Transcript - radio interview, Sounds of the Mountains 96.3 with David Eisenhauer

DAVID EISENHAUER, HOST: On his retirement from Tim at Toyota yesterday, as the sun starts to shine a little bit across the top end of the Eden-Monaro electorate, it’s a big territory. And lots of – you nearly need a hovercraft to get around in some of it at the moment.

We’re speaking this morning, as we do on a Thursday morning, with member for Eden-Monaro, of course, Minister Kristy McBain. Kristy, thank you very much for your time today.

KRISTY MCBAIN, MINISTER: My pleasure. Great to be with you.

DAVID EISENHAUER: On what’s turning out at the moment – the sun’s just started to break through the clouds a little bit here. A little bit different in Canberra perhaps.

KRISTY MCBAIN: No, exactly the same thing happening here - sun’s just sort of breaking through the clouds a little bit. So it will be interesting to see how the day progresses. But it’s a really tough time for a lot of people across New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania. And, you know, we’ve been through our bushfire episode and we’ve been through floods as well, and I’m sure everyone in our community is thinking about those most impacted at this point in time.

DAVID EISENHAUER: Yeah, look, I know the state has announced 50 million towards the road repairs. We were talking yesterday with member for Coota, of course, Steph Cooke, Minister for Emergency Services in the State Government, and that will go a little way to helping out. I mean, there’s a lot of roads affected. But it’s just remarkable the amount of damage done, Kristy, around the district. And it continues – like, we don’t – this forecast is pretty well stuck into the system. Burrinjuck is spilling, Blowering is spilling. There’s a bit of water about.

KRISTY MCBAIN: There really is. There’s a lot of water about. And we’ve already got a soaked landscape, which is going to be really tough for a lot of people. And I know our Senator Murray Watt, who’s the Minister for Emergency Management has 500 ADF troops deployed across the country at this point in time. And we’ve been providing those immediate disaster relief payments out to people – I think $3 billion has already gone out in those immediate disaster relief payments. And those are hardship grants to members of our community.

So, you know, we have to be there for the long haul, and we know local governments, especially local councils, are really feeling the impact with all of the impacts on their roads but also sporting grounds and recreational facilities. So it’s going to be a different time for some of those communities.

DAVID EISENHAUER: It certainly will. Kristy, amongst our emergency service management side, when we’re looking at whether it’s individual home managing what they’re doing when there’s a fire coming or a flood or when the emergency services are relying on something – and we’re going to talk budget this morning. And something that came out of the budget, some extra dollars, where we’re talking improvements in infrastructure and communications around our regional areas, Kristy. Tell us more about that from the budget announcement.

KRISTY MCBAIN: Yeah, look, it’s so important that we listen to what communities are telling us. And we know from the aftermath of the Black Summer bushfires that we were all talking about connectivity. You know, we’re told to look at the Fires Near Me app. We’re told to check weather updates, you know, which is all well and good, but sometimes you can’t actually access that. So we’re putting $656 million to boost mobile phone coverage across regional and rural communities, especially along those transport corridors.

And we know from the Black Summer bushfire royal commission and the New South Wales bushfire inquiry that they made recommendations to start dealing with those black spots on our major transport corridors. So that measure in the budget starts to deal with those issues and those election commitments I made about mobile phone upgrades in Talbingo, along the Snowy Mountains Highway, on the Monaro Highway, the Princes Highway, is all going to be dealt with as part of the budget.

But we’re also investing $2.4 billion to upgrade NBN capability. We want to provide more premises, more small businesses with access to fibre to the premises. So across Eden-Monaro that’s 17,000 homes and small businesses who will be provided that capability. And at the same time we’re also dealing with some upgrades to the fixed wireless network which will alleviate some of the satellite congestion. So taking actions on all fronts to deal with that connectivity issue in regional, rural and remote Australia.

DAVID EISENHAUER: And you mentioned Talbingo. It’s had since the fires – or even before the fires there were some issues – but there’s been some issues with the tower up there on Boraig Station. There’s a generator up there now ticking over, and we’ve sort of strengthened our power supply issues as far as our telecommunications, but we’ve got these towers that Snowy put up along the highway there particularly for 2.0, for communications with their trucks, for the monitoring systems and things. But that is like a two-edged sword in a way because it also helps out the community when they’re travelling too. It’s like a spin-off benefit. Are we going to see more of those towers through the mountains, Kristy, to improve comms in the high country?

