Transcript - radio interview - ABC South East (NSW) with Simon Lauder

SIMON LAUDER, HOST: The big news in federal politics yesterday was the departure of Julian Leeser from the Coalition Opposition's frontbench. He resigned his portfolios of Coalition Attorney-General and Indigenous Affairs spokesman so he can campaign freely for a yes vote on the Indigenous Voice Referendum. To discuss this and other matters kicking around in federal politics, we're joined by the Member for Eden-Monaro, Labor's Kristy McBain, who's also the Minister for Regional Development, Territories and Local Government. Good morning.

KRISTY MCBAIN, MINISTER: Good morning, Simon.

SIMON LAUDER: What did you think of Julian Leeser throwing in his portfolios to campaign for a yes vote?

KRISTY MCBAIN: It speaks volumes to his conviction. He has obviously been a long-time advocate for a Voice to Parliament, and this now gives him the opportunity to go out and campaign for the things he's been talking about for close to a decade.

SIMON LAUDER: He's also said he doesn't think the Labor Party is doing enough to seriously engage with Coalition voters who want to support an Indigenous Voice, but have concerns over the model. Do you agree? Is that a warning Labor needs to heed if this referendum is going to be successful?

KRISTY MCBAIN: We know that a referendum will be held later this year, likely in the last quarter of the year, and we've got time to engage with communities, we've got time to be talking to people about the model that is going to be put up. At the moment there is a committee process about the wording of the referendum. We want to see what that committee comes back with, and then it will be full scale campaign mode.

I have to be clear, this isn't about what parliament wants or what a political party wants. This is about what we have been asked. Through the Uluru Dialogues, 1,200 people came together and decided that this was an appropriate way forward. We know through the Closing the Gap targets that we need to do better in terms of housing, in terms of education, social and health outcomes. This is the model in which a group of Indigenous Elders came together and determined would be the best way forward for their communities. This is us listening.

SIMON LAUDER: Do you think that parliamentary inquiry is going to do enough to answer questions from people who are worried about the ability of The Voice to make representations to the executive? We heard Julian Leeser say yesterday that he's worried about that particular part of it.

KRISTY MCBAIN: The committee will be looking at the wording of the referendum question, but the referendum simply gives you a power to make laws. If a referendum is determined in the yes vote, there'll be another committee process about what the legislation looks like. This isn't the end of any process, it's just the beginning of a process. Let's be clear, there are multitudes of advisory bodies that give recommendations to parliament and to executive government. We've got the Women's Economic Task Force which does that, we have the Economic Inclusion Committee that does that. There are a number of advisory bodies that provide advice to parliament and to the executive on a range of matters across the country, not just on this matter.

SIMON LAUDER: Okay, well, lots more to say about that in coming months. Kristy McBain, there's a letter this morning from 120 mayors and councillors across the nation, including some from here in the Southeast, calling on the Federal Government to legislate fuel efficiency standards, which would boost the supply of affordable electric vehicles. Is that something the Federal Government is considering?

KRISTY MCBAIN: It's something that my colleague Catherine King, Minister for Transport and Infrastructure is looking at, along with Minister Bowen, Minister for Climate Change and Energy. We know that there are currently no fuel emissions standards for Australia, and sometimes we end up with cars that aren't accessible in other parts of the world. They announced that they were looking at that last year, and that sits with them to talk to the Australian people and car manufacturers about.

SIMON LAUDER: Do you reckon there'll be an announcement in the Federal Budget next month?

KRISTY MCBAIN: I would think that would be a very career limiting move for me to announce any Budget measures on ABC South East, even though it's a fantastic station, before our Budget.

SIMON LAUDER: I can only try. Now the cost-of-living is something that the Federal Government will want to address in some way in the Federal Budget. And we saw yesterday data from the Australia Institute showing the top 10 per cent of income earners receive 93 per cent of the benefits of economic growth in recent years. We've heard calls on this program this morning for more Federal Government investment in social housing. And Will from Wandella wants to know if you would advocate for getting rid of negative gearing. What can you point to in terms of how the Albanese Government does intend to address this big problem of the widening gap between rich and poor?

