Transcript - Gippsland Regional Development Priorities Breakfast

KRISTY MCBAIN, MINISTER: Thank you very much for having me. I want to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the lands we are meeting on and pay my respects to Elders past and present.

Later this year we really have a chance to formally recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in our constitution, and give them that rightful recognition through a Voice to Parliament.

Hopefully, this will improve outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples across the country, and I really hope that across the regions we see the great opportunity that this will bring to our communities. I look forward to that Voice being enshrined later this year.

Thank you for a very lovely introduction, Michelle. It's been fabulous working with yourself and Sarah over the last few days as we've travelled through Gippsland. The last time I was in this precinct I did a ballet eisteddfod, and it has certainly changed substantially.

What really stands out to me, as Michelle was just talking about, is that this is now a precinct which has an innovation centre, a TAFE, and hopefully a university presence going forward. We are really transforming our regions and understanding the vital role that education brings to our communities.

We don't want people to have to leave for opportunities. We want them to be able to stay and study, and build a career in their own backyards, if that's what they choose to do. We also want to have great job prospects and opportunities for people that don't want to go to university and TAFE as well.

I'm really excited about where Gippsland is headed. It’s a real breath of fresh air to see so many groups come together with the positive vision for what Gippsland should be, rather than talking about what it's not, or the challenges that it has in front of it. So, congratulations to you all.

I want to acknowledge the Committee for Gippsland, One Gippsland, the Gippsland Regional Partnership. I don't know if Daniel is here from the Gunaikurnai Land Council? I met with him the other day, a fabulous bloke. Graeme Dyer, the Chair of Dyers Transport. There are so many people who come to this place. People who are here to actually do something positive and want to have a positive influence on their community. It’s important I acknowledge that.

As many of you know, I was born in Traralgon and lived here until I was just about 12. Then we moved to an even smaller place called Merimbula. So my world view has very much been shaped by the communities that have helped to raise me. We left because of the privatisation of the State Electricity Commission at the time. My dad saw the economic downturn and some of the things that were happening and thought that there had to be something else out there for us. Neither of my parents finished high school, but they worked their backsides off creating a life for us, and they decided that was the time to give something else a shot.

My mum's dream had always been to run her own sporting store. She had worked at Panthers Mensland in Traralgon, and then she worked at a local sports store. She thought that she could do it for herself, so off we set to New South Wales.

Yesterday we posted a little reel, where I said that I was back in my primary school where I grew up. Of course, the first comment on there was, “Oh, there's another Mexican from New South Wales.” Yes, correct!

What that move really showed was that you have to be courageous and take opportunities with both hands. Had that privatisation not occurred, then perhaps my parents might not have taken a leap and looked for what else was out there for our family. So my world view has been shaped by the desire to take any opportunity. To make sure that you're working hard, because nothing's going to be handed to you on a silver platter.

I left home and went to university in Canberra, because there were no opportunities for me where I lived. As Michelle said, I'm the first in my family to go to university. I remember telling my nan, who lived just around the corner from my primary school, that I wanted to go to university. She said, “Why on earth would you want to do that?” I said, “Why wouldn’t I want to do that!” I think it is very much about changing the perception of what is in front of us.

I was working in Canberra at a law firm for close to five years and made the decision to move back to the coast. I had someone say to me, “That is career suicide, Kristy. What are you doing? You'll never reach the lofty heights of partner of this firm and you'll never make enough money to satisfy yourself.” And I said, “Life isn't about money, it's about having a good work-life balance, and about raising your kids in the way that you think is most appropriate.”

I knew really early on that I wanted my kids to have the same opportunities that I did. I knew that this was living back in a regional town, where your community helps to raise them. Where if someone doesn't get to the bus stop in time, that another parent will wait with your child. Where if you can't take your kids to every sporting event, that someone else will step up and do that for you. I thought to myself, that's the way I want to raise my kids.

So, we moved back down to the coast - and just as a side note, I am now a minister in the federal government, so in your face buddy! I really want there to be opportunities that exist in our regions. Opportunities that people can see for themselves, that people can strive for, and that people know will happen. We grew up with the adage that you have to leave to do something with your life and to make something of yourself. That you have to go and prove yourself somewhere else. Yes, if you want to leave, do it. Go and see what's out there. But you don't have to do that.

