ABC Capricornia radio interview with Tobi Loftus


PAUL CULLIVER, HOST: I want to take you to Gladstone this morning, though. Local councils that sit on Queensland’s coastline all meet up for a thing called the Local Government Association of Queensland’s Coastal Leaders Forum. Pretty nice for them. In attendance, though, is the new Federal Minister for Regional Development and Local Government. Her name is Kristy McBain. She caught up with our Gladstone reporter, Tobi Loftus, this morning to talk all things forum, the federal assistance grants, Inland Rail and the future of green hydrogen.

KRISTY MCBAIN, MINISTER: There are so many coastal councils across the country, none more so than in Queensland and we know that there are challenges being faced by coastal councils right across the place, and we have to make sure that we are addressing them both at a federal and state level, but also at a local government level, so really pleased to be here today and sit with a number of councillors, mayors and staff members from councils across Queensland to talk about some of the most pressing issues they have.

TOBI LOFTUS, REPORTER: I guess from what you’ve heard so far from councils along the coastlines across Australia, what are the biggest issues they are facing?

KRISTY MCBAIN: It’s clear that climate change has a huge impact on a number of councils with coastal erosion taking place. And coastal councils do things that other councils may not have to do – maintain and clean boat ramps, make sure that we have bins for fish waste, make sure we have tourism infrastructure that is used by people that don’t actually live in our council areas. So, there are some challenges uniquely to coastal councils that we have to be cognisant of all the time. So, it’s great to be here. As a former mayor of a coastal council, I deeply understand some of the issues that will be talked about today.

TOBI LOFTUS: The event today is being run by the Local Government Association of Queensland. One of their biggest issues in recent years and one of the biggest issues for most councils that I’ve ever spoken to here in Queensland is the financial assistance grants program. It’s currently at about 0.55 per cent of Commonwealth taxation revenue and the LGAQ and councils want that up to one per cent. Is that something that the Federal Government will consider?

KRISTY MCBAIN: Look, it’s clear that our local councils do a lot with a very little amount of money and it’s the only level of government that has its tentacles in every town and village across the country, which is why it is so important in our system. We are obviously facing some economic headwinds and as much as I would like to announce a one per cent of general taxation revenue to financial assistance grants, at this point in time we won’t be able to achieve that. But we are looking at how we can help councils through an increase of other mechanisms, and we will continue to work with those councils to make sure that we can achieve something that actually helps all communities across the country.

TOBI LOFTUS: What would those other mechanisms look like?

KRISTY MCBAIN: So, it might be additional tied grant funding systems. It might be help with expertise. You know, as we’re talking today, we’re here talking about a whole range of things that impact coastal councils right across country. So, it’s about making sure that we can also align that advice and help other councils along the way so that other councils potentially don’t have to go down the path of hiring their own consultants and coming up with their own policies. So, working together and streamlining some of those policy applications might be a way to save costs as well.

TOBI LOFTUS: Recently, the Government passed the climate change bill and enshrined that 43 per cent target. We’ve had members like the member for Flynn here, Colin Boyce of the LNP, basically come out and say the Government needs to explain what kind of impacts that will have on communities like Gladstone which is so heavily reliant on the industrial sector; it’s also got a coal‑fired power station just outside of town. What kind of impact will that 43 per cent target have on Gladstone?

KRISTY MCBAIN: I think the important thing to note is what kind of impact does it have if we do nothing? And we are seeing impacts and coastal councils are the first to experience them. You know, we are seeing massive weather events that are creating huge problems across the country. We’ve seen east coast lows ripping up coastal infrastructure which, again, councils and communities have got to foot the bill for. I think the question needs to be: how much is it going to cost us if we don’t do anything?

There is obviously still room for our exports to continue. That 43 per cent does nothing about our offshore exports, and Mr Boyce knows that, and I think it’s worrying that this type of scare campaign is still being rolled out by the coalition. It is well past time that we actually get on and take some action on climate change. And doing one thing to help our environment and help our country doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to come at a cost to other things. We can walk and chew gum at the same time and we should all be working together to make sure that this is an important step for the nation, that there are industries that are going to contract, but there are new industries that will come online, and we should be working together to make sure we can fill those jobs in places like Gladstone.

TOBI LOFTUS: You’re also the Minister for Regional Development. One of Matt Burnett’s big pet projects of recent years has been advocating for the Inland Rail project to be extended from Toowoomba in the Darling Downs up here to Gladstone and the port of Gladstone, a Queensland Government‑owned facility turned into a container export and import facility as well. Is that something that – I know there’s a business case underway at the moment, but is that something that the Federal Government supports in principle?

KRISTY MCBAIN: It’s hugely important to us that we actually maximise the use of our ports across the country and that’s one of the reasons we have Inland Rail. That proposal was received fairly well by the Labor Party during the election campaign. As you said, that business case is being built and it has the support of the Labor Party to see what we can do to make sure that the port of Gladstone can be more heavily utilised for a whole range of other shipping needs, including containerisation.

TOBI LOFTUS: I guess across regional Queensland, as well, and then down in areas like the Hunter, the talk of the town is obviously green hydrogen and the new industry that that can bring. What do you sort of see as the Federal Government’s role especially in regional development in, I guess, facilitating that kind of, I guess, emergence of that industry?

KRISTY MCBAIN: One of the biggest issues is us sending a signal to the market that we are keen to support new industries like green hydrogen. And that signal has definitely been sent with the support of the Kurri Kurri green hydrogen plant in the Hunter. It’s an industry that will grow over time and I think it’s incumbent upon Australia to get in on that industry early. Traditionally we’ve been late adopters of new technology and we know going forward we have to be at the cutting edge of changes in technology, and the signal we’ve sent is that we want green hydrogen here and we will support it.

PAUL CULLIVER: That there is the Federal Minister for Regional Development and Local Government, Kristy McBain who’s in Gladstone this morning. She’s at the Local Government Association of Queensland’s Coastal Leaders Forum.