Labor Party leader Anthony Albanese joined Eden-Monaro candidate Kristy McBain on the campaign trail on Tuesday, with the pair visiting businesses and community members in Tumbarumba, Batlow, Tumut and Adelong.
Labor candidate Ms McBain, who is a former Young Labor member and Bega Mayor, said her experience in politics would stand her in good stead if she were to be elected as MP for Eden- Monaro.
“From what I have seen as a councillor and as mayor, I am interested in politics being done differently and the only way to make change is to actually be a part of that change,” Ms McBain said.
“Local issues play a big issue right across our electorate. We have got a number of issues stemming from drought, bushfires and now Covid-19, and we need to make sure that regional communities are adequately catered for and that their voices are heard.
“Regardless of where you live you have a right to be heard and that term, local member, should really represent local issues; that’s what I’m about.”
While travelling the Snowy Valleys region, Ms McBain said that a lot of the stories she was hearing from locals echoed the stories of the coast in terms of the ‘Black Summer’ bushfires and the difficult months since then.
“People are still traumatised about what they’ve seen, and desperate about what their future looks like especially in terms of their industry or their jobs,” she said.
“We need to see targeted packages to make sure that regional economies don’t lose some of these industries.”
The industries highlighted during Ms McBain’s visit was the softwoods sector, with her and Mr Albanese visiting Hyne Mill in Tumbarumba, and the orchard industry, with the pair visiting Batlow and speaking with Ian Cathels of Woodburn Orchards.
“The Hyne timber mill, they’re going down to 40 per cent [production] because of everything that’s been burnt, so they’re asking for freight subsidies which is a practical, meaningful support the government could provide,” Ms McBain said.
“In Batlow, you’ve got orchards where they’re going to order a tree, that tree’s not going to come until 2022 and not bear fruit for at least a few years, so they’re going to need targeted support to make sure that that industry doesn’t fold or contract to a point where it’s no longer viable in a regional area.”
Ms McBain emphasised that looking at the issue more broadly, there needs to be an emphasis on growing regional economies and making sure that regional jobs stay in the region.
“Whether we look at targeting other industry to come into this area, or whether you look at better taxation subsidies for these industries so that you can actually keep them in the region, I think that’s going to be a big question going forward,” she said.
When discussing bushfire recovery, places like Tumbarumba and Batlow can often be left in the shadow of the south coast. As someone from the south coast, Ms McBain said that in the past her focus was on that area as Bega Valley Mayor, but her focus entering the by-election has expanded.
“I’ve worked pretty closely with Mayor James Hayes, and James and I have attended several meetings about the issues that we’ve had in both areas bushfire wise,” she said.
“My work in the Canberra [Region Joint Organisation] has allowed me to understand a wider picture.
“Every local government area in the JO fits into Eden-Monaro in one way or another, so I’ve always had briefings on the wider region because of my involvement in that.”
Cr Hayes, who met with Mr Albanese and Ms McBain during their visit to Tumut, said that the Snowy Valleys Council drew on knowledge from Ms McBain during the bushfires in summer.
“We … drew on Kristy’s expertise unfortunately having the Tathra fires a year and a half before, so she was an old hand at it as well, so she’s had a lot of experience there as well,” he said.
When speaking about the idea of a divide between the coast and the more inland areas of the electorate, Mr Albanese shared that the shadow cabinet had been planning to hold a meeting in Tumut in April, but those plans were ultimately stymied due to Covid-19.
“We were bringing the whole team here because we were very conscious of the impact here in these communities,” Mr Albanese said.
“Basically the entire [Eden-Monaro electorate] was impacted and it needs support, and I think one of the reasons why we were bringing the shadow cabinet here was to really focus on that.”
Ms McBain has previously spoken about infrastructure investment being key to bushfire recovery and as a way to boost the economies of regional areas. When asked about the Brindabella Road project, she said “it’s something that I will make sure gets passed onto the shadow cabinet team.
“I actually drove the Brindabella Road this morning, so I have the business case that’s been supplied by Snowy Valleys and I’ve had other people already emailing me and Facebook messaging me about the Brindabella Road.
“You can see why it would need to be upgraded; it’s obviously a road that would need significant work but provides an easy outlet directly from the ACT into the Tumut region, which would obviously assist for tourism purposes, day trips, those types of things.”
Speaking more broadly about the JobKeeper Payment scheme, which is being utilised by employers across the country to help get through the Covid-19 pandemic, Mr Albanese said that he thinks there needs to be a transition away from the government support.
“The idea of snapback is diabolical in terms of the consequences,” he said.
“If you have six million people who are on wage subsidies and it all ends just on one day, which is what is currently proposed, then I just don’t believe that is a tenable proposition.”
Along with a transition from the payments, Mr Albanese touted the idea of industry support packages for sectors in particular need of financial assistance.
“In terms of the orchards and those industries as well, you’ve got to keep people on the land and a capital investment upfront to enable them to get back on their feet when they’ve had such a devastating impact is important,” Mr Albanese said.
“With these industries, it takes many years to then produce a return…so if we’re going to have a viable agricultural sector, which is so important for our food production – for domestic consumption but also for export as well – it’s a national interest.
“One of the lessons hopefully we’ve learnt from the coronavirus is the need for resilience and a bit of self reliance, and agriculture is the pointy end of that.”
Ms McBain agreed with the sentiment, but added that too much self reliance is also a problem in regional communities,
“We are so self reliant, we don’t ask for much at all, and then when things go wrong like we’ve seen over the last few months we’re out there saying ‘we now need the help’.”
Reflecting on the conversations had across the region during their visit, Ms McBain said that the biggest takeaway is that solving the issues facing regional communities will not have an overnight solution.
“When you’re talking to people and they still get that emotional over what they’ve witnessed and over their current situation, you know this isn’t going to be something that we’re gonna be able to fix tomorrow, but we have to take the advice that we’re getting from these people seriously,” she said.
“They’re not telling you their situation for the fun of it, they’re telling you because they’re genuinely concerned about what the future’s gonna look like for them and their family.
“For people who have been here for six generations and they’re suddenly staring down the barrel of potentially not being able to continue the family legacy would be horrifying.
“I think we have to take these people very seriously and understand that they’re asking [for assistance] because they’re absolutely desperate.”