2CC Breakfast with Stephen Cenatiempo

STEPHEN CENATIEMPO: Time to talk federal politics with the Minister for Regional Development, Territories and Local Government. She's the Member for Eden-Monaro, Kristy McBain. Kristy, good morning.

KRISTY MCBAIN: Morning, Stephen.

CENATIEMPO: Before we get on, some sad news. We've spoken to a number of people about this, but one of your predecessors, Gary Nairn, sadly passed away over the weekend. A popular bloke, who held the seat for four terms during the Howard years. I imagine you probably would have worked with him in your capacity when you were in local government.

MCBAIN: I didn't get a chance to work with him, but I had met him when I became the Member for Eden-Monaro. I had seen him at a couple of different events and he was working with the Mulloon Institute when I was first elected. Our paths had crossed on numerous occasions, and I think you can see from the number of comments on social media that Gary was a popular and well-respected Member for Eden-Monaro. He was liked right across the political spectrum. That says a lot about his character. It'll be a great loss for our community. You can see he was really a person who was there for the community. His service, even post politics in the Mulloon Institute, the NSW Biodiversity Board, and also as Chair of the Duke of Edinburgh awards, he was committed to public service.

CENATIEMPO: Yeah, indeed. No doubt about that. Now, we had a wage increase this week for low income earners. Look, nobody begrudges these people more money because, look, they're the ones that are doing it tougher than the rest of us. But how does this not become inflationary, given that people on these low wages have no choice but to spend every extra cent they've got? We've got to start focusing on bringing down the cost of living rather than trying to top up the other end, which is really defeats the purpose.

MCBAIN: That annual wage increase is incredibly important. It's on the back of a 5.75 per cent wage increase last year. To say getting wages moving for the lowest wage earners in the country is going to be inflationary is not correct. We've seen company profits spike well over the last few years, that's inflationary. What this is doing is keeping up with the cost of living. These people aren't going out to have a massive shopping spree, it’s to go towards the essentials that they need in their everyday life.

CENATIEMPO: But that's the point. That's where it becomes inflationary.

MCBAIN: Not if you're paying the bills you've already got. Our Budget was focused on trying to keep the cost of living down for people, which is why there was a significant investment in cheaper medicines, making sure there was a freeze on the price of medicine for the next five years for pensioners and concession cardholders. That $300 energy bill rebate. The tax changes that we will see, which will flow through to people next month. It's incredibly important that we're helping people keep up, and that's what's important. That's what the Fair Work Commission has decided.

CENATIEMPO: Kristy, this is my point, where keeping up with inflation is not the same as bringing inflation down and bringing the cost of living down. If you bring the cost of living down, you don't have to keep up with it.

MCBAIN: That's exactly what our budget's focused on. Freezing medicines for five years, so that people aren't paying more at the checkout, will help bring inflation down. We're taking the hit so that people don't have to. That's exactly what we're focused on, making sure that we can contribute as a government to every Australian's hip pocket cost.

CENATIEMPO: Well, let's talk about that, because the latest Community Pharmacy Agreement has been signed, and this is not a shot at your government or, you know, the Labor side. Everybody needs to take responsibility for this. Why do we hand over pharmacy policy and medicines policy to the Pharmacy Guild? They write the government's policy, and they have been doing so for decades. Somebody's got to break that nexus at some point.

MCBAIN: The Pharmacy Guild isn’t writing policy.

CENATIEMPO: They are, that's what's happening.

MCBAIN: It's clear there's negotiation between the Pharmacy Guild and the government. They're providing services in our community. Seeing the need and the demand in that sector, what we're really keen to do, particularly in regional areas where it is tough to get in to see a doctor at times, is increasing the scope of practice that pharmacists can trade. Pharmacists are highly skilled professionals, and we shouldn't have to wait to go to a doctor. Vaccinations are obviously a huge one. NSW at the moment is trialling certain medications that pharmacists can prescribe instead of doctors, so that we don’t clog up our GPs with every month’s prescriptions that we've got. It’s a big investment, $26.5 billion over the next five years. There's also some support for regional pharmacies as we transition to that 60 day prescriptions, because we don't want the cost to patients to go up. We're working with the Pharmacy Guild to make sure that they can still provide good levels of service right across the country, particularly in our regions.

CENATIEMPO: We're going to talk more about this later on this morning, but this jobs and skills list, how did we get this so wrong that we prioritise yoga teachers and martial arts instructors over tradies?

MCBAIN: I don't think they've been prioritised. It's clear that this draft list being put together by Jobs and Skills, an independent agency, has been put together in draft form, following consultation with workers and employers around the country. They've done some surveys and some written submissions. There'll obviously be some further targeted consultation. That core skills occupation list does include chippies, gas fitters, electrical engineers, also nurses and teachers, which we know are facing critical shortages in. It is important that further consultation is done, because we want to see that list really reflect what's needed across the community. There's some more consultation happening.

CENATIEMPO: Yeah, but again, and I'm not blaming the government, because I know it's been done by an independent arbiter and all of that, but, I mean, when yoga instructors and martial arts instructors make the list at all, clearly something's gone wrong here.

MCBAIN: For many people across our regions in particular, they'll tell you how difficult it is to get a tradie. That is really important to people, especially in regions that have faced natural disasters, and we're having trouble rebuilding homes because we don't have the people we need to do that.

CENATIEMPO: Absolutely, and that's the point. So, bricklayers, cabinet makers and plumbers aren't on the list?

MCBAIN: I'm sure the list will be refined and it'll come forward. We've clearly made a big investment in trades, with 20,000 fee-free TAFE places going specifically to the construction sector. Last year alone, 24,000 people took up fee-free TAFE places in our trades. We're doing what we can to make sure that we make it easier for people to go through that apprenticeship system, by taking one of the costs off them.

CENATIEMPO: Kristy, good to talk to you. We'll catch up again next week.