Transcript - radio interview - Gippsland FM 104.7, Breakfast with Ken Thompson

KEN THOMPSON, HOST: It's eighteen minutes after seven. Joining us now on the line is Kristy McBain. She's the Minister for Regional Development, Local Government and Territories, and she's been meeting with the Gippsland councils. Good morning, Kristy.

KRISTY MCBAIN, MINISTER: Good morning. How are you? 

KEN THOMSPON: Now, you've been meeting with Gippsland Councils, or are currently in the process of doing that. What's that all about? 

KRISTY MCBAIN: I’ve got the fantastic job of being Minister for Regional Development and Local Government. I get to travel to regional Australia to talk with local businesses, community organisations and councils about some of the issues that they're having, some of the solutions they're seeing in their own communities, and some of the big projects they've got going on.

I've been able to meet with local councils across Gippsland about some of their priority projects, about the offshore wind that is coming this way, and about how they're working together to do the One Gippsland organisation, to really push a whole-of-region approach to a range of issues.

KEN THOMSPON: So as a Minister in the Federal Government, what do you hope to achieve nationally as a result of this? 

KRISTY MCBAIN: Regional development is a lot more than just regional grants. It's about how communities function socially and economically. It’s making sure that we have access to good connectivity through communications, and road and rail. It’s really important that we are utilising some of that local knowledge and local solutions when we're developing nation building policy. We’re already seeing this policy, such as our National Reconstruction Fund and the Powering the Regions Fund, which show our priority to make more things here and to get more jobs out into our regions.

KEN THOMSPON: So I think you've met with Latrobe City yesterday? 

KRISTY MCBAIN: That's right. Latrobe City and South Gippsland councils. I've also met with East Gippsland Shire, and I've had a zoom meeting with Wellington Shire and Baw Baw Shire. I’ve met with about six or seven councils in total across Gippsland.

KEN THOMSPON: And are there any emerging themes that have come out of that? 

KRISTY MCBAIN: Clear emerging themes are obviously housing, it's a big issue right across the region. The lack of availability of affordable rentals, especially when we've got job vacancies across the place. Also, the transition to renewable energy sources has been one of the big themes for a lot of the councils. How they can work with some of the companies exploring new options for existing power plants, and also the offshore wind potential.

KEN THOMSPON: And to me that's certainly in the Latrobe Valley, where we reside, we're well aware of this transition which has been on since the closure of the Hazelwood power station, but the recent issues around the paper mill as well have come to the fore.

I was running a training session last night – and people are saying they can't even buy copy paper at the moment, it's very difficult to get. So does the Federal Government appreciate some of those issues, or are they more residing at the state level? 

KRISTY MCBAIN: It really requires all governments to be working together when we see closures like that. The loss of 200 jobs at the paper mill is obviously going to be very disappointing for a number of families, but also the wider community. It takes dollars out of communities, at a time where we want people spending their money in our communities.

It really requires us to work together. The approach to the Albanese Labor Government since it was elected in May last year is really about collaboration. It's one of the reasons I do these trips. We need to make sure that we've got good functioning relationships with local councils, state government, all the way to federal government, because all of us need to be rowing in the same direction.

We've obviously had quite a tough two years on the back of multiple natural disasters and COVID-19. We need to learn the lessons of COVID-19 and make more things here, and get our own supply chains, so we need to be working together at a time like this.

KEN THOMSPON: I think all power to you on that note. We're definitely supportive of those kind of traits that bring the ability for us to sort of manage our own economic growth to some extent rather than relying on overseas. But it must be a difficult task for you - you've got to get across every council in the country? 

KRISTY MCBAIN: There's 546 of them across the country and I've met with close to 200 now. There's always some emerging themes, regardless of where you are in the country. Local councils at the moment are grappling with financial sustainability, and just like state and federal government, their budget is under pressure.

We know that housing is becoming a big issue. Disaster response and recovery, which hasn't normally been the bailiwick of local councils, is now becoming part of their core business. Finding ways to support councils and communities during a natural disaster, and after a natural disaster is front and centre in my mind when I travel around.

When I was the mayor, we had nine declared natural disasters, so it would be incredibly tough for the small communities in particular to deal with those issues.

KEN THOMSPON: So you're the Member for Eden‑Monaro, which I think is often called the bellwether seat of Australian, isn’t it?

KRISTY MCBAIN: That's right, and we border the beautiful electorate of Gippsland.

KEN THOMSPON: Correct. I was going to call you far-East Gippsland up there in Eden‑Monaro.


KEN THOMSPON: But how do you balance being a Minister with a rather challenging portfolio, and just being the local member and supporting your own constituents? 

KRISTY MCBAIN: It's a big job, and you've got to spend a tonne of time in your own electorate, and then time travelling to other communities to understand their pressing issues. It is a bit of a juggle at times, but this trip in particular as you've just said, is only next door to us. We've had three beautiful days travelling through wider Gippsland, and we'll head home later this afternoon.

KEN THOMSPON: And so what would you say has been the highlight? 

KRISTY MCBAIN: I'm a former Gippslander, so I love coming here. It’s been fantastic seeing some of the changes, such as an emphasis on beautification across some of the CBDs in Gippsland, but also understanding that there is still some big priorities to take place with bridge strengthening.

I was out in Leongatha yesterday announcing over $3 million to strengthen one of the bridges there on the main freight route, which is a fantastic investment. Seeing some of the big things being built in Bairnsdale, for example, the new netball and hockey centre there, which looks fantastic. It's going to be a really big selling point for that community to attract regional events.

It’s been fantastic being here, but obviously the main game for so many people across Gippsland is making sure that the economy goes from strength to strength in getting that transition right, as we deal with the closures of Yallourn and Loy Yang over the next decade or so.

KEN THOMSPON: I think you're dead right in getting the infrastructure to help, and I guess try and reduce the regulatory burden, but to me it's the leadership that's required to bring sustainable jobs rather than just prettying up sporting ovals and other community facilities, because they don't create sustainable long‑term jobs that deliver economic outcomes for the region. So hopefully that's the piece that you're going to fill over the period of your role as the Minister.

KRISTY MCBAIN: I look forward to working with the community. I've sat down with the Latrobe Valley Authority yesterday and got a really good understanding of some of the work that's already being done in this space. Plus the Federation University, to understand some of the work that they're hoping to put in place to reskill people, and look at taking opportunities that perhaps don't exist now, but might exist soon into the future.

It's been a fantastic trip to really understand some of the driving issues and pressures, but also the opportunities that exist across Gippsland as well.

KEN THOMSPON: Fantastic. Thank you for your time this morning, Kristy. It's been great to have you on, and for you to come and visit the region. We hope you come again, and hope you remember you come from Gippsland, now that you've told us.

KRISTY MCBAIN: I got to go to my old primary school yesterday, so I was very excited to talk to the kids there.

KEN THOMSPON: Very nostalgic, I'm sure. All right. Well, thank you once again, and safe travels home.

KRISTY MCBAIN: Thank you very much. Have a great Easter.