Transcript - Interview with Riverina with Sally Brant

SALLY BRYANT: Now, if you were with me yesterday, you would have heard a lot of discussion about Inland Rail – so many calls and texts on the matter and concerns that people in the bush just aren’t being heard when it comes to the route it will take. Also heard from Michael McCormack. He criticised the Albanese Government’s handling of regional development projects, saying many have been stalled and some abandoned. Kristy McBain is the Member for Eden–Monaro and the Minister for Regional Development, joining me this morning. 

Minister, good morning. 

KRISTY MCBAIN: Good morning, Sally.

BRYANT: Now, the Member for Riverina, Michael McCormack, spoke to me yesterday – or spoke to us yesterday – about the issue of Inland Rail. And here’s some of what he had to say. 


MICHAEL MCCORMACK: Labor says that it’s committed to Inland Rail, but saying one thing and doing another is sometimes the case with Labor. Under questioning at Senate estimates, the Australian Rail Track Corporation, which is delivering Inland Rail, conceded that the government hasn’t provided the funding to deliver the Inland Rail further north of Parkes, you might say, and it’s been forced to break contracts entered for sections of Inland Rail on that route up to Brisbane. Now, that is disappointing. We’d like to see the government be far more committed. They’ve always stated that they are in favour of Inland Rail. It’s incumbent upon this government to get it right and it’s important that this government honours the deal that it entered into when it took government, because it said that it was in favour of Inland Rail. It needs to show that with money, with funding.

PRESENTER: So, you know, you used the term “fairly confident” there, so I guess there are still no guarantees. 

McCORMACK: Well, you’re never really confident with this Labor government because, you know, they said that they would honour all these infrastructure projects and then just prior to the budget last year put in a 90-day review. That led to a stall of more than 200 days. There are some projects they’re simply not going ahead with. They’ve not said that they’re not going ahead with Inland Rail, so I’m not going to come out and say, “Oh, yes, I’m absolutely positive that Inland Rail will go ahead” when you’ve got a Labor Government in Canberra which hasn’t shown the sort of commitment to regional Australia that the former Coalition Government did.

[End excerpt]

BRYANT: So, Kristy McBain, that’s Michael McCormack on the show yesterday. How do you respond to his comments there, particularly this sense that there’s a lack of commitment to regional Australia? 

MCBAIN: It’s just purely incorrect. What we saw in the 10 years of a Coalition Government was a tonne of press releases and a lot of six-second radio grabs, but no extra commitment in the budget. We have seen the Inland Rail budget blow out by billions of dollars without an extra cent being added to our forward estimates by the former government. We’ve been left to clean up an infrastructure pipeline that grew from 150 projects to 800 projects, with not one additional dollar added by the former Coalition Government. There was a lot of work to do when we came into government to make sure that the budget got back in balance, and we have seen a $100 billion turnaround from a $78 billion deficit to a $22 billion surplus. We need to manage the budget responsibly so we can actually get projects happening around the country, and that’s what we’re focused on, making sure that these projects are real in communities. That they’re not just press releases and that we can actually deliver these things for the country. 

Now, when it comes to Inland Rail, there’s been billions and billions of cost blowout. We want to see it done, financially managed properly and done in a way that is going to benefit communities, which includes finalising the route, which hadn’t been done by the former government.

BRYANT: Right. So, is the Inland Rail going to happen? And we’re thinking particularly in that northern stretch, say north of Parkes? 

MCBAIN: Absolutely. It’s a firm commitment that we will build the Inland Rail and again it is not something that we will talk about and issue a bunch of press releases on. We’re getting on with that job, unlike the former government.

BRYANT: So, what do you say to calls for transmission lines to go underground in this part of the world, particularly following the storms in Victoria that damaged a number of their towers last month? 

MCBAIN: Those storms that we saw in Victoria last month were quite extreme, with towers being toppled. It’s a big issue we see around the country at the moment and we want companies like Transgrid to be working with our local community on appropriate routes. Tumut, the Gilmore Valley, and the Yass Valley are going through those processes at the moment and we want to see genuine community consultation happening with them on the best route and the best solutions for them.

BRYANT: Now, yesterday, Labor launched a new strategy for gender equality. Can you explain to me how it works and why you’re bringing it in? 

MCBAIN: We know that women are retiring on average with about 25 per cent less in their superannuation than men. It is really important that we start to address women’s economic equality right across the economy. It’s one of the recommendations that the taskforce has been campaigning for. We know unions have been campaigning for this and the women’s movement, and it was an issue that was brought up in the Jobs Summit. It’s really important that we act on that. We will now be implementing superannuation on Government Paid Parental Leave as an important investment to help close that superannuation gap and, obviously, we’re hoping that the private sector will follow suit. That means about 180,000 families will benefit from this change, work that will kick in on 1 July 2025.

BRYANT: So, that’s quite a way off still. Is there any way it could be done earlier? 

MCBAIN: We will release all that detail in the May budget and we’ve got some legislative processes that need to be done, which will be the important part. We expect by the time those processes are gone through, it will start on 1 July 2025.

BRYANT: Now, we’re enjoying International Women’s Day. What does the day mean to you? 

MCBAIN: International Women’s Day is obviously an important day to celebrate the successes and achievements of women. The thing that I really love about it is that locally, we see women getting together, whether that be for lunches or breakfasts, and as part of a range of organisations, really celebrating and acknowledging what women are doing in our local community. There’s so many fantastic success stories. I was only in Poachers Pantry just near Murrumbateman yesterday at a fantastic event organised by Regional Development Australia Southern Inland, and we got to hear from some fantastic women working in our trades – plumbers, electricians, a blast technician and also an engineer who was headlining the event’s coordination in Canberra. It is important to acknowledge the fabulous work that’s being done locally.

BRYANT: I think you’re right and I think it’s important that we acknowledge the gains that have been made and I think that we work very hard to hang on to those that we have made, don’t you agree? 

MCBAIN: Absolutely, there are gains that have been made. There is more to come, but it’s important we’ve got for the first time ever, a female majority in a government, which is more representative of what we see in our community. Fifty three per cent of the Albanese Labor Government is women. We are more representative of the community that we are there for, and that’s important as well, that we start to see women in leadership positions, at the board tables and, obviously, increase that number of women running businesses in our community.

BRYANT: Exactly. Pleasure to speak to you this morning, Minister, and happy International Women’s Day.