Transcript - Minister McBain addresses the Municipal Association of Victoria Annual Conference

Cr DAVID CLARKE, HOST: This is the ministerial address from the Honourable Kristy McBain, MP, Federal Minister for Regional Development, Local Government and Territories.

Now, as Victorians, who are first and foremost, you’ll find Kristy is one of ours, because for those of you who are aware, Kristy, of course, was born in Traralgon in Gippsland. Now, she did then move to New South Wales to spread that wisdom and she grew up, of course, on a farm on the south‑east coast. She is the first woman to represent the electorate of Eden‑Monaro. Since being elected in 2020, Kristy’s built a formidable reputation as a plain‑spoken, hardworking local member, who advocates and works with all levels of government and all sides of politics to get results for her community.

As the Mayor of Bega in the Bega Shire Council, Kristy advocated day and night for her community during those darkest days of the Black Summer bushfires in 19‑20, and I remember when Kristy first got the gig, I had a couple of mayors come up to me and say, “Is it okay to have a crush on the Minister?”

And this is a girl crush, not a boy crush in that sense, because she has just been an awesome person and very much, Kristy, we had that memory of you in the context of that work you did for your community as the mayor during those dark hours of 2019‑2020.

Kristy’s married with three children and has built a successful local plumbing business with her husband. Kristy, of course, studied law at the University of Canberra, and is passionate that all kids get a chance to go to university or TAFE and have the opportunity to build their careers and live their lives in the regions like she’s done. So, I’ll take no more away from Kristy and, please, the floor is yours.

KRISTY MCBAIN, MINISTER: He was just explaining it wasn’t him with the crush.

Good morning, everyone. It’s a real pleasure to be here today and I know it is the first in‑person conference in a little while, and we have, really taken this working and learning from home seriously, but I tell you there is nothing better than being back with people in person, because the magic source of any conference is the bits in the middle. It’s the networking. It’s the understanding where other people are coming from. It’s the shared experience. It’s the learning that you don’t get on a Zoom. So please whenever you can, get face to face with people because it’s so incredibly important. That’s where the magic happens when we actually talk in the unscheduled parts of any day.

I want to start today by acknowledging the traditional custodians of the lands on where we meet and pay my respects to elders past and present, and I want to extend that acknowledgment to any First Nations people here today and say I am so proud to be part of an Albanese Labor Government that is taking seriously representations from First Nations people and is looking to enshrine a voice in our constitution. I really want local councils to play a role in this, and I think we can. Because no other level of government extends to every town and village across this country. Only local government does that.

There are some parts of this country where all they will know is whom (sic) their local council is. Whom collects the rubbish, whom fixes their roads, whom is there when they need help. That’s local councils. Politicians like me – and I often say I’m not a politician, so I’ve just broken my cardinal rule number one. I often say that we pay zero respect to local government. So they used to say when I was the mayor, because you hear all these platitudes from politicians saying, “You’re the closest level of government to the people. We really value your feedback and input. Thanks so much for letting me know what your project is.” And then you walk away and you’re like: “Were they listening? Do they care?”

And in the 19‑20 bushfires I had a series of political tourism enter in and out of the shire and the only reason I ended up running in the by‑election in Eden‑Monaro is because I was sick of people telling me they were going to help and doing nothing. So, my parents’ motto growing up was put up or shut up. That’s how I ended up on local council. That’s how I ended up in Federal Parliament, and that’s why I ended up as Minister. Sometimes your mouth gets you in trouble. Saying all these things, you’d better back it up.

I want to thank Councillor David Clarke for that very kind introduction. Thank you so much. And I want to acknowledge CEO Kerry Thomson today as well. I also want to give a shout‑out to Kellie O’Callaghan, Mayor of La Trobe, where I grew up, and where most of my family stills lives. And also to Jo Skelton and councillors from the Yarra Ranges.


KRISTY MCBAIN: Jo and I went to high school together in Eden, so Victoria got one of ours as well.

I’ve been really lucky to meet with Victorian Local Government Mayors Advisory Panel recently, so I apologise in advance because some of those councillors and mayors would have heard what I’m about to say already, so bear with us.

I’m a really strong and passionate advocate for local government and for the regions. The local government sector employs close to 200,000 people across 400 different occupations. That is no small feat. It’s actually amazing. Since my appointment as Minister, I’ve spoken to around 150 local governments, local government authorities and some more than once. I’ve spoken to peak bodies, joint organisations of councils, regional development of Australia bodies. My role is to make sure that I’m well and truly across what the sector is telling me. And the best part about that is engaging with real people each and every day.

