Transcript - Interview with ABC 666 Canberra Breakfast with Adam Shirley

ADAM SHIRLEY: This listener says, “It’s great that people are finally putting pressure on the ACT Government for giving away nearly $3 million a year to a Sydney-based Melbourne-funded AFL team. If that club truly wanted to paint an image that they were a Canberra team, they wouldn’t need to be paid to come here,” thinks this listener. Kristy McBain is the Federal Member for Regional Development, Minister, I should say for Regional Development, and Federal Member for Eden‑Monaro. Kristy McBain, thank you very much for your time today. 

KRISTY MCBAIN: Good to be with you, Adam. 

SHIRLEY: Pressing matters to talk in the region, and also under your portfolio. I do briefly want to get your view on it, because a lot of people in the surrounding region have played football here, have come up through the ranks of Canberra United. What is your assessment of what’s happening at the peak W‑League team that is Canberra United championship winning, and the fact they might not exist beyond Saturday?

MCBAIN: It would be a very distressing time, most particularly for those players who are uncertain about what’s going to happen with the long-term future of their playing contracts. The game in Canberra is growing. We want to see it stay here, we know that there’s been a long-term lobbying for an A-League team here, but we’ve had a women’s team here for a number of years now, and we would hate to see that go. 

You can’t be what you can’t see, and in Canberra we’ve got a lot of young women and girls who aspire to be women’s A-League players because they’ve got a team right here in the backyard. 

SHIRLEY: So, is there a role for Federal Government to step in? You might well know of the local government’s efforts yesterday, Yvette Berry, Sports Minister, said they’d put $250,000 on the table for capital football to at least tide over the next 12 months. No answer yet to that. 

I wonder whether the Federal Government needs to make this, in this region at least, a priority if we’re talking elite women’s sport, the after‑glow of the Women’s World Cup, and what message this would send if Canberra subsequently got a men’s team and then dropped its women’s team. 

MCBAIN: I’m not sure that there have been approaches made to the Federal Government at this stage. Obviously, the discussions would need to take place at some point if that is how it is to go. It’s incredibly important that the team is supported by the League itself, that we understand what is happening with this. The team’s existed for many years, and we’ve not had this type of speculation around before. We need to get to the bottom of that, and if there is an approach to the Government, we’ll see what it says. 

SHIRLEY: Okay. So, it would be considered at least. So, Minister McBain, if we look at a couple of things that you’ve got a close eye on at the moment: the local government sustainability, or lack thereof of some local councils. There is a Parliamentary Inquiry into it. You would know being in Eden‑Monaro just how under the financial pump Palerang‑Queanbeyan have been. How urgent is this inquiry? 

MCBAIN: We’ve listened to the calls from the sector, from unions representing the sector. There’s obviously some concerns, especially for rural and regional councils, who are now so reliant on federal and state government grants to operate their business, to maintain the assets and services they have in their community. These aren’t nice‑to‑have assets, these are roads, they’re parks, they’re community halls.

SHIRLEY: Rubbish pick-ups, all that sort of thing.  

MCBAIN: It’s incredibly important that the inquiry is held. Written submissions are open until 3 May and then the committee will be going to each state and territory in the country to hear directly from local councils themselves, in some cases I’m sure that there will be regions of councils, joint organisations, peak bodies who come along and make sure that the committee hears directly from them. 

The committee is on the back of a previous inquiry they did in into road maintenance, following natural disasters - where the committee heard from a range of councils about road funding in particular. They’re all very excited to get into this inquiry. 

SHIRLEY: On essential services to these local rural areas, will this inquiry include the – well, really at times disastrous water quality out of Yass taps; sometimes it’s fine, as we know, in recent times it’s not due to weather events. Will that also form part of this inquiry? 

MCBAIN: The terms of reference are already out there. It looks at financial sustainability, skills capacity across local councils. It also includes any other matters that councils wish to raise. Councils might want to raise a series of other issues, which may include water treatment, it may include their provision of services as a provider of last resort. Councils will be raising a number of issues with that committee. 

SHIRLEY: Kristy McBain is the Federal Minister for Regional Development, Federal Member for Eden‑Monaro, with us on ABC Radio Canberra, as she regularly is on Breakfast. 

Looking also at closures in the Yass region, and we’re talking businesses, several shopfronts on the main street that have had to shut down. I mean most people know business conditions are tough. But is this coming to a head in Yass and causing real problems for the viability of having a local business to service that local community? 

MCBAIN: People make decisions for a range of reasons. We have seen so many things go online, which creates a problem for those main street shopfronts. It’s also incredibly important that we support our local businesses, and try not to shop online, unless we’re supporting another local business. 

The community has to get behind some of these businesses as well, and we need to make sure that the landlords are keeping their shopfronts to a standard that encourages more people to come into the street, as well as making sure that you’ve got Council and the Business Chamber together to make sure that there are events that drag people into town, and make sure that they spend their money in town. 

Only a few weeks ago the Yass Show was on, and it was really pleasing to see how many people were in town for that, and it’s incredibly important that we get all of these entities working together to make sure that we can drag more people out into the township more often, and that’s one way forward. 

SHIRLEY: Is there a strategy or a support fund for a town like Yass that could be put together, I don’t know whether it’s a grants program that can help some of these local businesses through really difficult times, to give them a footing, a firmer footing before economic conditions hopefully turn for the better? 

MCBAIN: Federally, we’ve got the Growing Regions Fund and the Regional Precincts and Partnerships Fund. That first fund is projects under $5 million, which help to change the economic trajectory of an area. The second one is projects up to $50 million, which aims at trying to get the three levels of government to work together to put in place those transformational building blocks for towns and villages. 

SHIRLEY: Now in recent times, I think you have signed off on some changes, a few tweaks to the National Capital Plan. This is about development around the Yarralumla region and the Hume Industrial Precinct. Given I think that’s partly federal land, what changes have you approved and how might that impact development in those areas? 

MCBAIN: There’s been some changes to the National Capital Plan, some amendments for the Monaro Highway in particular. There’s a lot of roadwork happening on the Monaro Highway at the moment, a $230 million project, which will make sure that we’ve got a safer road to travel in and out of Canberra on the Monaro side. It provides three new interchanges to get people on and off from the Hume side. The Lanyon Drive intersection is being upgraded significantly, which, is a big pinch point for traffic of a morning and in the afternoon. It was important the National Capital Plan was amended for those works to take place. Some changes in Yarralumla around the former Australian Forestry School site, which will now release more land for housing development in the inner‑south of Canberra, which is incredibly important at this stage. 

SHIRLEY: Roughly how much land? Locals in that region might be interested to know how much that opens up for development and developers to put up some homes of various sizes. 

MCBAIN: About 45 per cent of the site will be released, so there’s still a big chunk of the land which will remain open space for people to be able to still use as park and thoroughfare, but it increases housing supply really significantly. Up to 300 dwellings will be committed on-site, with buildings of up to three stories. It will add significantly to that inner‑south housing, and we also want to make sure that the site potentially allows for aged care, social housing, commercial accommodation, and commercial uses as well. 

SHIRLEY: Really appreciate your time, Kristy McBain, on those local issues that matter to a lot of people listening. Thank you. 

MCBAIN: Thank you. 

ADAM SHIRLEY: Kristy McBain is Member for Eden‑Monaro and Minister for Regional Development, of Local Government and Territories.