Transcript - TV interview - Sky News Regional Breakfast with Jaynie Seal

JAYNIE SEAL: Let's bring in Kristy McBain, Minister for Regional Development, Local Government and Territories. Minister, thank you so much for your time. Let's start off with that announcement on AEMO. What is firstly being done about delays, do you know, on the renewables?

KRISTY MCBAIN: Good morning, lovely to be with you again. It's really important that we are getting on with the job and that's what our community wants. After a decade of delay and denial in dealing with energy policy, our Government come in, we're working with the states and territories, trying to help them get their projects through. Just yesterday, the Energy Minister announced a package with South Australia and Victoria to supercharge renewable energy projects, especially firming renewable energy projects such as green hydrogen, pumped hydro and storage projects, which may be battery or other technologies. We do have to get on with the job, communities are asking us to do that. This report released by AEMO is no different to the last five reports it's released. There has been significant concern about our grid on the East Coast in particular for the last five reports. That's what happens when you have a decade of nothing being done. Four gigawatts of energy going out of our grid and only one gigawatt coming in. We need to get on with the job, and that's exactly what the Albanese Government is doing.

SEAL: Well, that is promising to hear Minister. What about for this season as we head into the drier and hotter conditions again, with El Nino coming on board, by the looks of it?

MCBAIN: That's right. Obviously, we're heading into a summer with drier, hotter conditions, which are going to be difficult for communities to handle. It's incumbent upon us all to look at our energy usage and it's also incumbent upon companies to make sure that they're managing the energy in our grids more effectively. We'll continue to work with the market, as well as with individuals about how we can make sure that we're managing this going forward.

SEAL: What about the idea of nuclear energy? I believe that it wouldn't help this time round if we didn't require extra avenues to explore, but it's certainly worth the conversation. Some politicians and experts are saying, what's your take on nuclear energy?

MCBAIN: Nuclear energy, according to all reports, is still the most expensive form of energy out there. Renewable energy is the cheapest form of energy. The other thing I think is really important for us to understand is that we live on the driest continent in the world. Nuclear requires a lot of water for cooling. We need to take into account a lot of other things, not just whether we should be having a conversation about nuclear, but it's about the resources we actually have right here with us. Sometimes water which is required in these plants is not plentiful across Australia. That conversation, whilst it might be well intentioned by some, by others I'm not sure that it is well intentioned. That is a much longer prospect and a conversation that Australia hasn't wanted to enter into, and one that I think is decades off. We have the opportunity right now to change our energy mix through renewable energy. We've got projects that are already underway or in the planning pipeline. Projects that will make an immediate difference to our energy mix, not something that may be decades away. I know I'll have people say, oh, but what about small modular reactors? Look, there aren't many small modular reactors across the world. That is still technology that is being developed and not settled as yet. So, again, I think that conversation is decades away. We need to deal with this now, and that's why we're proceeding with renewable energy into our grid.

SEAL: I appreciate what you're saying there as well, Minister, but we're looking at small modular reactors, for example, being implemented across parts of Canada. For example, Ontario leading the way, and also in the UK. And yes, potentially decades away. But I guess what I'm hearing from many people on all sides of politics and farmers, of course, I know you were at one of the Bush summits a week or so ago and most people were saying that they are not against renewables. Let's get back to renewables for a second. But they're more concerned about the transmission lines and it being done not the way that they were expecting it to. It's being rushed for some people.

