Sounds of the Mountains 96.3 Breakfast interview with David Eisenhauer


DAVID EISENHAUER, HOST: And in the studios today we have Federal Member for Eden-Monaro Kristy McBain joining us. Kristy, very good morning to you. Of course, visiting the local region as the Minister, how are you?

KRISTY MCBAIN, MINISTER: Yeah, very good. Very excited to be back in Tumut. It’s been a while since I got over this side of the mountain. So very excited to be back.

DAVID EISENHAUER: Kristy, it’s been a busy time for you. Like, since the election taking on the portfolio with ministerial duties, not just one but a number of them, there’s a lot of work. It’s sort of, we’ve hit the ground running in a big way.

KRISTY MCBAIN: Yeah, so my new role, not only the Member for Eden-Monaro but now Minister for Regional Development, Local Government and Territories, so 547 local government areas across the country. Then we have the territories, so our internal territories – obviously Jervis Bay, ACT and NT – and then the external territories – Christmas Island, Cocos Island and Norfolk Island.

DAVID EISENHAUER: Because you visited Norfolk in recent weeks?

KRISTY MCBAIN: Yeah, and back to Norfolk to talk about shipping with the local community in November. And then over to Christmas and Cocos islands at the start of December. So, yeah, it’s a big job. And it’s been very, very interesting so far, but my passion definitely still lies here and still doing as much travel across the region as I can.

DAVID EISENHAUER: Kristy, coming in, we’re well over a hundred days, that official number that we talk about in following elections. Expectations that you’ve looked at? I mean, we started years ago – is it 10 or 15 years – you were elected to the Bega Council down there on the coast. To this point in time with Kristy McBain’s career, what’s it like? Kids in Year 12 and they’re thinking, “I wouldn’t mind going into politics”?

KRISTY MCBAIN: Yeah, it’s really funny. So 10 years ago earlier this month I was first elected to local council. And I think I was an accidental councillor at the time. There’d been a decision made about my local playground, and at the time there were eight men and one woman on the local council and they were all over 55 and I thought, “Well, you know, that doesn’t really represent my demographic.” So I thought I’d have a crack and I had a two and a half-year-old and a three-month-old. And I said to my husband – and we’d just started a business – “It’s all right, don’t worry about it. I won’t get elected.” And then lo and behold I got elected. And it’s been a pretty wild journey from being a councillor to the mayor where we had nine declared natural disasters in my term of mayor. And then obviously the federal by-election and now into the ministerial role.

So it’s been really interesting, but the whole way along that journey I think the thing that has sustained me is really trying to make a difference for your local communities. And it’s that real grassroots approach which I prefer to take because if we’re not listening to local communities then we tend to get the decisions wrong because one size does not fit all. Which is why we do things like coffee catch-ups with the community, to hear directly from them about some of the issues they’re having.

So if you are free today, down at the Coffee Pedaler at Tumut I’ll be there from 10 till 11. And on the journey going to see a few more businesses and have a chat to some of our organisations about some of the things impacting them at this point in time.

DAVID EISENHAUER: What are you hearing, Kristy, from the – you’ve been in Queanbeyan, you’ve been all over the place on this trip.


DAVID EISENHAUER: What are you hearing? If you had to, say, highlight one or two main issues, what are they?

KRISTY MCBAIN: It’s really interesting. So in the lead-up to the Jobs and Skills Summit I did about nine roundtables with peak bodies and local communities, and the consistent theme throughout both from an electorate perspective but also from a ministerial perspective was around housing and then telecommunications, which were spoken about many times. That hasn’t changed. So that was a really interesting perspective to be able to feed in – that lack of access to educational facilities and sometimes the lack of access because you can’t get good connectivity in the region was huge.

DAVID EISENHAUER: A big issue that, isn’t it?

KRISTY MCBAIN: Absolutely. And I think it’s been very interesting discussing that with my colleague the Minister for Communications Michelle Rowland about trying to look at trialling some innovative solutions across parts of the country. So yesterday in Jingellic we launched their backup satellite capability so that in times of natural disaster when mains electricity goes out and we lose that telephone reception we’ve got a backup.


KRISTY MCBAIN: Yeah, absolutely essential on our emergency services and evacuation centres. And I think that that for me was an indication that governments and agencies were listening to local communities. Because that’s what we were telling them – in some of our rural and remote locations when they’re cut off by road they actually need access to communication. And we have to make our telecommunication system much more resilient. So, there’s a couple more to be unveiled across Eden-Monaro in the next few months, but really looking forward to working with communities on those things.

DAVID EISENHAUER: That’s what I noticed, that State Member Steph Cooke said – that we’re 50 per cent through the recommendations from the inquiry from the bushfires. It’s interesting hearing people talk and saying, “Oh, that wasn’t really relevant,” or, “This was more important.” There’s always going to be a lot more discussion happening around these things anyway.

