BILL Shorten has outlined Labor’s regional values - as a party that speak for more than just the interests of east coast capital cities - in his leader’s address at the Country Labor National Forum in Rockhampton on Saturday.
Mr Shorten said it was “fantastic to be back in Rocky, the beef capital of Australia” where the region has basically been treated as Labor Party headquarters, leading up to the big event.
Senior Labor MPs and Shadow Ministers like Joel Fitzgibbon in agriculture and Stephen Jones in communications, attacking the NBN’s struggling roll-out in the regions, held community forums in the Rockhampton region of Queensland where seats like Dawson, Flynn and Capricornia have been tagged as priorities, heading into the next election, and could determine who holds government.
Mr Shorten said his party’s presence in that non-metropolitan political battle-zone was a “demonstration of Labor's intent to be a government for all Australians in all parts of Australia”.
“We are a party who doesn't just speak for south-east Queensland or the big cities of the east coast,” he said.
“We don’t treat regional Australia as some sort of fly-over country, as places that we fly over on our way to somewhere else.
“We, in Labor, spend time on the ground, we talk to locals (and) we hear what needs to be done.
“Imagine how much Rockhampton and the surrounding region could benefit if you had a fair-dinkum member of parliament putting forward fair-dinkum policies, standing up for the fair-dinkum needs in this region.”
Mr Shorten said Labor had to win Capricornia at the next election which is currently held by a slender margin by Nationals MP Michelle Landry.
“We do not look at the lines drawn on a map and saying 'that is Labor' or 'this is Liberal',” he said.
“We look at the lines on a map and say 'where is the need?'
“And that's the way any decent, self-respecting government should behave.”
National party – pork and poverty
Mr Shorten didn’t make any specific reference to or detail any agricultural policy platform in his leader’s address - but instead referred to Mr Fitzgibbon’s role and other Labor frontbenchers.
He did speak at length about employment conditions, job-creation and the party’s mainstream economic management plans and how the regions form part of that agenda.
Mr Shorten also dedicated part of his speech to the Nationals – calling them the ‘Dual-Nationals’, in an over reference to citizenship issues that are being tested in the High Court this week, faced by Nationals’ leader Barnaby Joyce, deputy-leader Fiona Nash and former cabinet minister and Queensland Senator Matt Canavan, along with four other members of parliament whose constitutional eligibility is being questioned.
“How many times have you heard about the National Party 'safe-seats' so called?” Mr Shorten said.
“And one fact that marks a National’s safe seat is that they're most likely to be some of the poorest seats in Australia.
“Nine out of 10 of the most disadvantaged electorates in Australia are National Party seats and they’ve been boasting about this for years.
“Now I know Labor, and you know Labor, and we know that we do not regard economic disadvantage as something to shrug our shoulders about as we collect our pay.
“We do not regard it as a mark or a badge of honour to, for decades, represent disadvantaged electorates.
“We regard that as a challenge.
“We are far more ambitious for our voters than the National Party appear to be for theirs.”
Mr Shorten said Labor spent “every minute of every day fighting disadvantage” and inequality and fighting for fairness.
But he said “it seems to me that the Nationals basically have a policy for regional voters that it's pork at election time and it's poverty the rest of the time”.
“Pork and poverty describes the National Party view of their seats,” he said.
Mr Shorten said at election time, the Nationals were also, “always out there, endlessly gasbagging they'll do this and they'll do that”.
“A bit of pork on the electoral table in return for voting for the Nats - but as soon as that election is held, it all stops,” he said.
“And if you want to have a look at what is being done in these seats, it's really the Nats turning up to announce our accomplishments from previous governments.
“So it is poverty most of the time and it is political pork-barrelling at election time.
“The Nationals seem to think they have a lock on country Australia - they wear the hats and they get down to Canberra and talk the big game.
“But they always just vote for the latest act of economic rationalism by their Liberal masters.
“They're just happy to be there.
“You've seen them - they're the people on the bus, on the school picnic - they're just happy to be on the bus.
“They really don't want to tell anyone they are there in case they remind people of what they're doing.”
Mr Shorten said at the next election Labor would be chasing every vote and “We are chasing every vote in regional Australia”.
“Not because we deserve to be in power just for turning up - but because we think that our values are values long overdue to give the voice of country Australia the fair dinkum voice it's been denied under the LNP,” he said.
Mr Shorten pointed to Labor’s $1 billion tourism infrastructure fund for Northern Australia: upgrading regional airports, upgrading harbours, bringing tour operators back.
He also attacked the government’s management of the $5 billion Northern Australia Infrastructure Fund.
“If you had a dollar for every time they mentioned it, you'd be a rich person - the problem is they just haven't spent a cent,” he said.
“My concern is that this government views the Northern Australia Infrastructure Fund as a play to help big mining companies and do nothing else for anyone else.
“We are deeply concerned that this fund hasn't delivered the promises which people signed up to.
“We understand that we live in a time where whilst there is some economic growth, this growth is not evenly distributed amongst all Australians.”
While the Liberals lost a swag of seats at last year’s election as Labor almost clinched an unlikely win, the Nationals – under Mr Joyce’s leadership – gained ground by holding all of its seats and gaining the Victorian electorate of Murray, with Damian Drum defeating the Liberal candidate.
Senator Nash dedicated her party’s strong polling performance to a genuine grassroots campaign led by Mr Joyce; despite his bitter battle against arch rival Tony Windsor to retain his seat of New England, in rural NSW.