Transcript - radio interview - 2DU Dubbo, Breakfast with Matt Collins

MATT COLLINS (HOST): A number of local, state and federal leaders are in Dubbo today for the Inland Growth Summit. Now, what is the inland growth summit? Well, it puts a spotlight on the needs and achievements of inland, regional New South Wales. Federal Minister for Regional Development, Local Government and Territories, Kristy McBain is one of the speakers at the conference. She will also use her time here to meet with our Dubbo Regional Councilors. And last night, the Minister spoke at the Orana Outlook Dinner, as we heard from Mark Coulton earlier, who was also at the dinner last night. Minister McBain touched on high priority issues facing our region. We'll find out a bit more about what they are now. Minister Mcbain, good morning to you, welcome to the show.

KRISTY MCBAIN (MINISTER): Good morning, thanks for having me.

COLLINS: Great to have you on. Now we've just mentioned then that you had this dinner last night. What are they telling you are the biggest issues facing Dubbo and the Orana region?

MCBAIN: The issues facing this region are very similar to a number of other council and regional areas across the country. One of the biggest issues that people are talking to me about is obviously the availability of housing, and the short supply in the rental market. Housing remains one of the biggest issues in this region as well.

COLLINS: All right, now as I just mentioned, we had Federal Member for Parkes, Mark Coulton on the show earlier. He spoke about local roads and mentioned in particular this further $250 million funding. Now you've announced that as part of the October Budget. In his opinion, it requires further details. He goes on to say, “I will continue to have questions at the methodology Labor plans to use to determine where this money goes.” It's $250 million for regional New South Wales roads is my understanding. Is there a bit of a strategy about where that will go at this stage?

MCBAIN: This additional $250 million in the Local Roads and Community Infrastructure Fund brings the total spend by the Australian Government in this fund to $3.25 billion. We've said that this $250 million should be prioritised to those outer suburban, regional and rural council areas, focusing heavily on road infrastructure. One of the reasons for this is we've seen a number of flooding events occur over the last twelve months, and we need to be making sure that we're supporting local communities get through this recovery phase. I would have thought that any additional money going to rural and regional roads would have been welcomed by anyone. As someone that lives in the regions, I know that the majority of people that come and speak to me, always talk to me about roads and any additional money that any level of government is putting into connectivity our roads network.

COLLINS: Of course, bring it on. But I think, and this last flooding that we had at the end of last year has sort of proven that our roads really struggle to hold up to these massive weather events and hopefully moving forward, that the plan is to make our roads better as opposed to just continually fixing them up.

MCBAIN: Making our roads more resilient is a huge focus. We've got an inquiry which we're engaging local councils and engineers on at the moment in regards to road and bridge building, and how we can make this better in the future. Just because we've done something one way for decades doesn't mean we have to continue it. I know what local councils and communities are calling for is a real review into how we can make sure our roads are more resilient. It's also one of the reasons that this government has prioritised the Disaster Ready Fund, because we know how important it is to start dealing with the mitigation and resilience measures that will make it easier for our communities to sustain the next natural disaster.

COLLINS: All right, I asked you earlier, what are the biggest issues facing the Central West? Now I know from conversations that I've had that we need more teachers in Dubbo and the surrounding areas. I mean, there's an anecdotal example last year, some Dubbo schools had hundreds of students they couldn't fit in the classroom, they were taking them out into the playground. I think at close to 200 students with only one or two teachers. It's a remarkable situation. Is that a big focus for regional New South Wales is getting more teachers into the schools?

MCBAIN: We know that we've been left with a skills crisis after the last decade of government. We haven't seen the prioritisation of doctors, nurses, teachers and the like. We know that vocational education hasn't been prioritised also, which is why we're heavily focused on dealing with the skills gap that we've inherited. We’re supporting 20,000 additional Commonwealth supported places in universities which will primarily go to regional universities to help us deal with those skill shortages in the regions. Plus 180,000 fee-free TAFE places in 2023 alone across the country, because we know how important it is to start dealing with this skills crisis. Last week we announced that we would wipe the HELP Debt for doctors or nurse practitioners to practice in rural and remote areas. And there are a range of incentives in place for people to not only take up the teaching profession, but also to move to some of our regions. We know the gaps exist, we know that they've existed for some time. We're actually acting on them.

COLLINS: It’s all good and well to say, bring them out here, which is great. We want to see more teachers, we want to see more skilled tradespeople, we want to see more people moving to our region. But then the next question is, where do you put them? Where do you house them? What is the government's big plan moving forward with the housing shortage?

MCBAIN: Housing is one of the biggest priorities across the region. We saw the last government just completely vacate that space altogether. We've now created our $10 billion Future Housing Fund, which is the largest investment in housing in over a decade. We will look to start filling the gaps in that social and affordable housing space. But there's a lot of work that the state government needs to do here. We need to make sure we've got a planning system that's fit for the 21st century. We all know that it's very difficult to get through the planning system. I'm sure there's plenty of developers out there that will tell you their projects are being kicked between New South Wales Planning and New South Wales Water, over and over again. We need to make sure that states are also keeping their end of the bargain and making it easier for the supply of land to come on the market.

COLLINS: Can we talk about regional connectivity? Obviously, your fast, reliable internet is crucial for our region, but also black spots. This is something that's been going on for some time. Mr Coulton suggested earlier on the show a quote from him, “I was truly disappointed to see that regional communities of western New South Wales have been left out in the latest round of Mobile Black Spot funding, with Labor prioritising areas in their own seats.” Do you have a response for that?

MCBAIN: It’s pretty disappointing to hear that. The first round of funding commitments are fulfilling election commitments. The reason that so many election commitments were made to deal with mobile phone black spots is because over the last ten years, regional Labor electorates haven't received any of that funding. My own electorate, which is in Eden-Monaro, suffered the most out of any electorate in the country during the Black Summer Bushfires. We had no connectivity on any of our major highways. When you're evacuating up to 90,000 people because of six out-of-control bushfires, you need to have connectivity to understand what's happening around you. Some of those election commitments were made in response to natural disasters, which I think is fair enough. We have committed $656 million to dealing with mobile phone black spots across the country. Everyone knows that it's important that we start dealing with mobile phone black spots, especially on our major transport corridors and I will continue to work with anyone that's willing to make sure that applications go in, and are assessed on their merit, so we can start dealing with some of those black spots across the region.

COLLINS: All right. Now, Mr Coulton says none of the funding has gone into seats like Farrer, Riverina or Parkes, “not a cent,” he says. These areas cover roughly 70 per cent of New South Wales. Is that a fair statement? None of the funding has gone into the vast majority of the state?

MCBAIN: As I said, that first round of commitments are election commitments, Labor election commitments. After ten years where our electorate didn't receive any funding, these were election commitments made on the back of that. Future rounds of the funding will be open to any electorate, and I look forward to working with those members to make sure that applications go in.

COLLINS: Alright Minister McBain, great to chat to you on the show and great to have you in our region. We appreciate your time this morning.

MCBAIN: Talk to you again soon.