Interview - Sky News Regional Breakfast with Jaynie Seal

JAYNIE SEAL, PRESENTER: A program to better support the families of boarding school students from regional communities has been developed by the Federal Government. Scholarships of $20,000 will be available for up to six years for students in secondary education. The Commonwealth Regional Scholarship Program will begin in 2024. Joining me live is Kristy McBain, Regional Development Minister. Thank you Minister for your time. Tell us more about this initiative.

KRISTY MCBAIN, MINISTER: It’s a fabulous initiative, helping those school students who need to attend boarding schools from some of our regional and remote areas. A few short weeks ago now, I was in William Creek and chatting to some of the locals there who have children attending School of the Air, and once they hit high school, they'll be looking at sending their children to boarding school. Any assistance, especially for our families who live rather remotely, is obviously going to be appreciated by them.

SEAL: Labor has criticised the Coalition for allocating 96 per cent of its regional grant funding to Coalition-held electorates. We've been talking this morning about analysis which found $261 million was spent on 16 projects in Coalition-held electorates, while $11 million was spent in one Labor-held seat. What's happening here?

MCBAIN: It's just a pattern that we saw from the previous government. The majority of regional grant funds went to Coalition-held seats. The ANAO found that the Building Better Regions Fund substantially went to Nationals-held seats, and we've found out that 83 per cent of the Urban Congestion Fund went to Liberal-held seats. Australians are rightly sick of this type of action. There are members of Parliament from the Labor side, myself included, and the crossbench that hold regional seats. These communities would love some of that extra attention that the former government had through those grant programs. That's one of the things that I heard loud and clear during the 2022 election campaign. Communities wanted to have a focus on integrity and a focus on transparency. That's what we said we're going to do with our regional grants funds coming up.

SEAL: All right. It's only a matter of days away now until the New South Wales state election. One topic in particular, the cost of living, not only for New South Wales, but right across the board. Power bills are set to rise by up to around 31 per cent for much of Australia from July 1. What is Labor planning to do for, first of all, the state election in New South Wales in terms of any relief for people from power bills?

MCBAIN: The New South Wales Labor Party has made a number of their policies clear, especially in regards to the cost-of-living relief with energy bills. What the Federal Labor Party did was recall Parliament in December last year. We stand on the side of individuals, families and industries who are asking for energy price relief. We recalled Parliament to put a cap on the gas prices and to help people with that electricity price increase. We saw Peter Dutton and the opposition vote against that. They voted against assisting families, businesses and industry with the rising cost of energy. They've come into Parliament over the last few sitting weeks and said, how come the price of energy is going up? We on our side of the Parliament actually voted to cap those prices. We voted to provide relief to families. We’ve seen the Australian Energy Regulator report saying that wholesale electricity and gas prices have come down this quarter and that will flow through to the market as well. Those in the opposition are opposition in namesake, and all of their actions have proved that they're not interested in trying to be part of a solution for Australian people. They're interested in continuing to perpetuate this constant opposition to everything. Right now, Australians are asking for there to be some bipartisanship in dealing with the big issues that are at hand. The rising cost of energy relief is one of those.

SEAL: Yeah, it certainly is. There's quite a few big topics for the state election. You're the Federal Member for Eden-Monaro, and given your support to Steve Whan in the state Monaro seat. It is a safe national seat, I believe. But how confident are you about Labor winning that seat and the whole state election, for that matter?

MCBAIN: Steve Whan has been a previous Member for Monaro. He's been a Minister in a former Labor Government. He's someone who has the energy and the experience to deliver for the seat of Monaro. I've been out and about with Steve over the last couple of days and it's really pleasing to see the number of people coming up to him saying, I remember you, you were a great local Member. He's someone that gets things done. He is interested in making sure that we're dealing with the big issues in our part of the world. Making sure we've got enough doctors and nurses in our hospitals, making sure that we've got paramedics running our ambulance stations across Monaro, plus incentivising teachers to stay in the system. In our part of the world we've had classes held outside, or classes going back to online learning because there isn't enough teachers for the number of kids in our schools. People have received him very well across Monaro. I'm very hopeful that come March 25, the people of Monaro will vote in favour of Steve Whan because he is a trusted member of the community, someone that's lived there for a long period of time and has previously delivered for them. I’m looking forward to that and on March 25 we will see, hopefully, the installation of a Minns Labor Government. Across New South Wales, there's definitely a call for things to be done differently.

SEAL: Just before we let you go, there was a big debate a couple of weeks ago held by the Country Mayors Association. One big thing that came out was whether Labor was going to have a Regional Health Minister. Bronnie Taylor is the current one there. But there's talk of Labor not having a Regional Health Minister. Do we know what's the latest in that situation?

MCBAIN: The Country Mayors Association is a fabulous association, one that I was part of when I was a mayor a few years ago now. It does really talk about the things that are important to regional and rural communities, some that are very different to our metropolitan counterparts from a local government sense. I'm unsure what the ministry makeup will be for the New South Wales Labor Party, but it's really important that there's a huge focus on health. We know that the rural and regional health inquiry that was done by the New South Wales Parliament showed health outcomes for people living in regional, rural and remote areas are much worse than their city counterparts. There has to be a strong focus on reforming the health system. Hospitals in my electorate are struggling with staffing numbers and we know that it's been more difficult to see a GP. We need to make sure that we're working together to address some of those issues between hospital system and the primary health care system.

SEAL: Kristy McBain, Regional Development Minister. Thank you so much for your time. See you again same time next week.

MCBAIN: Thanks, Jaynie.