TV interview with Matthew Doran, ABC Afternoon Briefing

MATTHEW DORAN, HOST: While Canberra is the seat of Federal Government it’s also playing host to other Government representatives this week, local shires and councils making tracks for Canberra for the Australian Council of Local Government. The Minister with the ear of mayors and councillors across the country is Kristy McBain. She joined us earlier.

Kristy McBain, welcome to Afternoon Briefing. Before we get on to some of the issues you’ve been discussing with local council representatives, it would be remiss of me not to ask you about what’s been a pretty bruising week here in Parliament. How do you think viewers will be viewing this debate?

KRISTY MCBAIN, MINISTER: Thank you and good afternoon, Matt. It has been a particularly bruising week in Australian Parliament House and there will be people across the country who will be gobsmacked after another sexual harassment issue that has arisen in the Parliament itself. It is perfectly fine for questions to be asked of Parliamentarians in the House or in the Senate of the news of the day. They should always be done respectfully and based on facts. This week Question Time at times has veered off into fantasy or make‑believe. It’s been an interesting week, but it will be very difficult for many people now that another allegation of sexual harassment has arisen from Australia’s Parliament House.

DORAN: A lot of the discussion is getting back to whether anything has really improved in this building since these sorts of issues were raised. In your short time here, have you seen things improve?

MCBAIN: Absolutely in my time. I’ve been elected since 2020 and some of the instances and stories I’ve heard have not been my experience whatsoever. The culture has dramatically shifted over a period of time and I was elected during that middle of COVID, effectively, so things were very different in the building then. They have been very different since the change of Government and the Respect@Work report being implemented in full. My experience in Parliament House has been very different to perhaps others, especially in light of allegations made by two Senators at this point.

DORAN: Have you ever seen any of your colleagues acting inappropriately?

MCBAIN: No, and as I said, in my time, Parliament House has been a very different place. With the number of COVID lockdown periods, the building was closed to the public. There weren’t any events happening and even when events have been happening afterwards, they haven’t been to perhaps the same level that events had previously been held at. My experience in the building has been substantially different than perhaps others, especially in light of those two allegations this week.

DORAN: Let’s go to matters in your portfolio. You’ve been discussing the lay of the land with local council representatives today. Maybe a bit biased being a former mayor yourself but why is it important to have those discussions with local councils?

MCBAIN: Local government is a level of government that’s in every town and village across the country. They provide services and infrastructure across the country and in so many cases, they are responsible for the majority of services and infrastructure in our towns and villages. It is really important that we are listening to what local people are saying through their elected representatives at the local level. It’s one of the reasons that we reinstated local government having a seat at the National Cabinet. It’s important that we’re listening to this sector of government.

We have put local government representatives on a number of advisory committees because we know that having that local input is especially important, and we have re‑established the Australian Council of Local Government for the first time in 10 years. The experience I’ve had during the course of this week, last night and today, has been that those representatives are happy to be engaged back in the sector. They feel hopeful that they’ve got a Federal Government that is listening to them and their concerns, and that we are looking to work with them collaboratively to address some of the issues that they are seeing emerge in their own local communities and making sure that our policies can accurately reflect some of the experiences that they’re having.

DORAN: Is it a two‑way street? Is it just you listening to the concerns of local councils or are you also voicing concerns from further up the Government food chain on issues where you want to see movement? There’s a lot of discussion, for example, on problems in the housing market which need the cooperation of local councils on things like land supply.

MCBAIN: This isn’t a one‑way dialogue. It’s absolutely two‑way communication. While we are listening to local councils about a range of their challenges and their opportunities, we are also talking to them about some of the things that we’re seeing at our level of government as well and how we want to work together to make sure that we are addressing some of those challenges and opportunities.

Today we’ve announced $100 million in dealing with community infrastructure and making that more energy efficient. We know that the cost of living is having an impact on families across the country. We also know it impacts institutions like local councils. This $100 million fund will work with our local councils and make sure that they can be as energy efficient as possible, whilst reducing their carbon footprint. It’s something that local councils have been advocating for, for some time. We are now acting on that.

There are a whole range of other things that councils want us to work with them on. Housing is obviously one of those, and that really does involve the three levels of Government working together. We’ve got skin in the game through NHFIC, through trying to get the Housing Australia Future Fund through and working on action plans for homelessness. We know the states are committed through their dollars for social and affordable housing and we want to see planning changes to make it easier for our local councils to get through the DA process and unlock housing supply. It’s really important that we are continuing to work together in that respect, and I’m looking forward to Planning Ministers from across the country coming together with local councils and Local Government Ministers to see what we can do to streamline that process of housing supply.

DORAN: On those energy grants that you have just mentioned, how transparent will that process be? It’s fair to say that grant programs at a Commonwealth level don’t exactly have the best reputation after the last couple of years. How clear will it be for councils to know how they apply for funding for project in their areas?

MCBAIN: It’s a $100 million fund, which will be doubled. We’re asking for a 50/50 contribution from those local councils because we want everyone to have skin in the game on this. It is important that the process is done transparently and we came to Government saying that there needed to be more transparency and integrity in these things. Those guidelines will be worked on and the fund will be opened by the end of the year. It’s fantastic that we are taking what councils are telling us seriously. They do have a challenge dealing with some of their community infrastructure – in particular, swimming pools, community halls, libraries – with the escalating costs of electricity. We want to make sure that we’re working with them and this fund is a way for us to do that, and those guidelines will be worked on and available very shortly.

DORAN: Minister, thank you for joining us on Afternoon Briefing.

MCBAIN: Thank you.