Transcript - Radio interview - ABC Western Plains NSW with Jess McGuire

JESS MCGUIRE: The $400 million-dollar regional Precincts and Partnerships Program has now opened for grant applications. And to tell us more about it, we're joined this morning by the Federal Minister for Regional Development, Local Government and Territories of Australia, Kristy McBain. Good morning, Minister.

KRISTY MCBAIN: Good morning, how are you?

MCGUIRE: Good. Lovely to speak to you again. I think we last had you on probably February, March, I think.

MCBAIN: That's right, when I was out in Dubbo, so great to be with you again.

MCGUIRE: It is great. And look, there's been lots happening since we last spoke, but let's talk about this grants program. What's the main goal of this Precincts and Partnerships Program?

MCBAIN: It's really about bringing levels of government and communities together in the decision-making process so, that we get your local priorities up and running. It's a $400 million dollar program. Super exciting, because there's two streams to this. One stream is to help that precinct development and planning stage. So, design, planning, consultation and business cases. We know it's really difficult for a lot of local councils and not-for-profits to find the money for that business case and design element. I'm really pleased that we're doing that through stream one. Then stream two is obviously to help deliver one or more aspects of that precinct plan, with the construction ready stuff. It’s really exciting that we're covering both bases because we want to be able to help communities get through the planning and master planning stage and get a business case so that they are shovel ready for the next stage.

MCGUIRE: And so, is it open to everyone in regional areas?

MCBAIN: It's open to all regional areas. Local governments, state governments, regional universities, incorporated, not-for-profits, Regional Development Australia committees. It really is about that ground up approach. We know that when we get local ideas and solutions coming forward, they work, because people have spent a significant amount of time planning that process out. Our government really wants to make sure that collaboration is key here - working with those local communities to help them deliver economic diversification, to deliver upgraded town centres or innovation precincts. Things that are going to change the trajectory of a region.

MCGUIRE: Well, when you talk about regional precincts, you're saying you want these to be places of purpose, they're going to have a specific need or a theme. So, what are some examples for people?

MCBAIN: For example, the Upper Hunter Innovation Precinct in Muswellbrook, which was about enhanced education and commercial activity for the community. A real innovation hub which was designed to facilitate flexible working spaces for startup businesses, those startup products, education and training, things like that, which will really create a precinct feel for a community. I look forward to some of that economic diversification that we want to see across the country.

MCGUIRE: Now, applying for grants, it can be a pretty intimidating thing if you aren't familiar with the process, is it going to be any help available, or would you say it's a pretty simple process?

MCBAIN: It is. One of the things that we consistently hear from people is that don't overcomplicate the grant process, especially when we're dealing with, for example, not-for-profit groups who may be volunteer run. We want to make this as easy as possible, and there is a whole bunch of information on the Grant Connect website about how you go about this process. We want to look at how we do things differently across the place and we're always happy to receive feedback. In the Growing Regions Program, we're taking a whole new approach and having a multi-party panel which assesses EOIs before it goes to the department for a full application process. We're trialling some new things in the grant space, to be as transparent as possible when it comes to local communities applying for these grants.

MCGUIRE: And what are you hearing from local communities about this? Are they excited about the prospect?

MCBAIN: There is a tonne of local communities who post-drought, bushfire floods and COVID, have really been thinking about what might make a difference for their town or their region. Really thinking about if we were to go through the same situation again, what else would we need to do as a town to make sure that we've got jobs that are still able to continue. That we've got a community that is more resilient and self-reliant. I've been really pleased hearing from a number of councils. I've met with nearly 250 councils over the last 15 months, both in their communities and in Canberra, and it's really pleasing to see the number of local councils and local community groups who have come together and said, look, this is the big project we think can change our community for the good. I know that there is a tonne of plans out there already ready to go, so really looking forward to working with those communities.

MCGUIRE: And how important is long term sustainability when it comes to these projects?

