06 April 2022






STEPHEN CENATIEMPO, PRESENTER: Now the guest we usually have on at this time is unavailable due to Senate Estimates so filling in is Labor Member for Eden-Monaro Kristy McBain. Kristy good morning.


CENATIEMPO: Do you wish sometimes you had of run for the Senate, so you got to do all this estimate stuff?

MCBAIN: No, I very much like representing my constituents Eden-Monaro, I think that I have a pretty good job. And I wouldn't be giving it up to be in the Senate.

CENATIEMPO: But Senate estimates would be fun just once, wouldn't it?

MCBAIN: Look, it would be fun, it looks like they have a bit of fun. But by the same token they also don't really get that close personal relationship that you do as an MP with constituents across the place. So I'll leave them to their work and get on with mine.

CENATIEMPO: Speaking of which, technically Eden-Monaro is a marginal seat. But I always say as a local member, you're one of the better ones out there. There are some good local members still in politics, and you're one of them. You now know who you're running against. What does that mean? Does that make your job easier? Does it make it more difficult? Now that you know who you're facing in the election, does it kind of firm things up for you at all?

MCBAIN: Look, it never really bothered me who was gonna run against me. There's only so many things I can control. What I can control is, what I say and do and how hard I work. And that's why over the last 20 months, I've travelled over 90,000kms across the electorate. I can't control who nominates against me, they'll have a message that they want to deliver. And it's a contest for people then to decide who best represents them. So I can't control who's running against me, I'll just get on with my job.

CENATIEMPO: 90,000 kilometres, you have a good relationship with a mechanic?

MCBAIN: You know, coming from small towns is beneficial. So I was getting my car serviced once and my mechanic said to me, you need new tires. And I said, yeah, yeah, yeah, I'll get that done at some point. And knowing me well, he then went and rang the tire fitter, himself. And then the tire fitter rang me and said, you better drop the car in tomorrow. So the people they look after you and make sure that you get home safely every time. So I'm pretty lucky to have a good support network around me.

CENATIEMPO: Yesterday, we spoke to Jo Minnis whose the daughter of one of the residents of the aged care facility in Bombala that's closing down. We've discussed this before, 150 residents attended a public meeting trying to find a solution to this. Now, I know you've been critical of the federal government over its handling of aged care in general terms. But Jo tells us that the federal government actually tried to put together a package to bail this particular home out, but the operators didn't want to a bar of it.

MCBAIN: As I understand it, the government had asked the aged care provider to hold on until June to keep operating. The letter that was sent by Ministers Hunt and Colbeck, to the New South Wales government basically said there's a bucket of funding that you can apply for if you want to try to do something about it, but there were no concrete answers in that letter of offer. I just can't see a situation where a round trip of 200 kilometres is the only option for your relatives in aged care. It's just not acceptable.

CENATIEMPO: So what do you think the solution is here?

MCBAIN: I mean, it’s really clear that in regional Australia the model of privatisation and making profit out of aged care isn't going to work. We’ve seen a facility close in Eden, and the one in Bombala is also closing. It's incumbent upon state and federal governments to be working together to come up with solutions, because this isn't a one off, it's going to happen in regional Australia. And we actually need to come up with solutions so that people can live and die in the town that they want. We shouldn't be losing people out of our communities and displacing families for the sake of profit. They're more than just numbers. They're people and we need to come up with good solutions to get through this.

CENATIEMPO: Does it concern you then that there was a commitment from the opposition leader Anthony Albanese in his budget replies speech to spend $2.5 billion on aged care? And part of the crux of that was to put a registered nurse 24 hours a day in each aged care facility? He's now backtracked from that, but my concern is particularly for communities like Bombala and many others in your electorate. And I and I use my experience in the Hunter Valley from this, that a lot of the smaller operators say that it's just not feasible for them to be able to do that.

MCBAIN: Yeah, look, it's really interesting. I mean, if you've got a relative in aged care, you want to know that they're being looked after 24/7. And that if there are any issues or complaints, there will be someone there to deal with them, rather than an ambulance coming and them being escorted to hospitals. Southern Cross said that they were having issues getting staff, having talked to numerous locals who had job applications in, they were saying they were being turned away. We know in a short period of time locals were able to access registered nurses who said that they would happily work in Bombala. So look, there's obviously a shortage of a number of skills at this point in time. But this requires a concerted effort of government. I mean, when you rip a billion dollars out of TAFE, you're gonna have skill shortages across the country, and it's incumbent upon governments to get this right for our future.

CENATIEMPO: The cynic in me says there's more to this situation in Bombala, though, because my understanding is there's been a couple of options to actually bail this home out. Is it on particularly valuable land?

MCBAIN: It's on land that will be divested back to the Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn. They could only sell that land if it goes to another aged care provider. In the absence of that it goes back to the Archdiocese. So there's no suggestion that they'll be selling this land for a profit. It can't happen under the terms of agreement for which they took over the nursing home in the first place.

CENATIEMPO: Okay, my cynicism is misplaced. I just wanted to put that out there because in this job, you often get cynical about this. Now, the one of the things my biggest criticisms of the NBN, both when Kevin Rudd first touted it, and when Malcolm Turnbull put his version of it in place, was that our biggest problem in Australia is mobile phone communication and making sure that we get adequate coverage right across the country. Now and the federal government has done quite a bit of good with the blackspots program, but your electorate seems to have missed out on that.

MCBAIN: We put out a survey and had over 1000 responses and plotted on a map across the electorate all of the blackspots. And I drive it pretty frequently and I basically know every turn and dip where I'm going to lose service. It's been really disappointing over a number of years, and especially since the Black Summer Bushfires where we had recommendations from the Royal Commission and recommendations out of the New South Wales Inquiry to deal with blackspots in cases of emergency, especially on our transport corridors. More needed to be done. And that's why I've been really pleased to be able to work with our shadow communications minister, to get money for our transport corridors. Traffic is going through the roof, passenger vehicles and freight vehicles, we need to make sure people get to and from their destination safely. And as mobile coverage is required.

CENATIEMPO: So there's been a focus here, particularly on the Kings Highway in this announcement you've made from what I understand.

MCBAIN: The Kings Highway, Monaro Highway and Snowy Mountains Highway, a million dollars each to deal with blackspot locations. And there'll be a further announcement today on the Princes Highway.

CENATIEMPO: Now, you've also talked about expanding the National Broadband Network, why don't you scrap that and put all of the money in the black spots?

MCBAIN: Well, we had what was going to be a world class system, which was torn up and we’ve purchased thousands of kilometres of copper network, which is then being scrapped again to go back to the original plan at great cost to the taxpayer. But still, this government hasn't quite got it right. So under Labour's plan, an additional 18,000 homes and small businesses will be connected to NBN by being better with what we've got. So I'm pretty proud that the people across the this electorate have been listened to in terms of both blackspots and NBN connectivity. I mean, COVID taught us that working and learning from home was pretty crucial. But it also shone a pretty harsh spotlight on regional Australia to show how far behind we are in infrastructure and service delivery.

CENATIEMPO: Yeah, well, at least the people of Eden-Monaro have got somebody like you fighting for them. Kristy, I imagine the next time we talk it'll be in the middle of an election campaign.

MCBAIN: Well, it's gonna be called any day now. Who knows? But I say bring it on. I think this weird quasi-election campaign that we're all in at the moment is a bit weird. So call it and then everyone will know to prepare for the onslaught of political advertising and letter box drops.

CENATIEMPO: Good on you Kristy. We'll talk again next time.

MCBAIN: Thanks, Stephen

CENATIEMPO: Kristy McBain the Labor member for Eden-Monaro.