We should be able to take advantage of the opportunities that we have in the regions, and now more than ever, we see that we can do that. COVID-19 really taught us a lesson that life is not about sitting in front of a computer screen and making yourself available for everyone. Instead, life is about making the best of what you have. Of course, with COVID-19 we did have to sit in front of a computer screen a lot, but you could do that anywhere and you were not restricted to a high‑rise building in the middle of Melbourne. You could do that from Traralgon, Yallourn, Bairnsdale, Newborough, anywhere.

Really, the only thing that stands in our way is good internet connectivity, which we're working on. We’ve invested $2.4 billion towards NBN upgrades to make sure that we get really good connectivity across the place through all three mediums; Fibre to the Premise, fixed wireless and satellite. Being connected is no longer just a nice to have, it's an absolute necessity in the modern age. We are seeing more people work from home and learn from home. It's the way we stay connected to family and friends across the world. This is the way we do business from now on, and we have to make sure that we are there for that.

There are a whole bunch of things that make a region, and what I’ve seen here over the last few days is that people are putting the social cohesion of communities first. It’s important we understand the absolute necessities that need to be here, but good social cohesion is front and centre. Of course, the beautiful little add‑ons that we get in our communities complement this and our hard work.

Gippsland itself is a regional powerhouse, and it has been for a long period of time. Around $18 billion of regional product comes out of this area each and every year. The majority of that is through traditional industries, but we have to acknowledge that things are changing.

We're seeing some emerging technologies reforming the way that we do certain things. We're seeing local businesses really change how they go about things. There are more and more opportunities where we can work together. Over the last couple of days I’ve seen how you, as local leaders are coming together to talk about the future needs of Gippsland. To talk about how you navigate challenges, really get to the crux of the problem, but also put forward innovative solutions. This approach is fantastic.

The Gippsland Freight Infrastructure Master Plan is an amazing example of this, and high five to you on the beautifully staged photo outside Patties Pies. I thought pointing at a plan was just a politician special. It is really great to see you taking the initiative.

Governments can do a myriad of things, but that hyper‑localised knowledge cannot be underestimated, and we have to make sure that we are listening to the local expertise on the ground in each and every region we go to.

You've obviously identified some key freight priorities which will open up emerging markets and see continued growth for the region. You've come together to look at the efficient movement of freight, crucial for future regional sustainability and growth, and at a state and national level.

The National Freight and Supply Chain Strategy is preparing us for the next 20 years and beyond. We know transport is changing substantially, we know the way we do things is changing, and we want to work collaboratively with states and territories to deliver 360 initiatives under this strategy.

The key Commonwealth actions under the strategy include $16.5 million over four years to establish a National Freight Data Hub to enhance freight data collection and access. $4.3 million over two years to deliver on the Supply Chain Scenario - Resilience in Modelling Project, which will provide decision makers with tools that allow ongoing evaluation of our supply chain resilience over time. We've seen how critical this is after multiple natural disasters.

The release of the CSIRO Supply Chain Benchmarking Tool, which visualises information on 150 commodity supply chains across Australia. Plus the implementation of the National Urban Freight Planning Principles, to inform current and future freight land use needs. There's a lot right there - thanks for sticking with me through that bit.

The Gippsland Freight Infrastructure Master Plan complements the Victorian Implementation Plan strategy. As I said, it's really important to understand these local issues as we then move to state and national issues. It outlines what's required for Gippsland now and into the future, so the region can continue to lead by example and thrive through this difficult time.

The Master Plan will assist in making sure we're supporting Gippsland's growth and investing in the right places. It's really great to see how many regional leaders have come together to look at the long‑term vision and the needs of the region, because your ability to harness the opportunities available for Gippsland and to see how strong your region can become is something that I know my family will be really proud of. This means families will have the choice to stay, rather than uprooting their families and leaving – as ongoing opportunities will be there for them. I really look forward to seeing this plan reach its full potential.

Thank you very much for having me here today and sorry I was a little bit late. I got stuck on the beautiful highway, and then Gippsland FM and Sky Regional sort of all merged into one. We got there in the end, but I really want to thank you all for coming out today. Thank you to all the people that I've met with over the last couple of days. It's been a fabulous trip, allowing me to really understand more of that local knowledge, local plans and local solutions to what is a really challenging time over the next decade or so. Thank you.