ABC Riverina, Breakfast interview with Sally Bryant

SALLY BRYANT, HOST: And it was a big day out at Henty Field Days yesterday. Lots to see. Lots of people to meet and catch up with. I was actually hoping to catch up on the day with the federal Minister for Regional Development, member for Eden-Monaro, Kristy McBain, but she got caught up in traffic, I got busy and we just missed out on the opportunity on the day. So, taking the time to catch up now. Kristy McBain, good morning.

KRISTY McBAIN, MINISTER: Good morning, Sally. How are you?

SALLY BRYANT: I’m pretty good, thank you. As Minister for Regional Development, when you look at an event like Henty, what do you see?

KRISTY McBAIN: I think you can see the absolute unbridled enthusiasm people have to get back out and about and socialise. Having spoken to numerous people there yesterday, they said it was their chance to catch up with people they hadn’t seen since the last Henty Field Day. So, you could see how much it means to communities to get back out and about, and talk about the things that have been happening over the last couple of years as well as interacting with a number of those exhibitors.

SALLY BRYANT: Yeah, exactly. So what do you see on the horizon for rural communities over the next couple of years? The fuel excise is going to go back on soon. That’s going to have a big impact on travel, freight, farming activities. Rural costs are going to go through the roof. What sorts of things could the federal government be doing to ensure that rural and regional Australia gets the support they’re going to need?

KRISTY McBAIN: Yeah, I think it’s really important to talk about rural and regional Australia as probably the next frontier for a lot of people. We saw during Covid obviously a number of people moving to the regions, but that has put significant pressure on housing, and on our already pretty fragile telecommunications connectivity. So we need to be talking with communities and all three levels of government about those gaps that we need to start fixing. And pleased to be there yesterday with the Regional Development Australia Murray CEO, Edwina Hayes and board member to launch their strategic plan which really does look at bringing the three levels of government together along with business and industry to talk about capacity-building and what needs to be done so that we can attract more people to the Murray area but also to help those local businesses grow themselves.

SALLY BRYANT: Development comes with its own problems, though, doesn’t it? Because there are a couple of pretty major pieces of infrastructure development impacting on this region at the moment. You’ve got the Inland Rail and then you’ve got these humongous power transmission lines that are having a huge impact on individuals and communities. So how do you balance the greater good with the impact of the people on the ground? It’s totally changing their landscapes, carving up their farms. The Inland Rail is actually going to go right through the centre of Wagga. I mean, is this sort of development acceptable?

KRISTY McBAIN: I think that what we have seen is that local communities haven’t been prioritised in the process, and that’s definitely something that we need to change. And that’s why it’s so good we’ve got community groups coming together, organisations like RDA Murray and RDA Riverina, coming together to say, “Hold on, we’re the ones that live here - you need to consult with us in the process.” And that’s what has to be done. Companies and governments, regardless of which tier they’re at, need to look at what’s happening on the ground, talk to local people and actually come up with workable solutions.

The amount of landholders I’ve spoken to about the TransGrid HumeLink project, not one of them has said that they don’t want the project to go ahead, but they all want to be better consulted in the process. And I think that that is what should be done and what could be done to actually help local communities get through the change in our landscapes.

SALLY BRYANT: And I think you would get the same response from people if you asked them about the Inland Rail. People support the idea of the infrastructure, but if you’ve got a city like Wagga which will have a railway line with double-stacked freight going through it, it will basically cut the city in half for a couple of hours a day.

KRISTY McBAIN: Yeah, and we live in these parts of the world and we should be consulted in the process. Again, I don’t think that there are a whole bunch of people who are saying to me we don’t want that infrastructure; what they are saying is, “Please consult us. We live here and we’ve got some ideas on how we could actually make it work.” And it’s incumbent upon governments to listen.

SALLY BRYANT: Now, there’s been a bit of chatter about rural and regional funding and the expression “pork-barrelling” in recent months. But can you understand why regional residents might be a bit wary of language like this, because there’s a sense that any funding that goes into a sparsely populated area may be not well-targeted? How do you manage perceptions of what’s called pork-barrelling?

KRISTY McBAIN: Look, I think, , we’ve all seen that occur over previous years. What we need to do is get away from this consistent grant cycle funding and actually look at how we can make funding more transparent. And to that end, I’m really keen to look at what we can do in terms of putting together a regional investment framework so that it’s easier for people to see when the federal government will invest, why it will invest and hopefully make it so transparent that it extends over election cycles so that then state government, local government and private enterprise can also hinge their own investment off the Federal Government’s investment. It would be really nice to get to that very transparent point, and we are currently working on some ideas about how that could roll out.

SALLY BRYANT: Now, Queen Elizabeth’s funeral is now complete. The mourning period is over after enormous saturation coverage during that period of mourning. Where do you think Australians stand now when it comes to a republic? I mean, do you think it was about the Queen or do you think this is about the idea of a monarchy? And would a republic case gain more traction now that a very popular monarch has died?

KRISTY McBAIN: Look we’ve had the funeral yesterday and we’ve got our National Memorial Day tomorrow. I think there is going to be a time and a place for that conversation to take place. At this point in time, let’s get through the formalities that have been outlined now for a number of decades and move towards that conversation if there is a will of the Australian people to do so.

SALLY BRYANT: Yeah. You were in Jingellic last night with the announcement of increased communications network resilience. How’s that going to work? How’s it going to assist the locals?

KRISTY McBAIN: Yeah, following on from the Black Summer bushfires, government put together a couple of options to help, to make our telecommunications and connectivity more resilient in some of our emergency service centres and evacuation centres. This is part of that rollout where there’s now a backup NBN satellite available at Jingellic on the RFS sheds to make sure that if we lose mains electricity and that telecommunication goes down that there is a backup satellite there that will still allow them to obtain information but also to communicate outside as well.

We all saw during the Black Summer bushfires how incredibly difficult it was for a number of smaller communities once they lost that main electricity to communicate outside, especially when they were cut off, from other communities by road. Listening to the lived experience of people on the ground has allowed this program to come together, and I’m really pleased that I was there to officially mark that launch in Jingellic yesterday.

SALLY BRYANT: Are there plans to introduce similar technology in other parts of the region?

KRISTY McBAIN: Yeah, there are already some plans underway for a few other spots across Eden-Monaro, and  the burn scar across this electorate is quite extensive. But there are also a number of really rural and remote communities that could access – or need to access that technology. So there are a couple more spots that will be unveiled over the next few months.

SALLY BRYANT: Kristy McBain, thanks so much for your time this morning.

KRISTY McBAIN: Thanks, Sally. Have a great day.

SALLY BRYANT: Kristy McBain is the member for Eden-Monaro. She’s the Minister for Regional Development, Local Government and Territories. And we passed like ships in the night at the Henty Field Days yesterday.