Eden-Monaro MP Kristy McBain has spent the last few months visiting towns in her electorate, stopping at cafes and offering locals a free cuppa and the chance to talk about local issues and meet their new federal representative.
This week Ms McBain came to the Snowy Valleys, visiting Tumut on Monday and Tumbarumba on Tuesday. She will also visit Batlow Bakery tomorrow on Wednesday.
Stationed at The Coffee Pedaler in Tumut on Monday morning, Ms McBain took some time to speak with The Times and explained that the cafe meet-and-greet sessions have allowed her the chance to meet community members after a Covid-restricted by-election.
“It’s sort of largely been about people just wanting to meet me and find out a bit more about myself because obviously during the by-election we were in the midst of much more of a Covid lockdown in New South Wales, so it was very hard to do the meet and greet at a larger scale,” she said.
“It’s just been a lovely way to meet more people and get a really good understanding of people’s concerns.”
Ms McBain said that during visits to other towns in the Eden-Monaro electorate, issues around town planning, local projects and small business have been raised with her.
“In a lot of the bushfire affected regions, it’s definitely been about the recovery process,” she added.
In the Snowy Valleys, she expects that “very localised” issues relating to each separate town will be raised with her.
“I think in Tumut today we’ll probably be hearing about some of the local projects that are going on,” she said.
“There are some concerns around small business and industry within this region, so I expect that there will be a bit of discussion on that as well.”
Since being elected as the Member for Eden-Monaro, Ms McBain has had to transition from local government – as she was formerly the Bega mayor – to federal politics. She said that her aim has been to take “local government learnings into the federal sphere.”
“That really is around being a part of the community that you represent, understanding the projects that people are wanting done, advocating for those at a larger level and I guess for me it’s about making sure that I’m talking to everyone in parliament so that I can raise and give a bigger platform to the ideas and concerns that our community has,” she said.
“It’s very important I think, especially for regional communities, to make sure you’re talking to all of the people you need to to get outcomes for your community.”
Ms McBain spoke about the Bushfire Royal Commission, which the government responded to last week.
“I guess I was a little bit disappointed that the Prime Minister didn’t speak about the Bushfire Royal Commission earlier, because it has played such a significant role in so many people’s lives right across this electorate,” she said.
“I look forward to them implementing some of the recommendations, but the one they balked at – which was the aerial firefighting service – I think is something that really does need to be addressed.”
In its findings, the Royal Commission recommended that Australia develop a sovereign aerial firefighting fleet; however, the government did not commit to this, saying it doesn’t have the expertise to decide what aircraft is needed during a bushfire crisis.
“What we saw over the summer was multiple states and territories fighting bushfires at the same time and there was not the aerial capacity in all of those areas at the same time, so there definitely has to be an address of that issue and I think there should be a move to have a national aerial firefighting fleet or a coordinated fleet between the states and territories because otherwise we’re leaving ourselves short,” Ms McBain said.
“Bushfire seasons are getting longer and we’ve seen that through the wildfires in California, and we largely lease a bunch of aerial firefighting capabilities from overseas, so we need to make sure that we have enough for Australia at any given time.”
Ms McBain also spoke to the state issue currently the topic of discussion in the region; the proposed demerger of Snowy Valleys Council.
The Boundaries Commission this month held public hearings into the matter and are due to provide a report to the Minister for Local Government to make a decision on the matter.
When asked if she has an opinion on the demerger, Ms McBain said “it’s not for me to say.”
“It’s for community members who live here who should be the ones who are consulted over such a huge change in how their local area works and how it’s governed,” she said.
Ms McBain said the appropriate thing to do now is go through the Boundaries Commission process.
“I think it’s obviously disappointing for communities who weren’t consulted during the amalgamation process, and I think that’s what you’re seeing at the moment is the frustration from communities who weren’t consulted about the change,” she said.
“The boundaries commission is now looking into that and should look into that more fully and give the community a say during that process.”