Transcript - Minister McBain interview on ABC Radio South East NSW, Breakfast with Simon Lauder

SIMON LAUDER, HOST: Well, the Federal Government says it’s wiping about 200,000 outstanding debts which were raised under the heavily criticised Robodebt scheme. This announcement coming just this morning. To discuss this and other issues, we’re joined by the Member for Eden-Monaro, Kristy McBain. Good morning.

KRISTY MCBAIN, MINISTER: Good morning, how are you?

SIMON LAUDER: Really well. Enjoying a little bit of sunshine after that rain last week. Were there many Robodebt victims, so to speak, in Eden Monaro?

KRISTY MCBAIN: Look, there were Robodebt victims across the country. And I think we’ve seen from a number of people that have already told their stories in the media that it has impacted their lives both on a small scale and for some people on quite a large scale. So, the announcement today by my colleague, Minister Rishworth, will be much appreciated I think by a lot of people.

SIMON LAUDER: And if the debts are being wiped and, the reviews are being scrapped, why is there still a need for a Royal Commission?

KRISTY MCBAIN: Look, I think it’s to make sure that we don’t ever go through a situation or a system like this again where there is no human intervention in a system put in place by government. I think it’s really important that lessons are learned from what has been a really tragic set of circumstances for some families across the country. It’s important that we learn the lessons from this so that they can’t be repeated by future governments.

SIMON LAUDER: To the GP crisis now, which, of course, as anyone who’s tried to get into a GP in our region knows all about, and the Health Minister Mark Butler looking for long-term reform. What kind of changes will be considered there?

KRISTY MCBAIN: It’s very interesting that we’re in this situation. I think that we haven’t had a focus on skills in this country for a long time and it’s really important that we actually now focus on our primary health care system. And most people across our part of the world will know how difficult it is to get in to see a GP at times. I think the last time I made an appointment it was an eight-week wait which was fine; mine was a non-urgent appointment. But there are people right across Eden-Monaro who need to see GPs a lot quicker than that.

We’ve committed $1 billion to strengthening Medicare. We’ve got a Strengthening Medicare Taskforce, and Mark Butler is working with doctors and industry experts to make sure that we are dealing with the situation. But as you said, this is going to need to be a long-term situation where we’re looking at what we can do now and into the future to make sure that we don’t come across this skill shortage again.

SIMON LAUDER: And doctors say, you know, the simple fix would be a substantial increase to the Medicare rebate. Why not just do that?

KRISTY MCBAIN: That’s part of what’s in front of the Strengthening Medicare Taskforce at this point in time. That taskforce will make its recommendations to the Minister on how best to alleviate the situation in the short-term but also deal with some of the long-term issues that we have. So, I think it’s really important we wait to see what they say. We know that the former government froze Medicare rebates for six years; they’ve taken money out of primary care; gap fees have gone up. So, there are a lot of parts of the system that we actually need to look at; it’s not just as simple as dealing with one issue.

SIMON LAUDER: The federal Treasurer Jim Chalmers preparing to deliver the first Albanese Government Budget later this month. What can we expect? Is there going to be – do we need to brace ourselves for budget cuts?

KRISTY MCBAIN: Our Budget will be handed down in less than two weeks, and we’ve clearly hit the ground running. We’re focused on cleaning up the mess the previous government left behind and dealing with some cost-of-living pressures as well as looking at building a better future for Australians. So our first Budget is going to be focused on responsible cost-of-living relief with cheaper childcare and cheaper medicines. We’re investing in our people through fee-free TAFE, cheaper and cleaner energy and focusing on a future made in Australia. And we’re getting the budget back on track with an audit of rorts and waste through literally every line item of that budget.

But I think through the entire process we’ve been pretty upfront with the Australian people about the challenges facing the economy and the budget. We’ve got, $1 trillion in debt, so we need every dollar spent in our economy to pay a dividend to the Australian people through good decisions.

SIMON LAUDER: And one of the big challenges is how to fund the stage three tax cuts which are due to come in in a couple of years. Look, is that going to be tricky for the Government to justify going ahead with that while also trying to balance the books in other ways?

KRISTY MCBAIN: Well, our policy hasn’t changed on that. And, as you said, it’s two years away, so it’s not going to deal with any of the near-term economic challenges that we have. Our priority when it comes to tax reform is still on ensuring that multinationals pay their fair share of tax here in Australia. And I think people across the country, we often hear about how much money some of the companies that are here are making but aren’t paying their share of tax. So we need to make sure that all of our policies are responsible, affordable, sustainable and targeted so that we can build a better buffer against the deterioration which is happening in the global economy. So, we’ll aim to do the right and responsible thing by the Australian people.