MCBAIN: Absolutely. I've recently been to Ontario and sat down with the Premier of Ontario and had some discussions about nuclear energy. It only makes up a very small percentage of their energy grid. Pumped hydro is still the biggest form of electricity generation in Ontario, and those small modular reactors aren't being rolled out widespread. There are a few of them, but it is still a newer technology. I agree that there does need to be some work in our communities, especially with renewable energy projects. There needs to be a best-practice guide. That's why I'm incredibly pleased that the Australian Energy Infrastructure Commissioner has been working with communities, especially around power lines. Some of this stuff has not been well done by our companies. In my own electorate, in the Snowy Valleys around Tumut, we had the situation where Transgrid had been sending out letters to farmers only days after they defeated the Black Summer Bushfires that were impacting their properties. It is not good or constructive communication to send out a letter and say your property might be impacted. It's incumbent upon these companies to be working with the community, and that includes making sure that it is more than just the obligatory tick the box letter. It's getting down on the ground, it's working with the local councils, it's working with farming groups, it's working with the wider community, about what they want to see to make sure that we don't have, for example, prime agricultural land being divided up. 

We know transmission lines already exist right around the country. What we need to make sure of is that these renewable energy projects and transmission lines bring a value and a benefit to the communities that host them, as well as to the rest of the Australian community who get the benefit from the transmission of the energy. There is some work to do there, and I'm really pleased that our Government has taken that on. This is an issue that has existed for years. It’s not a new issue that the Labor Government is presiding over because we're pushing forward renewable energy projects. It's existed for years. It's been brought to the attention of both the previous Morrison Government and the previous Berejiklian and Perrottet Government. To the former NSW Government's credit, they made some significant changes in their legislation so that those farmers that are hosting transmission lines, for example, will receive annual payments instead of one lump sum. There has been some work done, but there is more work to do with our communities to make sure that there is a benefit to those regional communities.

SEAL: All right, Minister, let's change topics because we're running out of time, and I want to ask you a little bit more. Applications are open for the Federal Government's 400-million-dollar regional Precincts and Partnerships grants Program. Can you tell us about the program?

MCBAIN: We're trying to do things differently and be transparent about how we want to spend money in communities. We really want our communities working together. The regional Precincts and Partnerships Program is open to local councils, not-for-profits and state governments. We want to see collaboration, we want to see people coming together to say, look, this precinct could be something quite extraordinary for our community. Or we want to create a partnership to drive economic change. There are two streams - one which will allow those communities to work on the business case and get themselves shovel ready for a future application. There's also a stream where those communities who are shovel ready can apply for dollars to actually get that project off the ground. It's $400 million. It's going to really focus on place-making for communities. Collaboration is key here. We want to see entities and governments coming together to make meaningful difference in our communities. The guidelines are up on our website, and I encourage all of those communities to really go in and have a look at it. This is the game changer that we need to see for so many of our regional communities.

SEAL: All right, and Australians will head to the polls October 14 for the nation's first referendum in more than 20 years. The Prime Minister has started the six-and-a-half-week campaign ahead of the referendum for an Indigenous Voice to Parliament. Minister, Newspoll shows at this stage an overall yes at 43 per cent, an overall no at 46 per cent, and 11 per cent undecided. What are you hearing?

MCBAIN: Now that the date has been set, the campaigns will kick off in earnest. What I am hearing from a lot of community members is that they want to get factual information and I encourage people to get that information from and from the AEC website about how the process will run. It's really important that we are getting factual information as we head towards the referendum. For many people my age and younger, we haven't yet voted in a referendum, so it's going to be a new process for a lot of voters out there who haven't had the opportunity to do this before. The overwhelming thing that I am hearing is that if we are serious about changing the status quo and making a difference in the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, then this is the process for us to do that. It is long overdue for us to recognise First Nations people in the Constitution. If we're serious about making a practical difference on the ground with Closing the Gap targets, then this is our opportunity to try something different. Over many, many years, there's been a number of things that have been tried and then ripped up and tried and ripped up again. What Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities need and what my own local Aboriginal elders tell me they need, is a consistent approach to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander policy. The Voice gives that chance because it will be a consistent theme across governments. It won't be able to be ripped up unless there is another referendum. That’s incredibly important, if we want to make a practical difference, we need to provide consistency.

SEAL: All right, Kristy McBain, we have to wrap it up there. Minister for Regional Development, Local government and Territories. Thank you so much for your time.

MCBAIN: Have a great day.