Interview with 2BS Bathurst

JANEEN HOSEMANS: It is my pleasure to welcome to the program the Federal Minister for Regional Development, Local Government and Territories, Kristy McBain. Good afternoon.

KRISTY MCBAIN: Good afternoon. How are you?

HOSEMANS: Very well, thank you. Very nice to have you joining us on the program. Minister, could we firstly just talk about the Coalition's plan for nuclear? Did this come as a surprise to you and your parliamentary colleagues?

MCBAIN: I'm not sure you could call it a plan. It was effectively a placemat. All we know is that there are going to be seven locations for nuclear reactors. We don't know whether there's been negotiations with the companies to buy this land, how much it will cost to build the reactors, how many will be needed, what it will cost to run. When you look at some of the commentary from Matt Kean, who looked at nuclear for NSW when he was the Energy Minister, he shied away from it because he said it would bankrupt the state. If they're serious about this, they've got a hell of a lot more questions to answer and a lot more work to do in those communities, particularly because there's been zero consultation to date.

HOSEMANS. So, I gather there won't be any bipartisan support anytime soon?

MCBAIN: Unlikely, I would think. My big thing has always been, when I was a local councillor and a local Mayor, and then in this job as a local Member, you've got to work with your community. You've got to make sure that you're pulling people with you, understanding what the pros and cons of things are, making sure that there's a proper economic plan that underpins your actions. The Coalition has got a lot of questions to answer and a lot of community members to convince that taxpayer dollars should be spent on a project like this, which won't deliver energy or cheap energy for a couple of decades to come.

HOSEMANS: Minister, one of the arguments put forward by the Coalition is solar and wind potentially taking up prime agricultural land. Do you think that that's a sound argument?

MCBAIN: There is clearly going to be a place for renewables right across the country. We know that it's already powering homes and businesses as we speak, but we do have to make sure that consultation is right with communities in renewable projects. It's one of the big concerns that we had as a Labor party, and one of the things that I hear frequently in my travels as Regional Development Minister. It's why we commissioned Andrew Dyer to do a report into renewables and transmission across the country, and took on board all of the nine recommendations that he made to government. We underpinned that with a $20 million investment in his budget, to make sure that consultation is real with communities, that we start rating out renewables developers so communities know which developers are good to deal with and which don't have a great track record. That's how you build consensus in communities, by actually listening to what they say and underpinning that with dollars in action.

HOSEMANS: In a press release earlier this week, David Littleproud claimed that a poll that they undertook in May of this year showed that 63 per cent of voters living in the central west were pro a nuclear power station at Mount Piper. Has that survey been shared with you?

MCBAIN: It hasn't been shared with me, but you don't have to look very far from that polling to see that the local Mayor hasn't been consulted. None of the local community members have been consulted. Andrew Gee, the former Nationals Member, said the announcement was made without any consultation. You've got former NSW Nationals leader Paul Toole saying it's a work of fiction and it's never going to happen. It’s great to put out polling if you've got it, but at the end of the day, you've got to work with people, you've got to work with communities. All of the indications show us that nuclear is the most expensive form of energy and there's still no understanding of what that will cost the Australian taxpayer to get up and running, let alone where you're going to deal with the nuclear waste.

HOSEMANS: Minister. I'd like to move on to the Grocery Code of Conduct. Some outstanding work by Dr Craig Emerson and his team. The review of just how the supermarkets deal with suppliers. Eleven recommendations. All of these have been accepted by the Federal Government and it finally looks like our farmers might get a fair go.

MCBAIN: That's right, it's been a big point of frustration and contention for a lot of people, that while consumers are paying higher prices at one end, our farmers aren't actually getting any more for the produce that they're handing over to the supermarkets. One of the big things in this Code of Conduct is that it will now be mandatory and it will be backed up with financial penalties, ranging up to $10 million. A huge cost to the supermarkets if they're found to be engaging in conduct that is found to be in breach of that Code of Conduct, which is really important. The other thing that I think is really important is we will now allow producers and suppliers to make anonymous complaints to the ACCC. A lot of the producers and suppliers that I spoke to said they were afraid to do so before because they didn't want to lose the contracts they had. It is really important that we are giving more protections to suppliers and producers, to allow the ACCC to investigate conduct that is harming our producers.

HOSEMANS: Well, Minister, the suppliers have been hurting, but so too have all of us at the cash register checkout. Of course, that investigation into price gouging is underway. We don't expect anything to come from that review until early 2025. Are you hoping that there may be severe penalties actually imposed on supermarkets who do engage in the practice of gouging once that the review has been undertaken and the results are known?

MCBAIN: Absolutely, for a lot of regional Australians, we know that we probably pay more at the supermarket checkout than our metropolitan counterparts, and we want to make sure that it is fair. That we're not being unnecessarily charged more money. The really important investment that we've made in the meantime, while this work is underway, is working with Choice, who will do a price comparison every quarter, so that we can literally compare apples with apples. We'll also make sure supermarkets are aware that we're going to continue to do this and keep an eye on them, both as communities, but also as government. You will no longer get a free ride. We expect a good deal for our consumers and we expect a good deal for our farmers.

HOSEMANS: Minister, it's a pleasure chatting with you and I'm sure we'll chat again. Thank you very much for your time.

MCBAIN: Lovely to be with you. Talk to you soon.