KRISTY MCBAIN: Absolutely. And New South Wales did an inquiry. There was a Royal Commission obviously. Some of the biggest frustrations for us in those border communities was those two apps don’t talk to each other – the New South Wales ‘Fires Near Me’ app and the Victorian emergency app as well. We need to make sure that we’re not letting those boundaries get in the way of good information to communities as well.

DAVID EISENHAUER: Well, that’s something. I mean, we were here and at one stage, as we were the only broadcaster left on air because the fire had destroyed towers. And it was just – we’re not going to see that every year, and that’s something that’s a comfort, is we’re not going to see that impact of fire like that. That was a special season.

KRISTY MCBAIN: Yeah, we’re not going to see it every year, but we do need to prepare.


KRISTY MCBAIN: I think – the Resilient Towns Initiative that is rolling out in parts of the Snowy Valleys and which they’re now kicking off in Jingellic from last night really talks about in those times of absolute disaster what do we need to do to be better prepared, not only in the response phase but in the recovery phase. Who’s going to do what and what does that look like for your particular community? I know they’ve done a great job in Batlow –

DAVID EISENHAUER: My word they have.

KRISTY MCBAIN: – working through the Resilient Towns Initiative there. And there are many other places across Snowy Valleys, but I think communities after that event really are wanting to be prepared for the next time.

DAVID EISENHAUER: When we look at places like St Patrick’s Hall in Gundagai or next door here in the old council chambers, the amount of people just as an example that were packing those ration packs, and the whole – it was just fascinating to watch – the whole of community came together in those times without any call to arms. They just turned up.


DAVID EISENHAUER: And we’ve got that as a real asset. Our community is one of our biggest assets when it comes to those emergencies, when neighbours rally to support neighbours.

KRISTY MCBAIN: Yeah, that’s right. And I heard of fantastic instances of phone trees working.


KRISTY MCBAIN: You’ve got this pretty small tight-knit community around a specific locality and everyone has five other members of the community on their phone list and they have to call every one of them and say, “Right, we’ve got to move to this location,” or, “We’ve got to prepare for this.” So even just that small thing of being organised enough to do that telephone around when that natural disaster starts actually makes your community much more prepared.

There are some fantastic examples of how it works across our region in particular of that real resilience piece. And we want to see more communities prepared.

DAVID EISENHAUER: My word. It’s a great – it almost doesn’t need discussion or debate in any sort of house wherever it might be. It’s just almost – it’s a common-sense approach, the communication side of things.


DAVID EISENHAUER: I know Snowy Hydro have been putting towers from the coast up the Snowy Mountains Highway which is essential for comms there in winter and fires and floods and whatever as well. But that’s sort of – we’re relying on extra resources to come through. The satellite technology at Jingellic is terrific when it works, and that’s another song. Some of this technology – we’ve got a satellite telephone here. We've had – I think we bought it 20 years ago. And it’s been out on Central Australia trips with the high school. They take it out there when they used to go out into the central areas. But it’s got to be there. It’s an amazing thing. When you get to those real critical times, everything sort of changes a bit. It all goes into sort of like a gear and a half.


DAVID EISENHAUER: And there’s a lot of things in that half gear that we think, “Oh, hang on, that didn’t come up in the plans.” That’s what this is all about, isn’t it? Is getting those – the little bits and pieces as one big picture.

KRISTY MCBAIN: That’s exactly right – getting that big picture sorted for communities so that when the time comes there’s not a lot of effort that has to go into it. The plan is already there and they’re just executing that plan. So massive shout out to Andrew and his crew with the Emergency Management Australia committee.

DAVID EISENHAUER: We spoke with him last week, actually.

KRISTY MCBAIN: Yeah. And the work that I think it’s RMIT partnering with them in Jingellic. So Marco and Andrew were there last night in Jingellic, and I’m sure the community got a lot out of that session.

DAVID EISENHAUER: And Chris Blake, we talk to Chris Blake every fortnight.

KRISTY MCBAIN: Yeah, Chris was there. He was on the barbecue. And he cooked up enough food for about 40 people.


KRISTY MCBAIN: But a massive shout out to Tumbarumba Butchery. I think that’s where he got his meat from. And the steak sandwich was absolutely delicious.

DAVID EISENHAUER: He’s not a bad chef, Mr Blake.

KRISTY MCBAIN: Yeah, well done to Chris.

DAVID EISENHAUER: He’ll be on tomorrow. Because he’s been travelling around the towns – Brungle and Talbingo and Batlow, of course – very much so with the resilience preparedness.

KRISTY MCBAIN: It’s great when I come over to Snowy Valleys the community is still really on board and they want to learn from what happened, help out the people around them who are still doing it a little bit tough. But it’s fantastic to see so many people still rallied around each other.

DAVID EISENHAUER: Kristy, I know it’s front page news – mergers and demergers. And that’s a state issue as well. What are your thoughts?

KRISTY MCBAIN: It’s really interesting that the Coota-Gundagai demerge went through. I do note that they sort of really did keep running as two separate councils during that time.


