ABC South-East NSW Breakfast interview with Simon Lauder

SIMON LAUDER: Tomorrow and Friday, the Federal Government’s Jobs and Skills Summit will be underway. Major business lobby groups, major employers, and unions will be there. An announcement on increasing the skilled migrant intake could be something to watch. One measure has already been ruled out – Social Services Minister, Amanda Rishworth says the October Budget won’t include an increase to the JobSeeker amount. Well, the Member for Eden‑Monaro, Kristy McBain has been consulting throughout the electorate and more broadly about the Jobs Summit, which she’ll be attending tomorrow. Good morning.

KRISTY MCBAIN, MINISTER: Good morning, Simon.

SIMON LAUDER: Thanks so much for joining us. What ideas are you keen to put on the table tomorrow and Friday?

KRISTY MCBAIN: I think I’ve held nine separate round tables in regards to the upcoming Jobs and Skills Summit, both locally and more broadly in my portfolio area, and there were some really consistent themes throughout. Connectivity is one, obviously. Housing is another one, especially in a lot of our regional areas, where trying to find someone to take up a job also means having to find them a house, which has been extremely difficult. So, dealing with a couple of those peripheral issues also needs to be taken into account when we are talking about dealing with the jobs and skills crisis.

SIMON LAUDER: When you say connectivity, do you mean just better mobile internet connections so people can work from the regions more easily?

KRISTY MCBAIN: Yeah, that was one of the consistent themes was that a lot of people who have move into the regions who have jobs already, or who are living in the regions and working to other organisations outside the regions, just couldn’t do their job effectively or properly without consistent mobile phone and internet connectivity, which was, as I said, a fairly consistent theme right across the country.

SIMON LAUDER: What skill shortage do we have in Eden‑Monaro that could be helped by an increase in the skilled migrant intake. What skills are we crying out for that would need to be imported?

KRISTY MCBAIN: I think that there are a number of skills that we’re looking for depending on the industries. Chefs is one where we know the hospitality industry is in desperate need of. There is, you know, a three to four‑year apprenticeship required to skill‑up someone to take up that job locally, so not only do we need to be making sure that we are properly funding our vocational training sector, but we also need to be looking at how we get those skilled migrants into the region. We know project managers, engineers, surveyors are all in short supply across our region and, again, it’s been making sure that we skill up our next generations to especially in the trades, we are seeing a number of shortages in the trade sector.

SIMON LAUDER: Do apprentices need a pay rise?

KRISTY MCBAIN: Over a number of years the incentives for apprentices have dwindled away, especially for adult apprentices, so there is I think some work to be done in regards to how we can motivate more time to take on apprenticeships and how we can motivate employers to do the same.

SIMON LAUDER: Is there too much red tape for some skilled migrants? Would that help the regions to reduce the requirements for migrants who want a job in Australia, particularly in the regions?

KRISTY MCBAIN: I think over time we’ve seen obviously the scaling back of our public service, and when we scale back the public service, it means that it pushes out the wait times for a number of things. We have already deployed an additional 500 staff to start processing the backlog of visa applications, but there is, I guess, a fine line between scaling back all of the red tape and making sure you are actually screening people properly before they come into our country. But there has to be a happy medium there where we are prioritising some of those skill shortages, and also an understanding that there are some region that is are doing it significantly tougher than others and we have to look at how we can make it easier to get some of those skilled migrants in. But also, the unskilled labour force, we know that our agriculture sector has had a particularly tough go of it over the last few years, so making sure we make it easier with that new ag visa rule would be quite important.

SIMON LAUDER: To other issues now, and yesterday you were with Senator Tony Sheldon, who is the Federal Government’s Special Envoy for Disaster Recovery. What did you see and hear yesterday?

