Interview with Stephen Cenatiempo, Stephen Cenatiempo Breakfast Show 2CC


STEPHEN CENATIEMPO: It’s time for our federal political panel. And look, when it comes to ministries and shadow ministries, there are always curious decisions and some that you shake your head at, but two that I certainly didn’t shake my head at: Kristy McBain, the member for Monaro, Eden-Monaro, I should say, has been appointed as the Minister for Local Government, Territories and Regional Development. I’m not sure I got that in the right order. And Sussan Ley is the new deputy leader of the Liberal Party, and they both join us this morning. Sussan and Kristy, good morning.

SUSSAN LEY: Good morning, Steve. And good morning, Kristy, and congratulations on your position.

KRISTY MCBAIN: Thank you. Good morning, Stephen. Hello, Sussan. Lovely to be with you.

STEPHEN CENATIEMPO: Kristy, local government is something close to your heart. As a former Mayor, what do you bring to this position?

KRISTY MCBAIN: I guess I bring an inner understanding of how local governments work, how integral they are to so many of our – especially our regional and rural communities as sometimes the only government service around. So very good knowledge of the sector and really looking forward to working with them.

STEPHEN CENATIEMPO: Sussan. Now, I’m not looking for a direct criticism of Kristy here, and I want to refer to one of the appointments in Peter Dutton’s shadow cabinet. I have in two minds about people that are too close to a portfolio being put in that position. So, for instance, Andrew Hastie, who I think is absolutely outstanding as a former member of the defence forces, I don’t know that that’s the person you need in defence. You need somebody that can look from the outside. Is local government similar to that?

SUSSAN LEY: Well, you certainly got it right about Andrew Hastie. He is outstanding. And remember, it’s many years since he actually served. So there’s that time. That gives perspective and also greater understanding of Parliament. Look, I think it helps, but I don’t think it’s always necessary and it depends on the portfolio. But remember, as a Minister, you’re never an expert and you would never describe yourself as an expert because what you do is listen to the experts. But having an understanding of how their world works certainly does help. It’s also really important that the government has an understanding of how business, industry and small business works, which are the portfolios that I’ve taken up in opposition. The new government has inherited a fantastic set of numbers, particularly youth unemployment, one close to my heart, at its lowest level since 2008. And we got to hold them to account to keep those numbers where they are.

STEPHEN CENATIEMPO: Kristy, I’m going to disagree with Sussan. Don’t listen to the experts because an expert has been a drip under pressure. I take that back. I want to talk about those figures, though, because I think and to his credit, Anthony Albanese and particularly Penny Wong, I think they think they’ve hit the ground running, and I think they’re doing a pretty good job so far. Obviously, early days, but the economic team of Jim Chalmers and Katy Gallagher suggesting that everything’s worse than we possibly thought it was. Given that you guys went to the election campaign saying this government’s doing a terrible job to now get there and say, “Geez, we didn’t realise they’re doing a terrible job” is a bit disingenuous, isn’t it?

KRISTY MCBAIN: Look, I don’t think so. I think it’s incumbent upon us to be open and honest with the sort of numbers we have inherited. We know inflation will rise a little bit. We know that interest rates are going up and we know that we have the largest debt and deficit that we’ve ever had in this country since the Second World War. I think it’s incumbent upon us to be transparent and open with the Australian population. We all acknowledge we’ve been through a global pandemic and that help to the Australian people was required at the time. But we do have to be transparent and I think it’s good that we are having these discussions out in the open.

STEPHEN CENATIEMPO: Sussan, you mentioned the unemployment figures and they were good. And whilst the previous government does absolutely have to take responsibility for the debt and deficit, most of those other things Kristy talked about are outside of the control of the Australian Government. How does this new government get it under control?

SUSSAN LEY: Well, the new government will be judged by what it does and less than by what it says. Although I’ve been a bit underwhelmed by the sort of bewilderment that I’ve heard from the senior leaders in the government effectively saying it’s really bad and pointing the fingers across the world when they blamed us for effectively saying that the situation overseas had caused the complex and volatile economic circumstances here. I mean, that’s well understood. We all know that. Particularly with energy prices, you only have to look at Europe. That’s the touch point for the challenges of transitioning from base load fossil fuels to renewables and so on. But remember that the performance of the Australian economy is strong, the fundamentals are really strong. So Labour has to be really careful not to talk down the economy, because that has ongoing ramifications that are bad for business.

