2CC 1206 AM CANBERRA WITH STEPHEN CENATIEMPO
TUESDAY, 29 NOVEMBER 2022
SUBJECTS: Local Government Ministers Meeting, Council Rate Rises, Industrial Relations Bill
STEPHEN CENATIEMPO, HOST: All right, time to talk Federal politics from a local level. Kristy McBain is the Minister for Regional Development, Local Government and Territories, and I'm sure she'll add some more to that soon. She's also the Member for Eden‑Monaro and joins us now. G'day, Kristy.
KRISTY MCBAIN, MINISTER: Good morning, Stephen.
STEPHEN CENATIEMPO: Can you fit all that on a business card?
KRISTY MCBAIN: I can, just little writing, eight font. How good is it to see the sun out?
STEPHEN CENATIEMPO: It is. Well, you see I don't know if I trust the Bureau of Meteorology – sorry, the BOM, whatever you're supposed to call them these days because I don't know what the difference between mostly sunny and partly cloudy is.
KRISTY MCBAIN: Well, that's a really good point.
STEPHEN CENATIEMPO: Yeah. They can't tell me either. Now, I do want to talk about this industrial relations bill for a moment, but I just want you to give me some clarification on it. Before we get to that though, you had your first meeting of Local Government Ministers on Friday with the various State Ministers.
KRISTY MCBAIN: Yes.
STEPHEN CENATIEMPO: I've been talking about this proposed rate rise for Queanbeyan–Palerang Regional Council. They're talking about a rate rise that will equate to nearly 100 per cent over the next three years. You've been on council and, you know, sure, it's tough for councils to raise money these days, but 100 per cent rate rise in a three-year period's just taking the proverbial, isn't it?
KRISTY MCBAIN: Look, local councils, especially those across regional, rural and remote Australia are doing it really tough. They have faced a series of natural disasters in many cases. In New South Wales the rate cap this year is 1.7 per cent and we all know that the cost of construction's gone up considerably, the cost of electricity, insurance. So it's really difficult for councils to maintain pace with what's happening.
Three out of six councils in my electorate alone are going for special rate variations and one went through the process last year. So one of the things we did talk about at the Local Government Ministers' meeting was about financial sustainability. Some of our regional, rural and remote councils are so heavily reliant on State and Federal Governments for grant funding, it forms in many cases between 20 and 50 per cent of their income.
So look, we really have to work together to make sure that local government is financially sustainable because they're the ones that deliver a range of services to our communities.
STEPHEN CENATIEMPO: There's no doubt about that and there's obviously an argument to increase the rate cap. But a lot of these councils are using the amalgamations as an excuse for their financial positions, and Queanbeyan–Palerang is one of those examples. But they'll often say, "Well we've now got the added expense of the council we've had to merge with", but they never point out to you that, “We also get the extra rates from the council we merged with”.
KRISTY MCBAIN: Yeah, but you also get all the extra land mass too which, you know, it's difficult, especially for large councils, to continue to maintain roads and bridges. I think in the case of Queanbeyan ‑‑
STEPHEN CENATIEMPO: But that land mass existed before.
KRISTY MCBAIN: Yeah, absolutely, but I think in the case of both Queanbeyan and Palerang before they merged, they were going for special rate variations and then during the merger process, which I think is now, what, four or five years ‑‑
STEPHEN CENATIEMPO: 2016 I think it was, yeah. 2016.
KRISTY MCBAIN: Yeah, so six years, yeah. So during that initial merger, they're not allowed to go for any special rate variation, so both councils were considering it before and then they haven't been able to do anything. It sort of puts you in an awkward position.
But look, it is one of the things that we need to work on and I put the challenge out to the State and Territory Ministers what burden can we take off local councils because we have certainly given them a lot over the period and a lot of them are at the forefront of disaster response and recovery, which is an expensive task.
STEPHEN CENATIEMPO: Okay. Now you and I are not going to agree on the industrial relations bill but let's put that to one side.
KRISTY MCBAIN: Oh, come on.
STEPHEN CENATIEMPO: Well, we've already ‑ we've discussed that in the past. David Pocock has now agreed to a series of amendments, and he's agreed to pass it through the ‑ or, you know, help you pass it through the Senate. There's one question that nobody can answer for me, and he tells ‑ and there's a lot of buzz words out there, it'll get wages moving and it strikes the right balance and, you know, these are all political buzz terms. But how will this get wages moving? Nobody can explain that to me.
KRISTY MCBAIN: I think one of the things that came out of the Jobs and Skills Summit from a lot of the employer groups, including the Business Council and the Chamber of Commerce, was that currently the enterprise bargaining system isn't working for either employers or employees. It is too complex to navigate and it's really difficult for smaller businesses to strike a balance with workers because at the moment it doesn't allow them to do a company-wide enterprise agreement. So I think this is actually taking into account some of the things we've heard.
Obviously, there's been some amendments and that's a good thing because hopefully it means that we're getting to a place where more and more people can enter the system and be freer to negotiate. But I think the best thing that we can do is actually make sure that we get these laws in place and see how it goes, because at the moment everyone is telling us that the current industrial relations system, currently the enterprise bargaining system does not work for either group.
STEPHEN CENATIEMPO: Okay. But you still haven't answered how it will get wages growing, get wages moving, which is the phrase, "It'll get wages moving".
KRISTY MCBAIN: So I think because it allows more people to bargain together, so we've seen the case in Melbourne where a number of childcare centres came together and bargained for a wage increase and conditions right across the spectrum. I think there was five or six childcare centres who were able to come together to do that. This allows that to take place on a larger scale. So, you know, if we replicate what we've seen happen I think it will get wages moving for a number of businesses.
STEPHEN CENATIEMPO: Okay, all right. You still haven't explained how but I appreciate you are having a go anyway. Now, last week of Parliament for the year. Well, is it going to be the last week? Now that the IR bill has gone through does that negate the need to extend the sitting period?
KRISTY MCBAIN: There's still a possibility that Parliament will be sitting on Saturday this week. The House has to obviously come back to finalise any legislation that comes from the Senate, and at this stage, the Senate will be sitting until late Friday night. Potentially not another week but we may be there on Saturday.
STEPHEN CENATIEMPO: So what's the agenda for the rest of the week?
KRISTY MCBAIN: Obviously there is the National Anticorruption Commission Bill that has to come back through. We've also got the industrial relations bill. There are a number of other bills going through but some that won't be finalised this week but are still on for debate in the House. We've got an ozone bill and there's a few other bits and pieces, but obviously, the two big pieces of legislation are the national anticorruption bill and the industrial relations bill.
STEPHEN CENATIEMPO: Kristy, good to talk to you this morning. Appreciate your time.
KRISTY MCBAIN: Great to talk to you again.
STEPHEN CENATIEMPO: Kristy McBain is the Minister for Regional Development, Local Government and Territories and the member for Eden‑Monaro.