Interview, ABC NewsRadio Breakfast
INTERVIEWER: First this half hour, from the Mayor of the Bega Valley to Federal Minister for Regional Development, Kristy McBain’s ascension in politics has been rapid over the past four years.
The member for Eden‑Monaro in New South Wales is the first regionally-based Labor politician to hold the portfolio. She’ll have her work cut out for her as regional and rural areas grapple with a lot of issues, the soaring cost of living, from food prices to energy bills, critical housing shortages. A lot to discuss and Kristy McBain joins us now.
Good morning, thank you for your time.
KRISTY MCBAIN: Good morning.
INTERVIEWER: You know, quite an ascent from the Mayor of Bega to the Federal Minister for Regional Development in the space of a few years. How are you feeling at the moment?
KRISTY MCBAIN: Yeah, really excited to take on this portfolio. It’s quite interesting that I’ve been on the other side of it for a little while and quite often lobbying ministers and shadow ministers for regional development for a whole range of projects and now I’m that person, so I’m really looking forward to working with my colleagues but also working with the local government sector, RDA bodies, joint organisations to make sure that we are really looking at the projects that will make a difference to regions right across the country.
INTERVIEWER: And I want to ask you about your priorities in a minute but before we do get into your new role, you know, I want to touch base with you about bushfire recovery in your electorate of Eden‑Monaro because it’s been, you know, more than two years now. But it’s been important to us not to lose sight of the fact that this journey is far from over for so many people, you know, the Bega Valley was very much hit hard during those fires, I’m thinking about towns like Cobargo, for example. Can you just give us an update of how things are going for people in your neck of the woods?
KRISTY MCBAIN: Yeah, look it is a really tough and long process for some people. We’ve had people who are already back in rebuilt homes but so many people who are not at that stage yet, so many who aren’t there for a various range of reasons, insurance issues, planning issues, cash flow issues. There are a lot of issues that sort of combine into one to make recovery very difficult.
In the Bega Valley we lost 465 homes. In Eurobodalla 500 homes. So, you know, there are a lot of homes along the coast and right across the electorate that have been lost to Black Summer bushfires, and to two pretty big bushfires before that, the Tathra fires in 2018 and then the Yankees Gap fire in 2018.
So it is a long and slow process and one of the reasons I’ve basically spoken about bushfire in every Parliamentary sitting week since I was elected was to make sure that it wasn’t on the back‑burner, that we were still thinking about it week‑in week‑out and that we do need to be there for some communities for a long time to come.
INTERVIEWER: I mean I imagine challenging times. I mean will it be a difficult or a challenging balance in terms of your work with local recovery in your electorate while taking on this role in the Ministry as well?
KRISTY MCBAIN: Oh look, absolutely not. You know, I am from the region and unashamedly will be the MP for Eden‑Monaro first and foremost. That’s my job, that’s what gets me into Parliament, and I will be still talking about bushfire recovery and still talking to my colleagues about things that need to be done in our region to help those most impacted. Just like there’ll be MPs across the country that will be talking about flood recovery and mitigation going forward. So that balancing act will be there for numerous Members of Parliament who take on dual roles.
INTERVIEWER: Let’s chat about your portfolio then. What are your, I guess we could talk about this for quite some time but can you as briefly as you can tell me about what your priorities are when it comes to regional Australia over the next three years?
KRISTY MCBAIN: Well, you know, it will be a challenging time we’re facing. Obviously, we’re a trillion dollars in debt and every dollar of taxpayers’ money that is spent will need to be spent wisely and be getting us the biggest bang for buck, but I’ve had my first briefing from the Department yesterday and really looking forward to getting my teeth stuck in.
I think the most important thing for me is to make sure we have a methodical approach to regional development. It’s one thing that when I was on the Regional Australia Committee in the last term of Parliament I really talked about the need to have a methodical plan that sort of allows regions, communities, businesses and investors to know what’s happening in their region and how they fit into the picture and I’m looking to seeing that come to fruition so that we can be assured that money spent in the region has a good purpose behind it.
INTERVIEWER: I’m interested in the mechanics of it too because, you know, it’s worth noting and important to note that the Nationals and the Liberals do hold a lot of regional seats, I think the majority of regional seats over Labor that the Nationals were very quick to remind people in the wake of the election they retained their seats. How will you work with these MPs when it comes to best delivering for rural and regional areas given they’re on the other side of the aisle?
KRISTY MCBAIN: I think one thing that I’ve always done is, you know, put partisan politics aside when it comes to issues that affect communities. I mean we shouldn’t be playing partisan politics when it comes to good projects, and I certainly have banged on the door of previous Deputy Prime Ministers and spoken to numerous people across the aisle about things that needed to be done in Eden‑Monaro and I expect that I encounter the same now.
I’ve had relationships with a lot of Nationals MPs over the period from being a Mayor to being in this role and I expect that I’ll have a good working relationship with them. As I said, it shouldn’t be partisan politics when it comes to good project delivery.
INTERVIEWER: Eden‑Monaro, your electorate, it really fascinates me. It’s such a diverse electorate. You’ve got the far South Coast, you mentioned the towns like Tathra, the Bega Valley, Merimbula. So, you know, tourism, fishing, those sorts of industries, forestry. Then you’ve got Cooma, the New South Wales snow fields. So, you know, a really diverse electorate and I see it as I guess a bit of a microcosm of regional Australia in a lot of ways.
I mean how are people in your electorate coping with a lot of those issues we’ve been discussing on our program at the moment, things like cost of living and the price of gas and energy and the fact that tourism has had a pretty tough couple of years, a major issue in all parts of your electorate, how are people going at the moment?
KRISTY MCBAIN: Oh, look, it’s been a really tumultuous three years and I think a lot of people have been doing it incredibly tough, but most regional people tend to sort of gloss over things sometimes. I think one of the things that did come out during the election was that, you know, I tried really hard not to be negative because we’ve had a lot of upset and people need to know that there is a positive plan and a vision going forward. You know, it’s been incredibly tough. We’ve lost the last two snow seasons because of COVID. We’ve obviously had huge issues on the coast with the bushfires first and then COVID impacting, and obviously border closures to Victoria and the ACT have a huge impact on our region as well. So look, it is really tough for people and, you know, it is incredibly hard to find housing at the moment. The cost of rent has escalated dramatically.
INTERVIEWER: I wanted to ask you about that, yeah, yeah, and finding staff I imagine in hospitality and tourism.
KRISTY MCBAIN: Finding staff.
INTERVIEWER: Yeah, and places for them to live.
KRISTY MCBAIN: It’s very difficult. Very difficult. The cost of fuel is increasing, the cost of groceries going up. You know, these things tend to hit regional people first because the cost of transporting it to our areas is obviously [indistinct] with many of our goods. So look, it is really tough for people, and I am very mindful of how people are going right across the region.
I have numerous conversations day‑in day‑out with people who are struggling to find housing who, you know, are making those choices between heating their homes and buying food for the week. So no region across Australia will be immune to the cost-of-living pressures and it’s incumbent upon us to, you know, move forward with our plans for cheaper childcare. You know, the Power Australia plan to bring down the cost of electricity as soon as possible. We find ourselves in a trillion dollars of debt and we’ve got to help people. That is priority number one.
INTERVIEWER: Big job ahead. Thank you very much for joining us this morning, appreciate it.
KRISTY MCBAIN: Thank you.
INTERVIEWER: Kristy McBain there, Federal Minister for Regional Development in the new Albanese Ministry, and also the Member for Eden‑Monaro in southeast New South Wales.
Minister McBain – Melanie Leach 0423 759 288