Sep 16, 2018

Speech to Country Labor Conference – Labor will Deliver for Rural and Regional Australia – Forster, NSW – Sunday, 16 September 2018

I’m proud to have the chance to once again address the great NSW Labor Country Conference.

This gathering of true believers is without doubt one of the finest events on the Labor calendar.

I want to thank each and every one of the delegates for the work you do in promoting Labor’s cause.

As the Shadow Minister for Regional Development, I’m acutely aware of the importance of country NSW.

Country NSW is hurting.

It’s gripped by drought.

While Australians have been getting behind our farming communities by contributing to relief efforts, we all know what is really needed – rain.

Let’s hope it comes soon.

But that won’t solve everything.

Country NSW is hurting from the neglect of Coalition governments at the state and federal level.

The electorate where we gather today – Lyne – has the second lowest average income in the country, according to the last census.

Just to our north, the electorate of Cowper is the sixth poorest in the country.

And one electorate further on is Page – the fifth poorest electorate in the country.

It is an indictment of the National Party that the Mid North Coast to North Coast region includes three of the six poorest electorates in our nation.

We can do better.

Labor will do better.

For evidence, look at our record.

In the period of the former Government we rolled out investment in this region to improve infrastructure, create employment and boost incomes.

Our investment in the Pacific Highway was critical.

Just to our north is the site of the Clybucca bus crash, Australia’s worst road disaster.

It took a Labor Government to upgrade the section from Frederickton to Eungai.

It took a Labor Government to deliver the Kempsey Bypass, which includes Australia’s longest bridge span.

It took Labor to deliver upgrades including the Bulahdelah Bypass, Kundabung to Kempsey, Warrell Creek to Nambucca Heads, Nambucca Heads to Urunga, Sapphire to Woolgoolga, Devils Pulpit, Ballina Bypass, Tintenbar to Ewingsdale and the Banora Point upgrade.

Indeed, we invested $7.6 billion over six years compared with the $1.3 billion the Howard Government invested over 12 years of neglect.

In this year’s Budget the Government said it would advance the Coffs Harbour Bypass.

But what we know is less than a quarter of its investment will appear in the next four years.

As with 85 per cent of this year’s infrastructure Budget announcements, actual delivery of the funding has been pushed off into the Never Never.

We also know that even when this Government allocates infrastructure investment, it is too hopeless to actually deliver on its promises.

Since the Coalition was elected, the difference between infrastructure investment announced and that actually delivered is $4.7 billion, including nearly $1 billion in New South Wales alone.

They are not just a divided rabble, they are completely incompetent.

The former Labor Government also invested in the National Broadband Network.

As Communications Minister, I turned on the NBN in Coffs Harbour.

This was  not just about overcoming the tyranny of distance, but ensuring that fibre to homes and businesses would enable the delivery of education and health services directly to the people of the North Coast.

We also advanced the High Speed Rail project that would make an enormous difference. It would transform regional NSW.

But under this rabble, we see a State and Federal Coalition that is struggling to find a reason for its existence.

In Canberra we now have what I call the ATM Government – Abbott, Turnbull and Morrison.

It’s like a bad ATM though.

It’s an ATM that you can’t get anything out of.

This Government is busted and at the next election it can be put out with the trash.

We have a Government dependent upon the member for Dickson, who should be referred to the High Court over whether he is even eligible to sit in the Parliament, let alone be a minister.

We have last month’s Prime Minister tweeting that this referral should occur.

We have last month’s Deputy Leader suggesting that potential criminal conduct has occurred with the bullying of female MPs during the Government’s internal meltdown.

We have ministers who are simply not on top of their briefs.

We have John McVeigh, who was Regional Development minister last month after being promoted from the backbench earlier this year, now demoted to the far back bench – all in his first term in Parliament.

I’d like to take the credit for claiming scalps of ministers I have shadowed, but before I can remember their names, they are gone.

We have the third of the four infrastructure ministers I have shadowed in the past two years being appointed as the Envoy for Drought.

This absurd appointment suggests this month’s Prime Minister has a lack of confidence in the actual Minister for Agriculture, Mr Littleproud.

So there’s plenty to work with.

What the Wagga Wagga by-election showed, coming after the National Party’s loss in Orange, is that this Coalition is on the nose.

Luke Foley can become Premier next March on the back of wins in regional NSW.

And Federally, many regional seats, not just those that have traditionally been marginal like Page, but others as well, could fall to Labor at the next election.

For that to happen, those of us who have the honour of serving in Parliament as Labor representatives have a great responsibility to be as committed, as diligent, and as effective as our branch membership is in the great regions of NSW.

Thank you and I will see you on the campaign trail.