Transcript - Radio interview - 4CA Cairns with Murray Jones

MURRAY JONES: As I was mentioning before, with a bit of an exodus out of the big cities for a lot of people after the pandemic - some big opportunities for the regions, and particularly for our marine precinct when it comes to aviation, growing tourism and also education. So, there's been about a $400 million dollar announcement for the regional Precinct and Partnerships Program, which is being rolled out. Let's find out a little bit more about that from Kristy McBain, she's the Minister for Regional Development here in Australia, of course federally. Good morning, Kristy. How are you today?

KRISTY MCBAIN: Good morning, great to be with you.

JONES: Now, whereabouts are you this morning? Are you in Canberra?

MCBAIN: No, this morning I am on the far South Coast of NSW. So, home for me down in a place called Merimbula.

JONES: Oh, ok cool. Well, look, at least it's probably a little warmer here in this part of the world, so you're probably lamenting the fact that in some ways that you're at home and not here in the tropical north. You know, we did talk about some of the key industries and of course, it's not just for Cairns. We need to think about further up through the Gulf, some great opportunities for all types of industries. Tell me a little bit more about this $400 million that is being rolled out, and particularly talking about partnerships between communities and, of course, the government too. I guess, diversify some of those economic bases here in the regions and some of the rural areas.

MCBAIN: We are focused on collaboration to help develop or re-develop regional towns and spaces, working with different levels of government and communities to deliver local priorities. We're doing that through the regional Precincts and Partnerships Program. Supporting high-priority projects that bolster regional economies, grow jobs, unlock potential and can help, as you said, diversify your local economies. There are two streams provided through this $400 million dollar fund. One which will help those communities do the master planning, the design, the business case. All of those things that you need to get to a point where you can develop. The other stream is obviously to help develop one or more elements of the precinct or the program that you're after. For so many regional communities that I visit, and Cairns is no different, nor was Cape York, there are a lot of good ideas and projects, but sometimes they just don't have the dollars to put towards the business case development. We're dealing with that through stream one and then obviously stream two allows us to then help them get that project off the ground.

JONES: Look, when it comes to actually getting the business cases up, that can be one of the real challenges. And there is talk about the need, and there is going to be a need into the not distant future for more dams to bolster water supplies, but also some of the road infrastructure. I know there's been a lot of work, particularly further west from Cairns, on all of the road infrastructure. Kuranda Range is one of the ones that comes up. But I guess getting a solid business case up is one of the key things that regional communities need to do before they can start to attract both that federal and that state funding.

MCBAIN: That's right. We want to see all of the design elements already done, the master planning for the work done, the business case, which will help us transparently account to Australian taxpayers for the use of taxpayer dollars. That's a really important element of getting a project off the ground. The big difference here is that we really want to work with communities. I'm not an expert in Cairns, but I know that there is a tonne of experts who live in Cairns. We want to be able to take the advice off the people that live there, off those communities who are day in, day out, trying to make a difference for where they live and utilise that expertise. When we go to a grant fund like this, we want to see those levels of government working together. We want to see them collaborating with the community and making sure that we're taking into account the priorities that you have where you live.

JONES: And I think getting some of those the matrix, the actual pattern correct, because it is difficult sometimes. You want to expand industries, might be agriculture further west, but of course, having the road infrastructure, having the transport infrastructure, including ports, to get the produce out. So, I guess, incrementally, these things do need to work in together and I guess look at some of those bigger picture issues as well.

MCBAIN: Absolutely. We want to see those governments coming together to strategically plan out entire precincts and not just deal with one element of a project, but really look at how the road and rail network work in to make a project successful. How we can make sure we're dealing with the educational aspects and skills training to make a project successful, and how we are integrating business into that process to make sure that the private sector is engaged as well. We really want to make sure that there is some strategic thinking to these regional Precincts and Partnerships programs. That's why we've designed it this way for people to come together to put forward their region's priorities to us.

JONES: Okay, $400 million up for grabs. For people that would like to tap into this and find out a bit more about the pathway to actually get some of this funding together. And, of course, as we're talking about getting some of the basic the basic framework sorted out, it's actually called the regional Precincts and Partnerships grants Program. How do people actually get involved? How do they find out more information about this?

MCBAIN: There is more information, including a whole range of information on the guidelines available on Grant Connect. If you jump on that website, all the guidelines will be there. The application process is all there. Really keen to see what we can do with our state, territory, local government bodies - with regional universities incorporated, not-for-profits. Making sure that we're working with our Regional Development Australia committees, and private enterprise to get fantastic projects right across the country.

JONES: Well, on a different subject and as a Federal Minister, just keen to talk to you briefly about the Voice too. It's interesting to read, obviously an eminently qualified conservative, Julie Bishop, of course, who was formerly the Foreign Minister. So, I guess can talk quite confidently about some of the impacts overseas. She's just come out in the last couple of days and said, the impacts on Australia, if we end up getting a no vote for the Voices, I guess shines a light on Australia that is not positive. Must be some concerns for the Government, because it seems like some of the, I guess, basic workings of the Voice and how it would actually work in reality have been scuttled by the no vote and it's been a pretty hard one for the Government to plug this.

MCBAIN: At the end of the day, this was a proposal that was brought to the Government of the day, which was the Turnbull Government at the time, by Indigenous people. This hasn't been a Government project. This is something that has come from the people, and it will be decided by the people on 14 October. The really distressing thing for a lot of people across the community is the fact that so many conservatives have been focusing on what the Voice isn't, rather than what it is. At the end of the day, the constitution provides a head of power to Government to make laws. That doesn't change anything. We have one line on taxation law in the constitution, that basically says that the Government can make laws on taxation. There's no detail on tax law in the constitution, it just says the Parliament can make those laws. At the end of the day, this question is very simple. It says do you agree that there should be an alteration to the constitution to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders through a Voice to Parliament? If that is agreed to, the Parliament then goes and drafts the laws. Any law that's drafted in this country is subject to a committee process, in which the public can make several submissions to. There are usually hearings about it, and then we go out and do that consultation work. This is only the first step in this, and what Aboriginal communities talk to me about is the need for consistency. It is very hard to make a practical difference on the ground, especially with some of those Closing the Gap targets, unless we have a consistent approach to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. We haven't seen that over time because there have been multiple iterations of committees or advisory bodies that have been constituted and then ripped up again. What we need to do is make sure that there is one Voice and consistency, and that is in line with the policy that the Liberal Party took to the 2007 election. They wanted to see constitutional recognition, and in the 2019 election, they took a policy that they wanted to see a Voice to Parliament. It's almost hypocrisy to now say that they oppose this, because they had worked on it for a number of years via former Indigenous Affairs Minister, Ken Wyatt.

JONES: And it's incredible because the majority of conservatives clearly say that they agree with basically constitutional recognition for Indigenous people. But then they're getting caught up on this detail, which is something that is going to be after the fact. Very separate to what's in the constitution, as to exactly the enabling legislation that makes the Voice whatever form it is. It can be changed dramatically over time, but it seems like it's been scuttled basically on misinformation about that second step. It's going to be an interesting six weeks or so. I know it is about six weeks, I guess, before the 14 October. Interesting to talk to you this morning. Good luck on the hustling over the next six weeks. It's been an interesting chat, for sure. Kristy McBain, she's the Minister for Regional Development. Have a great day and stay warm. Cheers.

MCBAIN: Lovely to be with.