just pork barreling’, well, if pork barreling means that regional centres get the funding they deserve, then certainly I think what we’ve done around the Riverina and Central West has been badly needed.”

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When it comes to the $5 million for a veterans’ wellness centre, Mr McCormack said politics shouldn’t come into it and accused Labor of favouring its own electorates.

Prior to the 2022 election, the Coalition promised to build 14 veterans’ wellbeing centres across the country, however, under the new Government’s revised plan, Wagga is set to miss out.

Labor will invest $42.9 million to develop a total of 10 veterans’ hubs including the continuation of two projects already underway in the North Brisbane-Moreton Bay region and Tasmania.

These are the only two remaining centres not held by Labor.

Including Wagga, a total of eight locations have been culled from the list including Mackay, Wide-Bay Burnett, Sunshine Coast, Mid-north coast, Wagga Wagga, Greater Melbourne and Mornington Peninsula.

All except Greater Melbourne are in seats held by Liberal or Nationals members.

The Government’s revised list of eight locations of South West Perth, Northern Adelaide, Ipswich, Queanbeyan, the Hawkesbury region, the Hunter, the Tweed and North Coast region and the Surf Coast and Geelong region are all in Labor held seats.

“That $5 million is going to be so important because we owe it to our veterans to be able to provide the funding that is going to give them the future they deserve,” Mr McCormack said.

“When we had the royal commission into veteran suicide, it beggars belief that Labor would not make sure that that $5 million for this, a military area, this, a garrison town, would be available.

“It was a commitment that we made, not on a partisan level, not on a party level, it was made for the veterans and for Labor to take that money away and then to just provide it to Labor seats, quite frankly, it’s disgusting.”

Treasurer Jim Chalmers will hand down his first May budget on Tuesday and is expected to deliver a surprise surplus.

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