MALCOLM Turnbull will give his first major political speech of the year in the regional Queensland city of Toowoomba today, aiming to win the hearts and minds of voters that exerted a critical influence on the 2016 federal election outcome.
In contrast, Opposition leader Bill Shorten was slammed by rookie Agriculture and Water Resources Minister David Littleproud for giving a similar address to kick-start the 2018 political year this week at the National Press Club in Canberra, where he failed to mention agriculture and regional Australia.
An early copy of Mr Turnbull’s speech given to media shows it has also failed to make any direct reference to farming or agriculture.
But the Prime Minister’s speech does refer to the regions and the Coalition government’s work opening export trade markets, which is a high priority for Australian farmers.
“Our free trade deals are boosting the economy, especially in regional Australia,” Mr Turnbull’s speech says.
“By opening the doors to markets around the world, we are creating more export opportunities and more jobs.
“We are seeing growth, investment and employment right across our country - not just in the big cities.
“In the past year, 120,000 jobs were created in regional Australia, outpacing growth in the working age population by nearly 2 to 1. In regional Queensland alone, 49,000 new jobs were created - nearly as many as in Greater Brisbane.”
Toowoomba is situated in the electorate of Groom held by new Liberal Regional Development Minister John McVeigh.
But other tightly held regional Queensland electorates, Capricornia and Flynn, had a significant impact on giving Mr Turnbull a one seat majority after the last federal election, and those seats, held by the Nationals, and are also expected to play a key role in shaping the outcome of next federal election, due some time in 2019.
Mr Littleproud said Mr Shorten earlier this week had shown Australians he had “no vision for a cornerstone of the national economy” by ignoring agriculture in his National Press Club address in Canberra.
“Mr Shorten didn't mention agriculture once during his speech,” he said.
“How can Bill Shorten forget farming?
“The man eats, doesn't he?
“Does Bill Shorten think food comes from the supermarket?
"No farmers, no food - and no economy either.
Mr Littleproud said the farm sector was responsible for 20 per cent of Australia’s economic growth last financial year.
He said Australia exported more than $53 billion dollars of agricultural products in the past financial year, up more than $10b from when the Coalition came to power.
“The profits made by our farmers go back into communities across the country and into local business,” he said.
“Agriculture is also key to strengthening other industries such as transport and food processing.
“Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing employs more than 320,000 people in Australia, that’s almost 100,000 more than our mining sector.
“Bill Shorten's advisers could remind him of where food comes from.”
Mr Turnbull’s speech refers to his government’s economic plans for 2018 to boost the national economy via policy moves like business tax cuts, to build on earlier reforms.
“In 2018 lower tax rates kick in for businesses with a turnover up to $50 million; genuine needs-based funding begins for our schools; childcare will be more affordable for low income families from July; and we will continue to put downward pressure on energy prices,” he said.
“We are starting to see what happens when government policies are all pulling in the same direction - to build a strong and resilient economy that gives every Australian the opportunity to pursue their dreams.
“The right mix of policies, combined with our commitment to budget repair that will return the budget to balance in 2020-21, means our economy is much stronger and that means we can pay for the services that Australians expect.”
Mr Turnbull said the most important “engine” for economic growth, investment and employment was business and in particular small and medium businesses, overwhelmingly owned and operated by Australian families.
“That’s why we worked so hard to secure the passage of important tax relief for small and medium businesses up to a turnover of $50 million a year,” he said.
“When parliament resumes we will again present legislation to reduce tax for all businesses, not just small and medium ones, to 25pc.
“With the US cutting company tax to 21pc the need to remain competitive is more intense than ever.
“We know that if you reduce business tax you get more investment and if you get more investment, you get more and better paid jobs.
“Don’t take my word for it - the IMF just lifted global growth forecasts off the back of the Trump tax cuts.”
Speaking in a radio interview, Dr McVeigh said having the Prime Minister speaking in the regions, giving his national address, rather than in Canberra was “a real thrill”.
“I guess that just emphasizes his and the government’s fairdinkum approach to development in Australia, particularly regional Australia,” he said.
“As he (Mr Turnbull) said, it’s about jobs and growth and that’s what resonates with the mums and dads that you talk about - that’s what they talk to me about as well.”
Dr McVeigh said small business was “the backbone of our community” whether it was agribusiness or agriculture and his electorate was “really punching above our weight”.
“I think we’re an example for the rest of Australia,” he said.
“But we’ve got more opportunity in front of us and that’s why I’m so keen to continue pursuing the policies that we’ve got for our region.”
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