12 September 2022

Kristy McBain says jobs, housing and connectivity are urgent priorities for regions

| Genevieve Jacobs
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Mary Clare Walker and Jim Hutton OBE from the Yass Valley Business Chamber with Member for Eden Monaro Kristy McBain and Southern Inland RDA chair Rowena Abbey. Photo: G Jacobs.

Member for Eden Monaro Kristy McBain has told Yass business owners that the newly elected Albanese Government remains firmly committed to duplicating the Barton Highway.

In answer to a question posed at the Yass Valley Business Chamber breakfast meeting, Ms McBain said: “I want to make it very clear there are no plans to change the duplication plans for the highway.

“We are working with the New South Wales Government to make sure it’s delivered. A lot of duplication is underway, planning for the next parts are also underway, the Government will continue to contribute money to that and to deliver the project.”

Ms McBain has enjoyed a swift ascent since her 2020 by-election win and is now Minister for Regional Development, Local Government and Territories.

The South Coast local began her working life as a teenage shop assistant in Merimbula and told the business chamber breakfast the small-business values she learned there had stuck with her through her career as a lawyer, councillor and then mayor of Bega Valley.

“I’m like the mosquito in the bedroom at 10.30 at night,” she said. “You’re trying to get to sleep and it’s buzzing around. I don’t give up easily, I don’t like to take no for an answer. And when the answer’s no, I come up with an alternative view of that proposal of how it could be done slightly differently.”

Among her key concerns are the jobs and skills pressures and crippling housing shortages in the regions.

“We’ve got jobs and we need to fill them. We also have a housing crisis, and that’s a real chicken-and-egg thing. If people can’t find somewhere to live, they can’t take up a job.

“We need the three levels of government working together to address some of our housing issues, making it easier to query planning proposals and to build new homes, making it easier to do additional things on the land.”

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Minister McBain said there was no silver bullet for the complex housing and jobs issues, but local government ministers from each state and territory would meet at the end of this year. She noted that training, educational and vocational skills opportunities were also key to resolving the crisis over the longer term.

“We’re sending apprentices on a five, six-hour round journey to get to a TAFE and do an apprenticeship. It’s not helpful,” she said.

”We also know that incentives over the last little while have declined or disappeared altogether, especially incentives directly to the apprentice.

“They would get to the end of their apprenticeship and they’d be given an amount of money to actually get out there, to purchase their hairdressing trolley or whatever trade it is, to actually get set up. This is the kind of promotion we need to do.”

Minister McBain called for a stronger focus on trades, and a realignment of the perception that completing year 12 and heading to university was the preferable career path.

“Neither my parents nor my husband finished high school,” she said. ”It was a different era, where it was more accepted. And some people just don’t learn to thrive in a classroom setting.

“We have to get back to that point where we don’t demonise traditional trades, that we actually promote the value of vocational education as a career path. We’re missing out on that cohort of people that provide such valuable services in our communities.”

She also highlighted mobile phone and internet service gaps as an impediment to business and noted a major backlog in visa approvals for many regional jobs.

Minister McBain said the Government was rolling the NBN into an additional 70,000 homes and including upgrades to fix wireless and satellite television.

“It’s a big journey, but we’re committed to it because we know how vital our regions are to economic output. Think of how much more we could be doing in the regions if we actually had access to the same capabilities as our metropolitan centres,” she said.

“You know, when you look at Eden Monaro we have a lot of hills and valleys, mountain ranges, a Great Dividing Range, and copious amounts of national parks and state forests, so it’s not the easiest of terrain to work with.

“But technology is moving fast and we hope that into the future it’s not just the big metro tower as the only solution. There should be different and innovative ways of getting additional connectivity. I think telco providers are really keen to advance in this space as well.”

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