KRISTY MCBAIN: There's no doubt that people are struggling with the cost-of-living. It's why we recalled Parliament in December last year to pass through measures to assist people with energy at the moment, which was going through the roof. At that time, we put a cap on gas companies because we didn't want them charging war time prices to Australian domestic customers, when that gas was coming out of our own reserves here. Unfortunately, the Coalition voted against measures to make energy cheaper.

There is going to be some changes in the Budget and the Treasurer has already pointed to reasonable and restrained cost-of-living measures that will be put in place, and no doubt there'll be a lot more to say on that. In terms of negative gearing, that policy went forward to the 2019 election and the Australian people voted against that. We said we would not take the same set of policies to the last election and we didn't. We won't be looking at negative gearing because the Australian people rejected that in 2019.

SIMON LAUDER: What about the proposed stage-three tax cuts, which would mean those earning $45,000 to $200,000 a year would pay the same tax rate? Is that in the same category of untouchable now?

KRISTY MCBAIN: We have said pretty clearly that we supported those measures, and we wouldn't be changing those. That remains the policy of the Labor party.

SIMON LAUDER: I know you're on the road a lot in your role as Minister for Local Government. Is it hard for you to spend as much time as you'd like in the electorate of Eden-Monaro?

KRISTY MCBAIN: Lucky for me, I live in the best part of the country in Eden-Monaro. I'm lucky to be home as much as I possibly can, and obviously with kids’ sports and a whole bunch of other commitments across the electorate, I'm still here quite a bit. I am obviously on the road a little bit. I spent last week in Gippsland talking to bushfire impacted communities about some of their projects moving forward, and making sure that they're better prepared for next time. I also discussed the energy transition that we're seeing. We know that across the Latrobe Valley and Gippsland there are a lot of coal power plants that are looking at transitioning at this point in time. It's fantastic to talk to them about the opportunities that will be coming their way with a transition of energy.

SIMON LAUDER: And there's a question that's come through on the text line. No name on this one, but it says at least four GP clinics in the Bega Valley are at risk of closure, and wanting me to ask you what Labor's plan is regarding the lack of doctors coming to rural areas, both qualified and GP registrars?

KRISTY MCBAIN: We know it's a big problem and has been a problem for many years now, but we have chosen to address the issue. We have put in place measures to waive HECS fees for GPs and nurse practitioners who go out to rural and remote communities. This is a saving of between $20,000 and $70,000 for people that come and practice in our rural and remote locations for a period of five years. We've got the Strengthening Medicare Taskforce, which is finalising its review to Government on how we can make sure that we're strengthening Medicare, and making sure that GPs get out to the locations that we need them in. Looking forward to that review being finalised.

SIMON LAUDER: Another question from Wayne, pointing to the Government's plan to prioritise the processing of permanent visa applications by overseas skilled workers. He's wondering how those people will be catered for when it comes to housing and other resources in the community. Is that going to be a challenge?

KRISTY MCBAIN: We know that housing is an issue right across the country. When I travel to regional areas, it's still one of the big issues that is brought up to me. It's very hard to attract workers when we don't have enough housing to put them in. We've put our Housing Australia Future Fund on the table, $10 billion to deal with social and affordable housing. We know that housing now needs to be in the remit of all three levels of Government. We want the state and territories to continue to do their work, but we want them to accelerate that. We want to make sure that planning systems are fit for the 21st century, and we want to contribute as a Federal Government. Hopefully, that will take care of some of the bottom end of the market, and we can get things moving again. It's vital that we're working together on housing, because we know that's the way we'll be able to attract more people to the region to take up the jobs we have.

SIMON LAUDER: Great to talk to you this morning. Kristy McBain. Thanks so much for your time.

KRISTY MCBAIN: Have a great day.

SIMON LAUDER: You too. Kristy McBain. She is the Member for Eden-Monaro with the Labor Party, and she's also the Minister for Regional Development, Territories and Local Government.