Address to Australian Rural Leadership Foundation dinner

KRISTY MCBAIN, MINISTER: It is a real honour to be here tonight. I’m incredibly grateful for the invitation and I want to start by acknowledging the traditional custodians of the lands on where we meet – the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people. And please, please eat. Don’t let it get cold.

I’d also like to acknowledge in the room tonight the Honourable David Littleproud, Sir Peter Cosgrove and Lady Lyn Cosgrove, my good friend Shane Fitzsimmons. It’s really lovely to be able to work with you, Shane, that doesn’t involve RFS uniforms and fires. Tim Fairfax and Gina Fairfax, John Harvey, Michael Carol the chair and his board and a big thank you to Matt Linnegar for his introduction.

I want to say first and foremost I’m really proud to be part of a Labor Government that is committed to enshrining an Indigenous voice in our constitution. And I really look forward to this organisation and all the regional people right across this country playing a significant role in that vote that is coming.

I want to acknowledge the dedication that the Australian Rural Leadership Foundation has made over the last 30 years to this practice of leadership right across our country. And their work is demonstrated in the 2022 impact report which is being launched tonight. There’s a copy on all of your tables. There will be a quiz later, and I look forward to you answering those questions.

But it underlines the really positive contribution that the foundation makes to equipping regional leaders to be change-makers in their communities. The outcomes delivered by the foundation across three decades are definitely worth celebrating.

It’s an honour to be here tonight - As a Minister and as a former Mayor of the Bega Valley Shire I know how vital it is that regional leaders are supported and listened to by governments. By listening to our regional leaders who have lived experience we can together tackle the tough challenges and deliver on our shared experiences and aspirations.

Our Government is listening to local leaders and in June the Prime Minister announced the Australian Local Government Association will again attend meetings of the National Cabinet and the Council of Federal Financial Relations annually. In the lead-up to the Jobs and Skills Summit I convened roundtables and discussed with key regional local government stakeholders some of the big issues facing rural and regional Australia. And yesterday our government’s first Budget outlined the foundational steps we are taking in our investment approach to Australia’s regions.

We’re serious about bringing regional leaders to the table. We’re serious about talking to our communities and working in genuine partnership on place-based investments. Our regions are incredibly unique. They’re incredibly diverse, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach for us. But we do have to work with each other to solve the challenges and harness our opportunities. Empowering local leaders to bring their own views to government, to have the confidence, skills and pathways to represent and advocate for their communities is key, and the work of the Australian Rural Leadership Foundation is so important to this.

Through initiatives like Leading Australian Resilient Communities program, the foundation’s working will a range of partners to provide up to 26 leadership scholarships across 10 regions, something that we are really proud to be supporting. And some of this valuable work is being undertaken in my own electorate of Eden-Monaro.

In September the first session of the Regenerate Leadership Program was done in the Snowy Valleys. From what I’ve heard, this workshop was an overwhelming success. And one thing that struck me and something that Matt just said before, some of the feedback received particularly from a lady called Dee Harmer in Khancoban. She said she didn’t consider herself as a leader while doing the program and it was an eye-opening experience. And what that said resonated a lot with me. Because leadership isn’t a title, isn’t a job position; it is something that people do day in, day out and sometimes without realising they’re doing it.

I never thought a girl from Merimbula who went to two public education facilities that were quite small would ever end up as a member of parliament or would end up as Minister for Regional Development, Local Government and Territories. It’s quite extraordinary to think that someone who perhaps never had the biggest political aspirations is standing in front of you tonight as a Member of a Labor Government and a Minister of the Government.

But the ripple effect that I’ve seen in my community already – a community of about 6,000 people – is that now the two schools that I went to are talking about politics and they’re talking about parliament and they’re having discussions about what politics means in their everyday lives. And people stop me at Woolworths and they ask me what it’s like in Parliament House. They talk to me at my kids’ swimming lessons about who really is an idiot and who really is worthwhile talking to. But those conversations weren’t happening before, so that ripple-effect is serious.

And I want to give a shout-out to all those local leaders who are tonight and will be for weeks to come in communities in New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania dealing with floods. Community members who are working together to build flood levees, communities who have come together to sandbag, communities who are helping others through what is probably one of the worst times of their life, and community members who are stepping up, engaging with politicians, engaging with support agencies on behalf of those who can’t find the strength to do that at the moment.

Right across regional Australia there are people who don’t see themselves as leaders. But that is exactly what they’re doing. And this is why the work that you’re doing is incredibly important because it provides people an understanding that leadership isn’t a title. Leadership is something that some people find themselves in, step up to do and some people really excel at it and get it together. But I am most proud that my government is committed to ensuring our ambition of no-one held back, no-one left behind is realised right across the country. And yesterday’s Budget is a good first step in demonstrating our commitment of being an honest, open and transparent government.

I look forward to continuing working with the foundation into the fourth decade to support Australia’s rural leaders, and I really do hope you all read this impact report because it’s so incredibly important for all of regional Australia.