WITH a Federal Election likely to be held in May, ministerial visits to Mallee will no doubt be a common occurrence over the next few months.

Already on the campaign trail, the colourful Nationals Leader and Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce paid the Mallee a visit last Friday, joining sitting member Anne Webster for a number of meetings including with stakeholders concerned with the stalled Murray Basin Rail Project.

Mr Joyce also took time out in the afternoon to visit the Mildura Sporting Precinct, Stage One of which was recently officially opened. The Federal Government contributed $17.5 million toward the project’s construction.

At a press conference held at the Mildura Riverfront earlier in the day, Mr Joyce said that he wants to see the Victorian Government step up and complete the rail project.

“We have had no promise from them to provide the further funding required to complete the project,” he said.

“We contributed $5 million to the Victorian Government for them to complete a study into the standardisation of the rail lines, which we wanted them to match and they wouldn’t come to the party.

“This project is vitally important, because in the process of decentralisation, driving agendas and building on the city of Mildura, we need to make sure that it’s not just Anne carrying the weight, but that it’s spread across both tiers of government.

“And I will be supporting Anne as much I can.”

Mr Joyce acknowledged that the Federal Election is going to be hard fought and it’s a numbers game, whereby the seats you win or lose will decide the outcome given the government’s precarious hold on power at the moment.

“We don’t take any seat for granted − not one” he said.

“And this is an election time quite obviously and we will be making sure that we show the people of Mallee the proper respect and the proper attention that they absolutely deserve.

“And being on the riverfront here today, I can see a lot of the work that both Anne and previous members from the Nationals and others have put into the beautification of this area, which in its natural state would otherwise be dry and dusty. But now people come here and they are startled by just how beautiful it is.

“As we go toward the election it is important that we focus on developing the whole of Australia, not just corners of Australia.

“It’s not an election just about Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane and Perth, it’s an election where regional areas go into bat and I’ll make absolutely certain that under the Coalition agreement, which is a business partnership – not a marriage, they get their fair share.

“And with that business partnership Anne feeds into me what she wants for Mallee and I will go into bat and negotiation to make sure that we deliver that.

“That’s why in the Nationals we don’t believe in safe seats − we believe in service.”

Mr Joyce was asked if he had discussed the timing of the election with Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

“No I haven’t. That is one thing that remains in the remit of the Prime Minister,” he said.

“It is his decision and his alone, which allows me to be more free and open with my considerations of when it might be.

“We probably had two options, March and May, and March is disappearing off the agenda as we go closer to that date, and so it looks like being May. I think you’ve got to be straight with the Australian people and say it looks like being a May election.”

Mr Joyce was also asked if criticism of the Federal Government’s handling of the pandemic on a number of fronts was justified.

“The pandemic by its very nature is an extraordinary event and it requires an incredible depth of consideration and management,” he said.

“What I will stand behind is the fact that we have had one of the lowest fatality rates in the world.

“I know people will look for flaws, but the biggest indicator − KPI (Key Performance Indicator) − is that people are alive and that is the KPI that I think people would want.

“If you said in Mildura you had a lot of deaths from COVID you may then say that we haven’t managed it well, but that is not the case.”

Mr Joyce highlighted the importance of Mildura and the region in providing product for people to put on the table both here and abroad.

“Mildura and the areas around it can hold their head high because these are the people who put product on the boat that gives us the standard of living we enjoy,” he said.

“These are the people who feed the cities and give them that food security and if it wasn’t for places like Mildura, putting product on the boat and feeding the cities, we would have an insecurity in Australia that we have never seen before.”

Mr Joyce then produced a ten dollar note from his wallet to demonstrate a point.

“The reason this plastic note has value is because people overseas want it and that’s because they want to buy product from us,” he said.

“And what they want to buy of us is product made in places like Mildura. That’s why the people in Asia want it and in places in Europe and the UK want it.

“And if it wasn’t for areas like Mildura, this would merely be a piece of plastic.”

After lunch Mr Joyce toured the Mildura Sporting Precinct (MSP), where he engaged in a game of badminton doubles partnering with Mildura Mayor Liam Wood, challenging Anne Webster and MSP manager Don Harley.

The team then took to the AFL standard oval where Mr Joyce showed off his kicking and marking prowess.

Mr Joyce said any centre in regional Australia would be delighted to have a facility like the MSP.

“It is a substantial facility and I’m sure it’s something that Mildura is incredibly proud of,” he said.

“Once more Anne has done an incredible job in helping to fund this.

“You could put this is in any regional city. You could put it in Bundaberg, in Tamworth, Armidale or Albury and people would say this is fantastic − spot on!

“I really look forward to the day that we have a senior AFL game played on the paddock here.

“I say to any person who has played serious sport in any of the capital cities, go back to your roots, play in your country towns. It’s where the players come from and it’s where they want to see you.

“If you don’t go back and water the roots from where you came from and grew, it will survive in the city, but die where the roots grew. And so what you have created here is something to entice people to come here to do just that.”

Mr Joyce was asked by a journalist whether the National Party would support the updated climate target for 2030 to be set next year.

“We are going to make sure we look after our constituent base and we have to make sure we look after farmers and our dairy producers,” Mr Joyce said.

“In meeting targets, they just dispossess farmers of their asset. We have seen previously where their private property rights were taken off them without compensation.

“This might have made other people feel satisfied, but the bill didn’t go to them, it went to the people on the land.

“What the Nationals do is to be effective in any policy that government comes forward with, but we are not going to do it by just saying you can drop the bill in our post box. We’re not going to do that.

“We are going to do our bit, but we aren’t going to be led around by the nose by international agreements. We are going to be discerning and do our job.

“And might I say, every target that has been asked of us, we have met it. And do you know where it’s met? By regional areas. Our emissions are going down, Melbourne’s are going up.

“Is Melbourne going to become carbon neutral? The answer’s no.

“We are going to look after our people and not get lumbered with the bill because they have a very bad habit of doing that.”