Interview on ABC South East, Breakfast with Simon Lauder

SIMON LAUDER: ABC Radio. Let's talk federal politics now, but it's through the lens of a pretty high profile story. And headlines in the Daily Telegraph today regarding the state Labor Party's candidate for the seat of Monaro, Terry Campese, with the headlines, spanking and sex swings, alleging that a video has emerged and someone's made complaint about it. An explicit video featuring the election candidate Terry Campese. We've put a text into Terry Campese to see if he wants to tell us about it. Does it matter? Is it anything more than a scurrilous or scandalous headline? Well, the member for Eden-Monaro in federal parliament is Labor's Kristy McBain. Good morning.

KRISTY MCBAIN: Good morning, Simon. How are you?

LAUDER: Yeah, really well, thank you. I guess we should talk about this being such a high profile headline in the Daily Telegraph. Does this kind of thing matter? Are you surprised to learn about this?

MCBAIN: I think we've all been to themed or dress up birthday parties and from what I understand, it was a dress up party at a private residence. And really what the Labor candidate in the seat of Monaro is focused on is standing up for his community and continuing his work, mentoring young people and championing what the community is asking for. And I think our community recognise divisive politicking. Terry Campese is a man who grew up in the region, who is there working with young people, mentoring them. He has got a fantastic foundation where he's helping to raise money for a lot of causes across the Monaro and I think he will be a great champion for the Monaro in state parliament. I think even the Premier a little while ago admitted he'd dressed up at a party, so in a private residence. I think that it is what it is.

LAUDER: Yeah, well, the article saying that this video is very explicit. I know that vetting goes on of candidates by parties to make sure that their public image is going to stand up to scrutiny. Do you think the Labor Party would be surprised by this?

MCBAIN: Well, obviously the New South Wales Labor Party will have gone through the appropriate processes before nominating Terry Campese as the candidate for the Labor Party and I'm sure that was done.

LAUDER: All right, well, thanks for addressing that with us this morning. We've texted Terry Campese to see what he wants to tell us about it as well. We were just talking with Olivier Kapetanakos from the Jindabyne Chamber of Commerce, about working holiday visas and the 417 visa where people can extend their stay in Australia if they work on farms. And he wants the government to establish an Alpine visa so people can work in hospitality for that visa as well. Do you reckon that's a good idea?

MCBAIN: Look, I know that there are some extensions available for people working in hospitality in rural and remote areas. Yesterday I spoke to the Immigration Minister during parliamentary sitting and I raised it with him at the end of last year about the possibility of extending that to our region, and spoke with him about the possibility of a sub-class for Alpine visas. And he has asked me to put together some information for him to review. So I'll continue to work on that. But it's a conversation that I've had with Olivier earlier, so I’m well aware of his push and the push of many businesses in the Alpine region to recognise that area is a place where people come, they want to set up long term, but for so many of those people on visas, they come for a season and they've got to go again. So it's very hard for them to set up that long term working relationship. So I’m following that up.

LAUDER: Is Olivier right in saying that it's a unique need for our area? Because Snowy Mountains, I guess the only region where there is that winter tourism boom in Australia yeah?

MCBAIN: And obviously the Victorian Alpine fields as well, would probably experience something very similar. But I know it is a concern of businesses there and one that I've said that I will continue to follow up with the Immigration Minister.

LAUDER: No doubt as Minister for Local Government, you've been getting a lot of input from people about the need to raise rates in local government areas. And none, not least of which Snowy Monaro, the special rate variation of 53 per cent and 43 per cent special rate variation in the Bega Valley. Why are rates going up so much? And what can the federal government do to help ratepayers or help councils reduce the need for such rate rises?

