Interview with Stephen Cenatiempo on Breakfast Show 2CC Canberra

STEPHEN CENATIEMPO, HOST: Time to have a look at federal politics from a local perspective. Kristy McBain is the member for Eden‑Monaro, she’s also the Minister for Regional Development, Local Government and Territories and is on the line with us. G’day, Kristy.

KRISTY MCBAIN, MINISTER: Good morning, Stephen, how you going?

STEPHEN CENATIEMPO: Very, very well. Well, I want to apply for a job with you.


STEPHEN CENATIEMPO: I want to be the new administrator of Christmas Island because Jon Stanhope, the former administrator, says you don’t have to do anything, you just go fishing and drink grog.

KRISTY MCBAIN: Well, I’m not sure that the current administrator would be overly happy with that characterisation. But look, the administrator position for Christmas Island, Cocos Island and Norfolk Island is currently out for advertisement. They are the Federal Government’s assistance on the grounds there in those external territories, and yeah, really looking forward to selecting those new administrators in the coming months.

STEPHEN CENATIEMPO: I don’t want to do Norfolk Island because Jon Stanhope says that’s a real job, you’ve actually got to work at that. But apparently the other one you don’t have to.

KRISTY MCBAIN: Well I think there’s a lot of challenges on Christmas Island and Cocos Island at the moment, especially with the phosphate mine closing in Christmas Island in the coming years and that currently employs half the population, so we’ve got some economic diversification work that we need done there, and obviously the Cocos Keeling Islands are really low lying islands and we need to make sure that we can do everything there to shore up that community. But also, it plays a very important strategic role where it sits in the world. So, it is an important asset for the Australian Government.

STEPHEN CENATIEMPO: So, what do these administrators actually do nowadays that there’s no real local government in those territories anymore?

KRISTY MCBAIN: There is local government on Christmas Island. The council runs a range of services for the community. But the administrator role is to liaise both with the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and with my office about a range of issues on Christmas and Cocos Island. They work with the community on a whole range of economic development processes. And, you know, they are there for the community to go to directly as the local representative of the Federal Government.

STEPHEN CENATIEMPO: Have you had a chance to visit all the external territories yet?

KRISTY MCBAIN: No, I haven’t. I’ve been over to Norfolk Island and I’m back there on Monday night for a shipping forum, but getting to Cocos and Christmas islands is logistically a little bit challenging. So, I was meant to be over there in the start of December, but we’ve had to change that because of availability of planes, so we might have to do that at the start of next year.

 STEPHEN CENATIEMPO: You should send Dave Smith over, he’s the local member for Norfolk Island. Actually, what seat do the Cocos and Keeling Islands fall into?

KRISTY MCBAIN: The seat of Lingiari in Northern Territory.

STEPHEN CENATIEMPO: Which makes more sense than Norfolk Island being part of Bean, but yeah, okay.

 KRISTY MCBAIN: Well, I think it has to stay within the territory space, which is why you’ve got a Northern Territory and an ACT representative of those external territories.

STEPHEN CENATIEMPO: Yeah, okay, fair enough. You know, this industrial relations bill that the crossbencher accusing the government of trying to ram it through unprepared, I mean this is – look, there’s only one group that thinks this is good policy, Kristy, and that’s the big unions who want to be able to take control of workplaces that they have no business being a part of.

KRISTY MCBAIN: Oh, I don’t agree with that characterisation, Stephen. I guess the important thing here is over the last decade we knew that a design feature of the previous government’s economic policy was to keep wages low, and they actually came out and said that early on in their tenure.

What we know now is that we need to get wages moving. You know, there has been no real wage increases over the past decade and with the cost‑of‑living going up the easiest way to combat that is to actually help people lift their wages. And we’ve seen that increase with the minimum wage earlier this year and we’ve seen now a wage increase for the aged care sector which is overdue and very welcome.

What we want to do is get wages moving, so this, you know, IR reform we’ve spoken about previously, and in the current legislation there is multi‑employer bargaining. So, this isn’t a new concept. We actually want to make it easier for people to do that. And we know we’ve already got examples of where it’s happened which has resulted in a good outcome.

STEPHEN CENATIEMPO: Yeah, and then of course there was the 1970s where it basically brought the economy to a grinding halt.

KRISTY MCBAIN: Yeah, but we’re no longer in the 1970s.

STEPHEN CENATIEMPO: Exactly, exactly.

KRISTY MCBAIN: We’re in 2022 and I think we are in a far better place to actually have mature conversations as employers and employees. It’s incumbent upon us to work together to make sure the system works for everyone, and we want to do that.

STEPHEN CENATIEMPO: But the problem here is the unions represent less than 15 per cent of Australian workers and they’re going to have control over multi‑industry bargaining. I mean this is frightening that you’re giving a group with so little, that represents so few Australians, power over everybody.

KRISTY MCBAIN: But we won’t have control of that. This is up to workers to decide whether they want to engage in multi‑employer bargaining. Now the Albanese Labor Government has listened to industry groups, we’ve listened to some of the crossbenchers. We’ve made amendments already based on some of the good suggestions, which is what you want a good government to do, is to listen, take into account other views and amend it where you think it’s appropriate and will result in a good outcome.

So, I think what you’re seeing is a grown-up government that is prepared to listen and is making amendments.

STEPHEN CENATIEMPO: Okay. David Pocock and Jacqui Lambie would disagree with you there, but I guess we’ll wait and see how this plays out.

Now we’ve spoken in the past about the regional first‑home buyer guarantee. Has that actually kicked in? What’s the latest with that?

KRISTY MCBAIN: Yes, it has now started. Very important, obviously, to get people into their first home, especially in the regions, we know how important it is. It’s great to see it come into legislation.

STEPHEN CENATIEMPO: Who is this actually going to be open to? How many places will be available? Is it open slather or is it going to be capped?

KRISTY MCBAIN: No, there’s 10,000 places a year in the regional first‑home buyers’ scheme, and specifically targeted at those people who are looking at buying their first home in a regional or rural area.

STEPHEN CENATIEMPO: Okay, all right. Well, we’ll see how that plays out and what the uptake is like over time. Again, if you get desperate and you need somebody to run the external territories, Kristy, let me know.

KRISTY MCBAIN: Will do, thanks very much Stephen.

STEPHEN CENATIEMPO: Thanks Kristy. Kristy McBain, the Member for Eden‑Monaro and Minister for Regional Development, Local Government and Territories. It’s 16 and a half past seven.