KRISTY MCBAIN: Yeah, what we’ve also put a measure in the budget - $20 million to actually do a proper, independent audit of mobile phone black spots across the country. And what we’re doing is actually utilising the capabilities of Australia Post. We have Australia Post’s trucks and vans that traverse our countryside delivering mail to post offices and parcels to people’s homes. So what we’re going to do is utilise their – those people that are driving them to actually give us a proper assessment of black spots across the country.

So I’m looking forward to making sure that that is done so that we can work collaboratively with communities on the best solutions for them as we move forward. Because we know sometimes it’s not the big macro tower that’s going to work in some communities because of topography; sometimes it might be a series of repeater stations, sometimes it might be a small cell that deals with the immediate vicinity. So we really need to look at ground-proofing those black spots and then also looking at what technologies are most appropriate for any particular area.

DAVID EISENHAUER: We talk from time to time, Kristy, about the Brindabella Road. And it’s been talked about ’30, the 1930s it was discussed what to do with this link between these district – the Tumut River district – and, of course, the city of Canberra, where you are at the moment. There was an announcement in the budget for Brindabella Road as well.

KRISTY MCBAIN: Yeah, there sure was. I obviously supported in the election some safety upgrades along Brindabella Road, and that has now been confirmed in the budget - $17.4 million. And we will work with council to make sure that we deal with some of those safety aspects of the Brindabella Road. I mean, I’ve been on it – it’s a beautiful drive. It’s some fantastic scenery and could really be a fantastic tourist drive, but, you know, we need to make sure that it is safe. And that is one of the first priorities of this government – is dealing with some of those roads we know can get quite dangerous, especially with the amount of wet weather we’ve had.

DAVID EISENHAUER: There’s been a lot of focus on that Brindabella Road linking communities. I was one of the [indistinct] there over the years and a lot of locals have worked on that concept of getting that into a much more trafficable state. As you said, it’s a beautiful drive, but if you’re not – if you haven’t been on it, it’s fraught with a few issues here and there. So a few dollars certainly will help out there Kristy. And we might see a little bit of extra traffic on that, particularly tourism traffic coming in and going to – I mean, you’ve got Wee Jasper and the caves and all those beautiful spots up there. The reserves, some lovely areas. It’s a very, very important road, I think.

KRISTY MCBAIN: I think what we are seeing is more people who want to get out and explore their own backyard. Get into the regions.


KRISTY MCBAIN: Get into the regions and it’s fantastic to see those people taking the opportunity to do that instead of, you know, jumping on a plane and travelling to overseas destinations. So, you know, we would obviously encourage more and more people to hang locally and see what’s in their own backyard. And, you know, something that my own family has done is holiday at home – you know, go and stay in a local accommodation house and pretend like we’re tourists for a few days, because you kind of take for granted what you’ve got around you at times because, you know, life can be busy with work and school and kids activities. And, you know, all of those events that sometimes we don’t take advantage of what we have right around us.

DAVID EISENHAUER: Isn’t that the truth. And we say that a lot of when we say visit our visitors’ centres. If you’re a local, they’re not just visitors centres these places; they’re a wealth of knowledge and it’s an interesting journey ahead there. So some safety upgrades, Kristy.

We’ve got to talk about the power issues. Labor promised a $275 power cut – a cut in the power bills. Not a power cut – we don’t want to talk about them. But cutting the cost of energy, and yet we’re going to see maybe as we go through an increase of more than 50 per cent. What’s the budget going to deliver to help alienate – not alienate people from having power like we see in the UK, but to try and manage those bills a little bit more? We’re not going to have those options that we’re reading about from time to time over in the UK of people simply just not turning their heaters on because they can’t afford it.


DAVID EISENHAUER: Fifty per cent is a big jump.

KRISTY MCBAIN: Yeah, it is a big jump. I think over the last 10 years there has been a 241 per cent increase in electricity bills, which is quite enormous and probably speaks to the fact that, you know, over that 10 years we haven’t had a set energy policy – we’ve had 22 separate energy policies. We did our modelling in 2021 before the Ukraine war started. And what we said was by putting in place the Powering Australia plan that we would reduce electricity bills by $275 by 2025. We know it’s going to take time to bring on the cheapest form of electricity into our grid – and that is renewable energy. We know it’s going to take time to start dealing with some of the issues we’ve got with transmission across the place, which is why that particular promise was made.