MCBAIN: Yeah, it's been an incredibly tough time for everyone, with the cost of everything escalating so much. There's six local council areas across the federal electorate of Eden-Monaro. Three of those are currently undertaking a special rate variation process and one of those did so last year as well. I think that it really shows us that more needs to be done in addressing operational issues rather than just continued grant funding processes. There is obviously a real impact on most of those councils from natural disasters that have taken place over the last few years and with inflation and the cost of construction going up, obviously that's taken a real hit from a federal government perspective. Every year we provide financial assistance grants to councils. That's a $3 billion injection to local councils across the country. We also provide the Roads to Recovery Program in the order of $500 million, the Local Roads and Community Infrastructure program and the Bridges Renewal Program. So we provide a range of untied grant funds to the council to allow them to spend it on the things that they need to roads, bridges, community infrastructure and the projects they need to get done. And I think what needs to be done, obviously, is a proper conversation with the state government on how they can assist through operational funding and perhaps untied funding, and move away from the competitive grant funds that council have become so reliant on.

LAUDER: What do you think of the call from Russell Fitzpatrick, Bega Valley Mayor and liberal state candidate for an increase in that federal assistant grant? He wants it to go back to 1 per cent of GDP.

MCBAIN: Yeah. So 25 years ago it was about 1 per cent of general taxation revenue across the country. Obviously, our taxation base has grown significantly in the last 25 years, so we are probably still providing a similar amount. Previously, there was a freeze on that indexation of financial assistance grants during the Abbott and Turnbull years and that CPI increase is now back in play. So that does help, but we're always open to seeing how we can continue to assist councils. But as they are a creature of state government, the state government really needs to lift how they're going to assist councils across New South Wales.

LAUDER: And when we talk about the Voice to Parliament referendum, which is proceeding, we're seeing calls from the opposition for more details before they Peter Dutton's party announce any support for a yes campaign. What's your response to people who say, we want to know what the wording of the question is going to be or exactly how the voice is going to work, that kind of thing?

MCBAIN: Yeah, obviously the exact wording of the question will be coming out in the coming months. We have to get a referendum bill through the Parliament to enable us to actually put the question to the public, and have that approved by the Parliament so that it can go to a referendum later this year. There's certain time frames after the bill passes Parliament for us to then hold that referendum, which is why the timing is likely to be in the latter part of the year. But the Voice to Parliament is about, firstly, recognition that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples were the first peoples of this country. Reconciliation will allow First Nations peoples a voice to Parliament on legislation that impacts their communities. I think that we've tried to do policy this way for 120 years and we know from all the Closing the Gap statistics that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island peoples have worse health outcomes, worse social outcomes, worse housing outcomes and worse educational outcomes. We need to try a new way. And after the Uluru dialogues, I think there were hundreds of them across the country, which culminated in the statement at Uluru, this is what the group asked for. They asked for a voice, they asked for treaty and they asked for truth. And I think if we're serious about moving towards reconciliation, we need to take that invitation up and allow them a formalised mechanism where they can have a say about legislation that impacts their communities.

LAUDER: Do you reckon there's enough detail out there already, or is this argument that there needs to be more detail on the table gaining too much traction?

MCBAIN: Look, I think that people are always going to ask about the detail. The referendum itself is a head of power in the constitution itself. So the constitution provides parliament with powers over defence, over taxation, over foreign affairs. So our constitution itself just provides a head of power to Parliament. The detail comes when you get into Parliament, so the bill will be drafted. And if we're serious about a Voice to Parliament, then shouldn't we be consulting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities about the detail of the Voice? I think that would probably be a good start. But if the referendum gets up, the bill comes to Parliament, it would be a process of drafting the bill. There'd be several amendments, it would go to the Senate, there would be a formal Senate Inquiry into the bill, people could make a range of submissions about that bill and then it comes back to Parliament to be ratified. So all these questions about detail, referendums don't provide the detail. That's what the Parliament does. And then there are formal mechanisms for people to have a say during the process of that bill, during the inquiry process. And I would suggest that would be a pretty long process to make sure that we get that mechanism right, so that it strikes the right balance, makes sure that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have an appropriate say and making sure that Parliament remains in its primacy.

LAUDER: Kristy McBain, Member for Eden-Monaro, thank you so much. We are out of time.