KRISTY MCBAIN: Which probably made it a little bit easier to demerge. But I understand there was a notice of motion put to your council to prepare a business case for what a demerge looks like.


KRISTY MCBAIN: And I know very much that in the Snowy-Monaro there is still a big campaign for demerge. But it will come down to community. And as we’ve said from the very start, any merger process should have really had the community’s support along with it.


KRISTY MCBAIN: And I think that the failing perhaps wasn’t in the end goal, which was to try to make councils more self-sufficient and really look at the savings they could make by doing things together – the failing wasn’t in that end goal; the failing was in how they executed it and forcing councils to merge without really working with local communities was a failure of the government.

DAVID EISENHAUER: Well, it separated communities. It actually had the reverse effect.

KRISTY MCBAIN: Absolutely.

DAVID EISENHAUER: It divided. Letters to the editor have never been so popular.


DAVID EISENHAUER: And even down to families factionalised. It wasn’t a fun experience.

KRISTY MCBAIN: Yeah. And I think the thing that we have to remember in all of this is the council are members of our community who live here and they work here and their families are present in our businesses.

DAVID EISENHAUER: Absolutely they are.

KRISTY MCBAIN: And kids in schools. It wasn’t their fault. They were following the directions that were given to them and for a whole range of things that people say about the council and the councillors, they’re trying to make the best of the situation they’ve found themselves in. So, look, hopefully that business case comes to fruition soon and that can be put back in front of the local government minister.

DAVID EISENHAUER: My word. Looking forward to that.

KRISTY MCBAIN: At a state level.

DAVID EISENHAUER: At a state level. Exactly. That’s right. But you’ve got that experience, Kristy, having been on that coalface at the start.

KRISTY MCBAIN: Yeah, that’s right. I think that local government really is fantastic grounding for doing this job. As I said, the thing that’s driven me from day one was that really grassroots approach and State Government and Federal Government would do well to remember that at the end of the day all politics is local and they really need to get communities on board with any plans that they have.

DAVID EISENHAUER: My word. So, Kristy, I know we’ve got to be – you’ve got a lot on today. But you’re at the Coffee Pedaler today. Federal Government issues, of course. If you want to talk state you can do that, too. But you’re a federal minister.


DAVID EISENHAUER: Letters of support for not-for-profit groups. All those sorts of things that people sort of – they’ll write to you, the office of their federal member. This is a great opportunity to go and have a chat to you today.

KRISTY MCBAIN: Absolutely. Come and have a chat. We’ve been inundated recently with passport queries. Obviously there’s been pretty big delays in the passport processing space. So if you’ve got any issues with passports come on down and speak to us. We usually get a lot of inquiries about visas. So let us know if you’ve got any visa issues that you want to talk about. Centrelink and NDIS queries are always pretty front and centre. But then we have people that just want to come and say hello.

DAVID EISENHAUER: Yeah, that’s right.

KRISTY MCBAIN: “I want to learn more about my local representative.” So whatever your query is or if you just want to come down for a chat, please feel free to stop in at the Coffee Pedaler at 10am.

DAVID EISENHAUER: Indeed. And things like community grants, which are always popular and have been particularly since the fires. There have been a lot of those about.

KRISTY MCBAIN: Absolutely. Grants are always a huge part of how our communities work.


KRISTY MCBAIN: And we put out a grants bulletin. That’s how intense it is.


KRISTY MCBAIN: Every three months we put together a grants bulletin which has philanthropic state and federal grant opportunities across a whole range of different fields. And we do that because so many people in our communities rely on those grants to run their organisation or run an event. So you can jump on the website and under the grants tab sign up for the grants bulletin and we can push that out to you.

DAVID EISENHAUER: Kristy, anything else you’d like to add today? We’ll catch up more often as you visit and on the phone and so forth on this Thursday. But anything else you’d like to add before we go to the news?

KRISTY MCBAIN: Look, devastated that the Raiders are now out of the finals. It’s devastating. But the Prime Minister’s team is still in, so I guess I’d better follow that one now to keep in the good books. But half my family will be very excited this weekend because they’re Cats supporters with the AFL Grand Final. So I’ll jump on the Cats bandwagon this weekend. So it’s always an exciting time of year, footy finals.

DAVID EISENHAUER: Isn’t it what.

KRISTY MCBAIN: So enjoy the weekend, guys.

DAVID EISENHAUER: Indeed. And, Kristy McBain, as of course our federal member, thank you very much for coming in. And as a minister with a fairly decent-size portfolio, real appreciate your time in joining us today.

KRISTY MCBAIN: Thanks very much. Always love to come on to Sounds of the Mountains.

DAVID EISENHAUER: Thanks, Kristy. Of course, Minister Kristy McBain joining us there. Of course, our federal member visiting the region today at the Coffee Pedaler, the mobile office in town. And you’ll be able to head down from 10 till 11am today. And RSVP, if you got the letter in the mail, or just turn up down there and grab yourself a coffee and a chat.