But what we have done in the budget is deal with some responsible cost of living measures, because we don’t want to add to inflation, which is one of the things that we are seeing. We don’t want to hand out dollars but then increase inflation and continue this spiral that we’re in. So what we’ve done is passed measures such as the cheaper medicines initiative which will look at reducing the cost of those medicines from $42.50 per script down to $30, the largest reduction since the PBS was introduced by Labor almost 70 years ago.

We know when you look at the statistics across Eden-Monaro that around a third of our population are reliant on ongoing medicine for chronic or debilitating illnesses. So that’s an immediate saving in the hip pocket for those Australians who need it.

We’ve also put forward our cheaper child care plan, and we know that child care has been one of the fastest rising costs across the economy. So what we are doing is saying we know that it’s tough and we know some families need to be able to work more, and here we are providing that direct cost of living measure to make sure that people can get back into the workforce when they need to and do so at a rate that is going to be affordable to them.

So the other big one – and we’ve talked about it quite a lot – is housing. You know, we’ve got to start dealing with the housing crisis that we have. And our government is taking a lead on it. We’ve decided that we cannot rely just on the market to deal with it. We cannot rely just on state and territory governments, that we want to partner with people. We want to partner with industry and with state and territory governments and affordable housing suppliers and local councils where appropriate to make sure that we are getting more supply into our system.

So we have on top of our $10 billion Housing Australia Future Fund committed an additional $350 million and we’re really keen to make sure that we’re building houses, and we’ve set ourselves a target of a million houses along with state and territory governments and the private sector over the next five years.

DAVID EISENHAUER: Looking at that, Kristy, will it be more – when you think about our housing crisis and people’s affordable cost of living, will these be affordable rentals, low-income families that are looking out to try and find somewhere, I know it’s almost an impossible mission to find places. And we’re talking maybe – what are we at – 10 or 20,000. The state has got to match it as well. There’s a bit of maths in behind all of this, but will it be more affordable housing?

KRISTY MCBAIN: Absolutely. So we are looking at working with state and territory governments on the social housing aspect, private providers around the affordable housing aspect. We know we’ve got providers currently in our communities. So we want to work with them to make sure that we’ve got affordable rentals in our system.

What we are hearing from people is especially those frontline workers can no longer afford to rent where they’re working. And we need to change that because we can’t have our communities missing those vital workers – you know, ambulance drivers, teachers, nurses, let alone the retail workers, our hospitality workers, all of those people who provide the right mix that we need in our communities to make sure that we get the goods and services that we need.

DAVID EISENHAUER: Kristy, it’s heading towards news time. Last one for today because there’s so much that you and I will talk about in the coming weeks with the budget. But the Mitigation Resilience Fund, when we talk about our emergency services now – I mean in this instance we’re looking at recovery from flooding and so forth – what’s in the budget for that?

KRISTY MCBAIN: Yeah, look, we’ve committed an additional $3 billion into disaster recovery. We know that this is probably not going to be the last event that we see this year or the start of next year, and we need to make sure we’ve got provisions there ready to go. And we’re already preparing ourselves for that.

But what we also did was repurpose that failed previous recovery fund - $4 billion which didn’t do a single mitigation project. And we know our communities are saying, “We want to prepare ourselves better for next time. We want to make ourselves more resilient. We want to mitigate against disasters as much as we can.” So we’re also committing a billion dollars over five years into those mitigation and resilience projects to prepare our communities for those potential natural disasters that come next. You know, the evacuation centres, the cyclone shelters, fire breaks, flood levees, all of those things which right now we have communities across this country saying we need.

DAVID EISENHAUER: My word. And as you said, Kristy, rightly so. I think we’re not seeing the end of these natural disasters. I mean, the 19-20 fires kicked us off pretty well, and these flood events we see, particularly in some areas like Echuca and places like that, there’s a lot of work to go to prepare for the next time. And like the fires, there will be a next time too.


DAVID EISENHAUER: Kristy, it’s news time. There’s more things to chat about. I’d love to talk about a couple of the cuts there with agricultural shows and things like that. So we catch up next Thursday at the same time to have a bit of a yarn?

KRISTY MCBAIN: Perfect. I’ll see you then.

DAVID EISENHAUER: Really appreciate your time. Thanks, Kristy. All the best for the day ahead.