KRISTY MCBAIN: It’s fantastic that Senator Sheldon has taken up this role and he’s really keen to learn and understand from areas that have been hit by natural disaster previously what worked well, what didn’t work well, what could have been improved and what the lessons are for the next time around. One of the first places he came to was Eden‑Monaro to talk to people following on from their Black Summer bushfire experience, so he was in Cobargo and Quaama yesterday and he’s keen to come back and talk to people in other areas because we know the impact and the experience that people had is different depending on their location. His job is to make sure that next time we’re hit by natural disaster that we’ve learnt the lessons from the ones gone before and can actually put in place a more streamlined process to start moving people from response to recovery and understanding that recovery isn’t a short‑term issue; it’s one that extends over a number of years, and in some places will be quicker than others. For some people, it will be quicker than others, but knowing that there are locally‑led solutions out there and we should be taking advantage of the lived experience of people from our region, given the issues that they’re dealing with and have dealt with previously.

SIMON LAUDER: And how do you think his role would improve the situation if there is a next time? Are there examples of failings last time that you’re pretty confident we wouldn’t see again?

KRISTY MCBAIN: I think one of the biggest lessons for us locally is that this top‑down approach didn’t work, you know the competitive grant funding in communities doesn’t help, and that we really need to be going to local communities and asking what they need in a time of a natural disaster. That has been the message from the Cobargo‑Quaama area. That was the message from Lismore and from the Hawkesbury. So, I think that there is something in making sure that local people are part of the solution, and the solution is not handed to them to try to fit into the local context, so I think that they will all be pertinent lessons that will go back to the table.

SIMON LAUDER: Yeah, we heard a bit about grant fatigue after the fires and people just not really having the energy or resources to even continually apply for grants. Do you reckon there’s still a legacy of that? Are people still hurting from that contributing to trauma in a sense?

KRISTY MCBAIN: What I think it did was pit community groups against each other and at a time when you want your community to come together, there was suddenly this issue that was dividing them and then the “why was this funded and not that?” So, I think it could definitely have been handled better. I think that there is also – you know, we take a lot on in small rural towns where you volunteer for probably two or three different organisations and you are heavily invested in what happens in your town, so there’s probably a degree of responsibility that some of those volunteers have taken which takes a toll on them as well when they are successful in grant applications or when they aren’t successful. So, I think that there’s probably an element of that grant process which has led to a lot of burnout and fatigue as well.

SIMON LAUDER: And big news for Snowy Hydro last week with the departure of Paul Broad as the leader of the government‑owned company. Is this an opportunity for the government? Were you looking for a new direction for Snowy Hydro?

KRISTY MCBAIN: I think Paul Broad has ran Snowy Hydro successfully over a number of years. I know he was very well respected in the sector and by the board and the company. It’ll be a loss halfway through the construction of Snowy 2.0, but there’ll be a recruitment process and someone coming in with a fresh set of eyes to have a look at things. So, out of everything that happens there’s always an opportunity, so I guess the opportunity now for Snowy is to have a look at a number of projects with a fresh set of eyes and for someone else to integrate themselves into our wonderful part of the world, so there’s always an opportunity that comes out of everything.

SIMON LAUDER: As we see continual kind of questioning of whether Snowy 2.0 is on track financially. We know it’s kind of running behind schedule. Do some tough questions need to be asked? Does the government want to send in its own auditors?

KRISTY MCBAIN: I think our Minister Chris Bowen has had a number of conversations with Snowy and with a range of other projects that we have inherited. There’s always going to be a level of scrutiny when a new government comes in and they have a look over things, but I think the project is underway and hopefully we will see it come to completion and on time.

SIMON LAUDER: And some scrutiny of your own finances this week with questions about some of your family shareholdings and whether they align with the Ministerial Code of Conduct. Have you been forced to offload some shareholdings lately?

KRISTY MCBAIN: I was a mum‑and‑dad shareholder, and I transferred some shares that I had to my husband when I became a Minister before I received the Ministerial Code of Conduct. In that Code of Conduct an adequate divestment isn’t to a family member, so we have been working our way through dealing with those remaining shares that we have. It should have been done at a quicker pace and I acknowledge that, but not much to see there.

SIMON LAUDER: And is it all done, or do you still have to offload some?

KRISTY MCBAIN: Look, there’s one shareholding that is suspended on the ASX which we can’t deal with that the point in time, but the rest are well in train.

SIMON LAUDER: Great to talk to you this morning. Thanks so much.

KRISTY MCBAIN: Thanks, Simon.

SIMON LAUDER: The Member for Eden‑Monaro, also Minister for Regional Development, Kristy McBain, joining us on ABC South East.