SIMON LAUDER: The Federal Member for Riverina, Michael McCormack, recently called on the Federal Government to step up support for local governments to repair roads which have been messed up by La Niña. Any chance we’ll see significant aid on that front in the Budget?

KRISTY MCBAIN: There’s been some recent announcements on this, and perhaps the Member for Riverina hasn’t seen them. And he is an electorate neighbour and we do get along very well. So it’s fantastic to see him focusing on what local governments are dealing with. We’ve committed over $1 billion to flood-damaged roads and transport infrastructure in both Queensland and New South Wales. This will go to targeted LGAs following on from those flood events in 2021 and 2022.

We’re also delivering in additional $250 million through the Local Roads and Community Infrastructure Program, which was an election commitment, to assist those councils with some of their roads projects. So we are committed to continuing investment in transport infrastructure, especially in regional and rural Australia because we know how important it is, especially on the back of multiple natural disasters. For some local councils, this is the fifth or sixth event in eighteen months. And that cumulative effect on their road network is quite intense. So we have worked really closely with both the New South Wales and Queensland governments to deliver a package to directly help those impacted council areas.

SIMON LAUDER: And what are you hearing in your travels and talks with local governments as the Minister for Local Government? Are they also putting their hand out asking for kind of emergency assistance with road repair?

KRISTY MCBAIN: Yeah, look, I’ve spoken with probably close to a hundred local government bodies now in my role as Local Government Minister, and there are some consistent themes throughout, regardless of where those councils are located across the country. And disaster response and recovery is one of those and the significant toll it takes on council’s finances, council staff and the community. We sometimes forget it, but council staff are part of those communities and are a lot of the times impacted themselves, which also creates a little bit of a burden on the organisation.

We are hearing that there are financial pressures, just like there are for state and federal governments, with money not being able to go as far, the cost of everything is going up, especially, when we’re look at some of the construction that local councils are doing. And there is the housing challenge that is biting people, especially in regional and rural Australia. So local councils are having the same issues attracting staff and retaining staff when those staff members can’t find places to live in the council area. So some of those issues that businesses are faced with and some of the issues that state and federal governments are faced with is being faced by our local government counterparts as well.

SIMON LAUDER: We heard this week from the Currawarna Assisted Living Group, the community group in Bombala, looking at how to keep the Currawarna aged care home open to the community. And they say they need about $1 million to reopen next year and are hoping that the Federal Government can chip in significantly with about $900,000. What would you say to them about that plan?

KRISTY MCBAIN: I’ve met with people in Bombala continuously over the last year both with the Stand with Currawarna Group and the Currawarna Assisted Living Incorporated Committee, and I’ve met with community members as recently as a couple of weeks ago, both in Bombala itself and in my Bega office. I am committed to making sure that we work with the community on creating a project for aged care that will work in the setting that is at Bombala.

I have been liaising pretty frequently with both Minister Bronnie Taylor and the Member for Monaro, Nichole Overall, on what we can do together. I know that the federal Health Department and the New South Wales Health Department have met now on a couple of occasions to discuss how to move forward with that project. But I remain committed to working with the community to get an outcome for Currawarna.

SIMON LAUDER: There’s a question that’s just popped up on the text line from Rob in Bega. And, look, I don’t know how much this is within your job as a federal member, but Rob pointing out that newspaper delivery services have ceased. And he says the elderly have no service that can replace it. Any ideas or anything you can say to Rob about that?

KRISTY MCBAIN: Yeah, Rob, it’s interesting – I actually tried for a Father’s Day present for my dad a couple of years ago to get him a paper delivery to his house and was told that it was no longer taking place in our part of the world. It’s just, as I understand it from business, not financially viable for them to do so anymore, which is, a sad occurrence for a service that has been available for so long.

I’m not aware of anything that can replace it at this stage. Obviously there are online subscriptions, but if you’re like me, I like the feeling of a paper in my hand and going through it front to back. So that’s a tough one. I’m not sure that there is anything that replaces it.

SIMON LAUDER: Speaking of newspapers, I read a report yesterday that MPs can now choose to have more electric vehicles as the choice for their parliamentary vehicle. Are you going to get an EV?

KRISTY MCBAIN: I won’t be getting an EV at this stage. Eden-Monaro obviously is a pretty large electorate – 42,000 square kilometres. And until we can get some more EV charging stations across the electorate it just would not work for me at this point in time with the amount of travel I do. So I’m sure at some point we will reach that critical mass where it will definitely be a viable option. So I’m looking forward to that coming into fruition in the future.

SIMON LAUDER: All right. Well, plenty more to talk about in the future, but Kristy McBain, we are out of time now. Thanks, again, for joining us.

KRISTY MCBAIN: Thanks so much, Simon. Have a great day.

SIMON LAUDER: You too. The Member for Eden Monaro, Minister for Regional Development and Local Government and Territories, Kristy McBain.