STEPHEN CENATIEMPO: Kristy, you’re heading off to the Australian Local Government Association National General Assembly. What advantage is there for getting – because councils are very local – what are they gaining from getting together with councils from other parts of Australia that might have nothing in common with them?

KRISTY MCBAIN: I think it’s about understanding where local government sits right across the country. There is a lot that can be learned by networking between councils. I mean, there’s no point reinventing the wheel when another council has already done it. So sharing those ideas, sharing knowledge usually brings some savings to local councils. But our councils at the moment sit in a financially precarious situation, especially regional and rural councils. So looking forward to meeting with them, understanding their priorities and how they wish to work together for regional development projects, which is another key element of that ALGA national conference.

STEPHEN CENATIEMPO: Sussan, Peter Dutton has just announced his new shadow ministry, and you’ve taken a number of senior positions in that as Deputy Leader. When you’re putting together, how much input do you have into that as the Deputy, and how much notice do you take of who’s on the other side of a particular portfolio when you’re selecting a Shadow Minister?

SUSSAN LEY: Well, I was very pleased to be able to secure the portfolios that matter most to me, my electorate and regional, rural Australia and, in fact, to the economy. When you think of industry skills and small business. Look, these decisions are made by the leader, and he consults widely, including with me. And we have got our best team together. We’ve got great people in the Parliament. I would say my number one opposition portfolio is women because I want to be a strong voice for women, and that’s a priority I’ll take going forward wherever I go and whatever consultations I do. So that’s pretty exciting for me. And I’ve worked hard in women’s issues and women’s mentoring and professional development in an unofficial sense, I guess, as a Member of Parliament for 20 years. And I’m sure Kristy and I would agree that we have some amazing rural and regional women. And finding ways to get their voices heard, whether it be at a local community level or on the national stage, is something I just take a great deal of pride in.

STEPHEN CENATIEMPO: Kristy, in very contrast to our other political panels, you two always play nice, which is why I love having you on together. Anthony Albanese has promised a different type of politics. How do you play into that, and how does your relationship with somebody like Sussan develop over this term of government in this new paradigm that we hopefully are going to set?

KRISTY MCBAIN: Yeah. Look, I think it’s incumbent upon everyone to work differently in this Parliament. We’ll have an expanded cross-bench along with the Coalition and ourselves in government. But after the last three years, where people have had a pretty tumultuous time, at the moment they don’t really need people butting heads for the sake of it. They need people coming together and making the best possible decisions to move our country forward. Both Sussan’s patch and mine have been through a pretty tough time, from drought to fires to floods to COVID. And the overwhelming sentiment of people is they want people that are going to make decisions and get on with the job rather than digging into the personality politics. And I definitely think there are some people across the Parliament who could use a bit of a touch up in terms of how they interact with others.

STEPHEN CENATIEMPO: Sussan, how do you do that? How do you hold the government to account but then try and maintain that civility?

SUSSAN LEY: Well, a government is only as good as its opposition, and the best possible opposition makes for a better outcome for the nation as a whole. So when people hear us arguing or putting different points of view forcefully, that’s all okay, as long as it doesn’t descend into the personal. I mean, there’s no way that we’re going to stand there in the Parliament or in any Australian community and, I mean, there will be things we agree with the government on as there was in the previous term. But we are going to question everything. We are going to challenge everything. We are going to push the decisions that are made and if we don’t like them, we’re going to strenuously disagree with them. But having been in Parliament for over 20 years, I’d like to think that I’ve never descended to the personal and nasty. It doesn’t make you feel good at the end of the day and people don’t want to hear it and it doesn’t do anything to advance the national debate.

STEPHEN CENATIEMPO: Now, I know Sussan had to move her office. Kristy, are you in the same office or have you had to move to?

KRISTY MCBAIN: No, I had to move offices as well.

STEPHEN CENATIEMPO: See that would be the worst part of all of this. Kristy, Sussan, good to talk to you. We’ll catch up again soon.

SUSSAN LEY: Pleasure Steve.

KRISTY MCBAIN: Thanks, Stephen.

Media contact:

Minister McBain – Melanie Leach 0423 759 288