ABC Newcastle, Mornings with Paul Turton
PAUL TURTON, HOST: Good morning. If you paid attention during the state election campaign you would have noticed it was pretty much all about Western Sydney. Most policy announcements were in and for those key marginal seats. Did you feel at any stage like busting out an impromptu version of “What about me? It isn’t fair. I’ve had enough and I want my share?”
We’re all proudly parochial, of course, and with that we have a massive chip on our shoulders in this region. I know we’ve got our noses out of joint, but our history of hosting safe Labor seats, both at a state and a federal level, certainly fuels the theory of our region being taken for granted.
I’m sure my next guest, though, doesn’t see it that way. Kristy McBain is the Federal Minister for Regional Development, Local Government and Territories, and I’m pleased to say she joins us on our program this morning. Minister, thanks for coming on.
KRISTY MCBAIN, MINISTER: My pleasure. Thanks for having me.
PAUL TURTON: You fight this parochialism argument everywhere you go, I guess, do you?
KRISTY MCBAIN: It’s interesting coming from the electorate that I represent at the very southern end of the state. At a state level we all think that regions outside those populated areas probably need a bit more love and support as well. So parochialism is alive and well, and it serves us well most of the time.
PAUL TURTON: How do you weigh up the decisions, then, on allocating resources? Is it all about population? Is it all about equity? What’s your approach?
KRISTY MCBAIN: You’ve got to look at policies specific for particular areas. We’ve seen in our discussions over the last 10 months substantial dollars being committed towards support of Newcastle, towards evolving the economy across the Hunter as we move towards green hydrogen and renewable energy sources. Some areas are going to need some extra support over the next little while as our economy evolves.
PAUL TURTON: You’ve got some big-ticket items to deal with at the moment, haven’t you? Health care, there’s a lot of focus on that, housing and accommodation. There’s so many massive issues that are so fundamental to living in this country.
KRISTY MCBAIN: What we’ve seen over the last 10-years was the Coalition focused on those short-term issues rather than really focusing on the long-term plans that we needed to put in place to make sure that we were dealing with the skills shortages, the housing crisis, the real transition we’re seeing across the world to renewable energy. We’ve been left with some big issues, especially in the health care and aged care sector, all of which aren’t going to be able to be fixed in one Budget or one election cycle. It’s really pleasing to see so many people coming together, and three levels of government coming together now to talk about the big picture and the long-term planning that we’re going to need for Australia to put its best foot forward to the world again.
PAUL TURTON: Minister, I will allow that free kick against the previous government, knowing full well that the next government that replaces you will do exactly the same thing, so we’ll move on. What about the role – I’m curious about your portfolio inclusion of local government, because the constitution doesn’t allow the Federal Government to make rules in regard to local government; they’re a subset of the state government. So how does all that work? How do you get involved in local government?
KRISTY MCBAIN: There are 546 local governments across the country. We provide the Financial Assistance Grants which go via the state and territories down to local governments every year. This last year, close to $3 billion in Financial Assistance Grants went to local councils. There’s a number of other funding programs that are provided to local governments, either directly after going via the state or territory or through other parts of government. We do have a role in making sure we’re working with them because they are in every town and village across the country. It’s important that we’ve got a role with them.
PAUL TURTON: Minister, what’s COVID done to the dynamic? We’ve heard, and we keep getting reports of the population shift to regional areas. I presume there’s been some adjustment back in recent months, but we know that many more people are moving to regional parts of Australia. That creates massive infrastructure challenges, I would imagine.
KRISTY MCBAIN: We’ve seen a shift of population more significantly to the northern parts of Australia. We have seen a big shift into our regional areas as well. Businesses have deemed that people can live and work from anywhere for the majority of their working lives, and we’ve seen businesses make pretty heavy investments in some of their regional capabilities, which has been great to see. It does bring with it some challenges; mobile phone connectivity and internet connectivity is first and foremost, and we’ve also got a housing challenge at the moment. We are getting on with the job of dealing with some of those things, and to that end we’ve put about $2.2 billion towards our connectivity plan both in terms of extending out NBN capabilities but dealing with some of those mobile phone challenges that we’ve got across the country as well.
PAUL TURTON: Minister, you’ve arrived in the area, of course, on – at a significant part in our industrial life, of course – Liddell power station closes tomorrow. It’s the beginning of the end for fossil fuel energy in New South Wales. What does that do to your work load in regard to planning for life after coal?
KRISTY MCBAIN: It’s important that we’ve got communities coming together. What’s been really different here in the Hunter is that you’ve had the business, you’ve had community, you’ve had the union movement coming together and looking at the plans for this closure. It hasn’t been a sudden thing that’s happened; it’s been something that’s been now on the drawing board for many years. It’s pleasing to see that there hasn’t been any forced redundancies in this process, that everyone that wanted a job has transitioned to similar roles nearby.
I was in Gippsland a couple of weeks ago and know they didn’t have that luxury when the Hazelwood power station closed and those workers weren’t given any assistance by having a closure date put to them years in advance. It’s been a good learning lesson and clearly, we’re going to go through this process across different parts of the country.
PAUL TURTON: The Premier in New South Wales, yesterday, implemented changes in education around red tape and bureaucracy that’s had, certain sectors of the teaching community disgruntled, for some period of time, the amount of time they spend out of the classroom in other words. What about infrastructure and development in regional areas? Is that something that you’re conscious of, making – streamlining processes and making it as easy as possible for communities to expand as they need?
KRISTY MCBAIN: I had a Local Government Ministers’ meeting in Canberra only a couple of weeks ago. One of the key items on our agenda was planning systems across the country. They need to be fit for the 21st century, and we have had a firm commitment from all those Local Government Ministers to bring in the Planning Ministers so that we can have a discussion about making things easier. Dealing with the supply challenge is making sure that we’ve got a planning system that can be streamlined and deal with things at a much quicker pace. I Look forward to continuing to work with that group to make it easier for regional communities, especially to get on and develop plans that are going to suit their communities.
PAUL TURTON: Kristy McBain, it’s been good to have you on our show today. I appreciate you coming on and sharing your reflections with us.
KRISTY MCBAIN: Lovely speaking to you. Have a great day.
PAUL TURTON: Kristy McBain, the Federal Minister for Regional Development, Local Government and Territories who’s in our area liaising and negotiating and conversing with all stakeholders, including our local councils and state government representatives.