There are really consistent themes, though. Regardless of whether you’re a metropolitan council, a country council, there are really consistent themes: jobs and skills; housing; health care; financial sustainability; economic development; and regional frameworks. So, wherever you are across this country of ours, we’re all grappling with similar challenges, and that’s why these conferences make all the difference, because if you’re having that problem and challenge, you can bet your money that another council has already dealt with it and has some framework in place that you can actually learn from. And these themes are no doubt, you resonate with them, because in your map of strategic plan 2021 to 2025 you tell us that your priorities are: economically sound councils; healthy, diverse and thriving communities; well‑planned, connected and resilient built networks – environments, sorry; changing climate and a circular economy; sector capability and good governance; and an effective and responsive organisation, including through building stronger partnerships across jurisdictions. And that’s really heartening to hear because our focus really does need to be on collaboration moving forward. Local government has to be in on a national conversation.

On 17th of June this year, the Prime Minister announced that ALGA will be invited to attend meetings of the National Cabinet and the Council on Federal Financial Relations annually. We’re also re-establishing the Australian Council of Local Governments. Some of you might remember this: it was an annual event that occurred around the same time as the ALGA National General Assembly, which brings together the Prime Minister, Commonwealth Ministers, mayors, shire presidents, and local government stakeholders for a day of conversations about our nation. I was charged with the responsibility to bring it back because the Prime Minister, when he held this portfolio in the last Labor Government, was the person who introduced it, and he said, “I want it back. We need to discuss issues with local government across the country.”

I will also shortly reconvene the Local Government Ministers Forum of Commonwealth, state and territory local government ministers in ALGA. There are some real big conversations happening nationally and we need to make sure that each state and territory and the Federal Government are working in collaboration and rowing in the same direction.

We’ve got housing challenges and that’s not going be fixed by the Federal Government identifying them and telling local government to do something about them. It’s going be fixed when local government is at the table with the state government, and at the table with the Federal Government, figuring out how we can work together as three tiers of government and all pull the levers that we have in our capability to address those things.

These conversations represent one thing at their core: the understanding that solutions to our biggest challenges will not come from one of us, but from all of us. And I know first-hand how many conversations take place in and across local governments. I know first-hand how strong partnerships can open up your ideas and introduce you to completely new technologies and ideas. And I know first-hand how critical the role of innovation is in our local communities. Local people driving solutions to national problems that impact their local areas.

And, so, it’s my great pleasure that today I get to highlight a handful of these conversations, these partnerships and this innovation by announcing the winners of the 2022 National Awards for Local Government. Established almost 40 years ago by the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development, Communication and the Arts – it is a big one I know – the National Awards for Local Government celebrate the diverse and passionate work that is being done by our local governments. Across 11 categories highlighting excellence in safety, transport, infrastructure, community, environment and diversity, the awards recognise the uniqueness of the idea, the initiative, the person in our local governments.

They also acknowledge our collective challenges: environmental sustainability and energy transition; diverse, safe and collaborative regions; growing and changing demographics and workforces; and an ever-increasing need to be prepared and adaptive, and I’m sure that there are many councils right now thinking about how they might need to adapt to today’s unfolding weather events.

This year, we received 5,300 votes for the 141 eligible nominations. Each of those 141 nominations should be celebrated, and I hope councils take the time to stop and recognise their efforts and acknowledge their achievements no matter how small or early on in the process that they are key to being. It’s one of the biggest challenges, I think, for local government. In my council we used to say all the time: you have to take time to stop and acknowledge the things we get right because it’s really easy for everyone to acknowledge the things that we don’t get right. Sometimes we have to take a breather and realise we’re doing things well.

So, let’s move on to the winning entries, and I’m going to start with our west coast winners and save the Victorian awardees to last.

All right. So, the City of Belmont in WA for Safeguarding Families Advocacy Service in addressing violence against women and children category. A partnership between the City of Belmont, Belmont police and RUAH community services. The service provides an advocate dedicated to supporting victims, hosted at the Belmont Police Station. The service provides information, informal counselling and support to individuals and their families.

The City of Canning for Hillview Intercultural Centre in the cohesive communities’ category. The Hillview Intercultural Centre is a modern accessible space with an intercultural library, multipurpose hall, commercial kitchen, IT lab, and activity rooms. The Canning community, 50 per cent of whom were born overseas, have an active role in the development of the centre, which facilitates connections, learnings, social and business opportunities in the region.