MCBAIN: It's really important that these projects are well supported in their communities, that there is a business case attached to it so that we can account to tax pays for the use of their dollars, that we're getting good outcomes right across the country. One of the big things that I am seeing is really innovative designs when it does come to some of these precinct developments, trialling new building methods or renewable technologies in the powering of these precincts. It'll be fantastic to see those applications coming forward with some of these new ideas.

MCGUIRE: We're with Kristy McBain, the Federal Minister for Regional Development. Now on Wednesday, the Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese, announced the date for the Voice referendum. And as a member of his Government and someone who spends a lot of time to talking to people in the regions, what are you hearing from the community? What's your feel?

MCBAIN: It's a referendum that we are going to on 14 October. For many people across our communities, it'll be the first referendum they've voted in. The last one was in 1999. For a lot of people, this will be their first time voting in a referendum. It's really important that we get accurate information about what the referendum is and what the question is. I urge people, if they want to understand the referendum process, to have a look at the Australian Electoral Commission website. There's a tonne of information there and accurate information on what the Voice proposal actually is on It's really important that we get accurate information, because there is a lot of misinformation out there. Essentially, the requests that have come to the then Turnbull Government was about constitutional recognition for First Nations people through a Voice to Parliament.

This isn't a political issue, it's one that's come from the grassroots, from the ground up. It will be decided by the Australian people and it's really important that we understand what that means for our communities. I've done, as you said, a lot of travel, I've spoken to a lot of communities. The overwhelming view that I get from people is that if the current system we have isn't working, then why don't we try something different? That is the very premise we're working with now. We cannot continue to spend billions of dollars and still have large Closing the Gap issues. Eight years less life expectancy, a much higher infant mortality during birth rate, worse education and housing outcomes. I know regional people continually fight to change the status quo. We fight for our people, we fight for our industries, we fight for our communities - to receive better services and this is no different. We want to see First Nations people having access to the same services that we do in metropolitan areas. We want to make sure that we look at Closing the Gap targets. That's what regional people will get. They know that the status quo is just not good enough.

MCGUIRE: You've written an OpEd and you say that the Voice is going to provide recognition and agency, accountability and meaningful change. How do you envision an Indigenous-led advisory body being able to ensure that happens without being beholden still to politicians?

MCBAIN: The advisory body that will be the Voice has a job in consulting with regional, rural and remote communities right across the country. We want to make sure that we are getting those local voices heard in decision-making. It's one of the reasons that we need to move to this system. We've got some amazing examples where when local communities come together, there is a huge change that is made. When we look at the Dhupuma School in Arnhem Land, when we listened to local people, we got better results. Attendance and test results improved, because there was a different targeted lesson program. Uniform and lunch offerings were changed that met the needs of the First Nations community. That school system has substantially changed, and we are seeing attendance and results dramatically change. If we listen to an advisory group and we make some changes, that also puts responsibility back to those communities. We've listened, we've done things differently. Please help us make sure that those changes are made within your own communities as well.

MCGUIRE: I think people's concerns are though that and this is just from conversations that we've been having, is that there's an assumption there that they will be listened to, but at the same time it's still just advisory?

MCBAIN: That’s right. We have advisory groups on a whole range of things from the Great Barrier Reef to women's economic participation, to domestic violence targets. We as Governments take advice from a range of advisory groups. We're lobbied frequently by a whole range of different people and industries. We're all accountable to our local communities. We engage with state and territory governments and local councils. This will be a similar process. The reason that we believe that there needs to be constitutional change is so that there's consistency, because we have seen Aboriginal Policy or Aboriginal bodies come and go with the stroke of a pen or a change of government. If we're serious about making a difference, then we need to be consistent in our approach.

MCGUIRE: Kristy McBain, Federal Minister for Regional Development, Local Government and Territories of Australia. Thank you so much for your time this morning. We really appreciate you talking to us, and we hope we get to have a chat to you again soon.

MCBAIN: Lovely to be with you. Have a great day.