Interview with Nic Healey ABC Western Plains, Breakfast
NIC HEALEY, HOST: You’ve got me till 10 am on this Wednesday morning. It is about 19 minutes away from nine o’clock. Now, recently you and I were chatting – once again it has to be said – about the ongoing issues with Norfolk Island getting freight on to the island. We’re talking about groceries, we’re talking essentials – just making sure that they’re actually available on supermarket shelves. I know it feels like a constant cavalcade of shipping delays and poor allotments meaning cargo is not getting where it’s needed. Kristy McBain is actually the Minister for Regional Development, Local Government and Territories. Obviously, newly minted in that role – visited the island just last week. Minister, a very good morning to you.
KRISTY MCBAIN, MINISTER: Good morning.
NIC HEALEY: Now, obviously, your very first visit to the island since taking on the role. We’ve been seeing plenty of pictures of empty warehouses, empty grocery shop shelves. Did you get a chance to get out and talk to people about their concerns?
KRISTY MCBAIN: Yeah, look, Foodland is the first place I visited after I got off the plane so I could see firsthand the situation that has been relayed to me by email, and there were numerous conversations over the course of the three days that I was there about some of the issues, especially for businesses which find it very hard to plan when they’ve got no security around the shipping.
NIC HEALEY: So, you could see firsthand exactly what was being talked about?
KRISTY MCBAIN: Yeah, exactly, and I know that the next ship is due in on August 9, but the delay for people is, obviously, causing serious concern. The Government has put on additional air freight services, but we need to make sure that we are helping that community in Norfolk to come up with not only a short‑term plan to get more food supplies on to the island, also a long‑term plan so we don’t have this issue with the infrequency of shipping.
NIC HEALEY: Yeah, I was going to say the challenges for shipping to the island, they’re not new. I’ve been talking about them for years with people living on the island. I know it’s getting worse, and I can imagine it’s getting compounded by global shipping prices and rising prices. Did you hear from people about just the sorts of pressures they’re seeing on household budgets?
KRISTY MCBAIN: Yeah, I think, the cost of groceries is obviously significantly higher on Norfolk, and we’ve seen spike on the mainland, and you can imagine how much more that’s exacerbated in a place like Norfolk Island where there just isn’t that security of supply. A slab of beer, which is over $100 –
NIC HEALEY: Oof!
KRISTY MCBAIN: – is just extremely tough for people, let alone trying to get the staples of a household in. So, we really need to look at the long‑term solution as I said as well as those short‑term ones to make sure that we are dealing with the current supply chain challenge.
NIC HEALEY: Well look, I know the Chamber of Commerce on Norfolk Island has a meeting tonight. They’re going to be talking to residents about maybe, potentially, having locals take complete control over shipping, sea and air freight. What sort of long‑term solutions would you be looking at?
KRISTY MCBAIN: It’s clear to me that the future of shipping is moving very much into containerisation, and we need to make sure that places like Norfolk Island, like the Cocos Keeling Islands, Christmas Island are not left behind when the rest of our ports are being transformed to containerisation. There’s a long‑term strategy piece that needs to be put in place to make sure that we can assist, but I think it’s really important that government is consulting with community members, especially over shipping, and it’s one of the key priorities that I am now working on with the department to make sure that we actually come up with, as I said, that short-term as well as the long‑term solutions.
NIC HEALEY: How will you take that consultation forward? I know speaking to people on the island there’s been a large perception for a while now that Australia has forgotten them.
KRISTY MCBAIN: I think for me, coming from a small community, it’s really important that we are involving local people in decision‑making processes. There’s obviously a long history of people involved in shipping and freight on Norfolk Island, and we should be not only utilising the expertise that they’ve gained over decades but working together on solutions. This really shouldn’t be an “us and them” fight between government and community. We need to pull together. And the one thing that I reiterated to the community on numerous occasions was I’m here to be an advocate for them. I’m here to assist as best I can and deal with some of the issues that I think have been outstanding by the previous government and, you know, now is the time for collaboration. And I think that that was the positive that I took away was that there is a lot of goodwill on the island, and they are keen to make sure that they’re involved in the processes of government.
NIC HEALEY: Minister, in terms of those short-term solutions, when would you hope to be able to have some answers back to the community?
KRISTY MCBAIN: I’m working on a short timeframe. I hope to be back to the community in a couple of weeks’ time to give them a full update and, as I said, one of my key priorities is making sure that they’re involved in what those short and long‑term solutions look like.
NIC HEALEY: Minister, I look forward to talking to you in the future but thanks for your time this morning.
KRISTY MCBAIN: Thank you very much.
NIC HEALEY: Kristy McBain is the Minister for Regional Development, Local Government and Territories, recently visiting Norfolk Island, talking to community members about their concerns and, as she said, very much in the mindset that she’ll take forward consultation with the community to find some solutions to shipping that everyone can be happy with.