Berrigan Shire Mayor Matt Hannan has publicly challenged Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack, asking him to tell Prime Minister Scott Morrison to visit the local area.
There was an extraordinary exchange between Cr Hannan and the Deputy PM at the Sustainable Economic Growth for Regional Australia (SEGRA) launch in Barooga on Thursday.
As Cr Hannan invited Mr McCormack to speak, the Deputy PM indicated he had to step out of the room to call Mr Morrison, telling Cr Hannan he ‘‘has to speak to the Prime Minister right now, could I speak in 10 minutes.’’
Frustrated with this response Cr Hannan retaliated with: ‘‘Well I’ve actually written to him a couple of times Deputy Prime Minister, asking him to come to our area.
‘‘So in your conversation, maybe you could tell him ‘to instil confidence in this area (and show) that he does govern for the whole of the country perhaps he could make some time to visit this area’.
‘‘That would be good, so maybe if you could do that?’’
Mr McCormack didn’t respond as he left the room to make his phone call, however he did return to the function to address the 25 people and afterwards spoke privately with Cr Hannan.
Prior to the awkward moment between the two leaders Cr Hannan addressed the other attendees, including federal Nationals Member for Murray Damian Drum, saying there are ‘‘many great things happening in the Berrigan Shire’’.
‘‘We have first class sporting facilities, recreation, opportunities to own our homes, start up small businesses and great experiences you can have along the Murray River.
‘‘We also have lots of arts and crafts, historic stories and significant events that make our area one to live, work an invest in.
‘‘As you both (McCormack and Drum) know we’re facing many dangers out here in the bush at the moment and the one key ingredient going forward, in all the things we do well, is that five letter word — water.
‘‘We don’t expect or don’t wish any more than anybody else but we do expect a fair go out here.
‘‘We live here because we love the lifestyle and we can host events like SEGRA in great facilities.
‘‘Today you both have something to say but do you understand water is extremely important to us. It’s not about any more or less but about having a fair go.’’
After the function Cr Hannan said speaking with a Deputy Prime Minister is rare and he saw an opportunity to represent his local council area.
‘‘It’s not often the Deputy Prime Minister is in our area and he has the ear of the Prime Minister.
‘‘I think it’s extremely important the Prime Minister, who says he wants to govern for the whole of Australia, gets out into the regional and rural areas.
‘‘You can easily fly into Albury and drive 90 minutes to the Berrigan Shire and show you do care about areas like this.
‘‘Instil that confidence we’re looking for in a government going forward. Times are changing, we’re going through one of the worst droughts in our history and with no water and no rain it doesn’t make for a happy place to be.
‘‘I don’t think I shamed him but having that brief conversation with Michael...he’s as down to earth as most people.’’
Cr Hannan said Mr McCormack told him during their one-on-one conversation there were no guarantees the Prime Minister could make it to the region.
‘‘He said he understands the issues going on out here and he couldn’t get the Prime Minister out here but ‘that doesn’t mean I won’t stop asking the Prime Minister to come to this area’.”
Cr Hannan said he would continue to send letters or emails to the Prime Minister.
‘‘Michael talked about the fact politicians are in civic office for a short amount of time and if it’s really important for the Prime Minister to continue to govern he should take that opportunity to come to the Berrigan Shire.
‘‘He needs to have a look and talk to the people, and relay the confidence that he has their back.’’
The Southern Riverina News asked Cr Hannan if he has confidence the Prime Minister will come to the Berrigan Shire between now and the election on May 18.
‘‘I’m optimistic he’ll make the effort,’’ he replied with a laugh.
The incident was the second time in three days that a Coalition member had been on the receiving end of unusually strong criticism from the region.
On Tuesday last week, Member for Farrer Sussan Ley received a hostile reception at a water rally in Albury, which was attended by many people from the Southern Riverina.