The City of Vincent for 'What the FOGO?' have got a better bin system sorted, and honestly when I saw that heading, I was like – gold! In the waste management good category, the City of Vincent has completely transformed its waste services and is well on track to achieve its ambitious target of net zero waste to landfill by 2028, and that is really ambitious. It has replaced its two‑bin system with three‑bin food organics and garden organic system, reducing landfill by approximately 2,000 tonnes per annum and increasing the volume of waste being recycled, diverted from landfill.

To Queensland: Ipswich City Council for its Forewarned is Forearmed–Integrated Catchment Plan in the disaster preparedness category. The integrated catchment plan is designed to help the community build flood resilience and improve catchment planning. There are 68 recommendations which focussed on land use and planning; physical mitigation; community awareness and resilience; emergency management; property specific actions; and mapping of current and future flood risk.

Morton Bay Regional Council, for the Morton Bay City Project in the regional growth category. Morton Bay is transforming its identity as a city of the future, celebrating natural assets and supporting council’s ambitious economic development strategy to create 100,000 more local jobs and build a $40 billion economy. In fact, it’s one of Australia’s fastest growing urban areas, Morton Bay is now seeking to reclassify itself as a city.

Sunshine Coast Council for their mobility map initiative in the productivity through infrastructure category. A partnership between the council and innovative SME biometrics has transformed the way the community travels across the Sunshine Coast. The interactive mobility map fitted to wheelchairs, cranes or scooters identifies footpaths and trails accessible to the community and grades them according to the effort required to travel on it by the average wheelchair.

New South Wales: Bathurst Regional Council for its River Connections Initiative in the Indigenous recognition category. River Connections is a nature program connecting school students in Bathurst with the Wiradjuri elders of the Wambool (Macquarie) River. Complementing the school curricula, the learning programs include Wiradjuri cultural perspective, science, art and inquiry‑based exploration.

Two winners from Broken Hill City Council for its outstanding trainee, Katelyn Schenk in the career star category, and for showcasing the leadership of Katherine Graham in the women in local government category. Both Katelyn and Katherine have been successful in showing a dedication and commitment to local government, passionate adaptive and paving the way for other women leaders in the future.

And finally, Victoria: a collective hush. I was going to say: where’s the drum roll? Alrighty. So, Victoria – to Mitchell Shire Council for their road crossing SafetyCam Initiative in the road safety category. And I’d like to invite Mitchell Shire Council Mayor Bill Chisholm to come up and accept his trophy.

Mitchell Shire Council wanted to curb the number of drivers failing to stop at their school crossings. It wanted drivers to be a lot more accountable for how they behaved around school crossings and inter-crossing supervisors. So, they installed CCTV technology – safety cams – at school crossing across the shire, footage can be downloaded and reviewed by senior staff and where necessary forwarded to Victoria Police for further investigation. Footage is also being used to improve the training and support of crossing supervisors. Well done.

Very well done to Mitchell Shire Council.

And for the final category. The winner is Moorabool Shire Council for their Hide + Seek Music Festival in the category of creativity and culture. And I’d like to invite the General Manager for Community Strengthening for Moorabool Shire Council, Leigh McCallum, to come up and accept the trophy.

The mid‑winter Hide + Seek Festival is a free event that promotes the artists and venues of Moorabool shire. The July 2022 festival featured over 200 artists across 20 different venues and was attended by more than 2,000 people – and perhaps she is not here. Anyone from Moorabool shire here? I hope I’m saying it right. Anyway, this is to them.

I want to thank you all again very much for having me. I want to thank everyone who nominated because there were some excellent nominations, and I’m sure a lot of people reading through those nominations had very – a tough time putting their votes towards one.

I hope you take the time today to reflect on the innovation and the excellent work that’s being done in your communities and consider how we might use those activities on a larger scale.

I trust that today will be one of collaboration and goodwill amongst you, and I really hope that as the day progresses things don’t get too bad in any one of your shire areas. I know how incredibly difficult it is to respond to communities in that time of need, but I have no doubt that all of your councils are very well prepared and you have good communications in place with your residents. All the best for today and I look forward to work with each and every one of your councils through my time as Local Government Minister.

DAVID CLARKE: Thank you, Minister. For your time and being at our conference and sharing really important stuff.

KRISTY MCBAIN: Thank you so much, guys.