Fertile ground for upstarts as major parties'go big' in bush

Fertile ground for upstarts as major parties 'go big' in bush

Federal Election National News
About 1000 protesters and 140 trucks were in the centre of Albury in April protesting water reform. Photo Mark Jesser.

About 1000 protesters and 140 trucks were in the centre of Albury in April protesting water reform. Photo Mark Jesser.

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Local issues will matter more than ever, but Labor and the Coalition are stuck in a rut

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Analysis

All politics is local, as the saying goes, and there's never been a time like now to prove the truth of this traditional wisdom.

Local issues will dominate the election campaign in regional areas like never before.

There's a cacophony on independent candidates and minor parties this time around, and they will all deploy the 'go local' strategy against the Coalition and Labor.

Recent state elections have seen major parties ousted from safe seats by minor parties and independents.

But despite the need to go local, major party MPs will remain shy about talking up the big issues, leaving fertile ground for independents and minor parties. Why?

The federal government hasn't been able to agree on pressing issues like environment and energy, and the big issue question many punters have is 'why do you keep knifing your Prime Ministers?'.

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Government has its budget commitment to spend $100 billion on regional roads over the next 10 years, and a wedge of about $500 million to spend on new dam announcements, but whether it can deliver construction, or just more feasibility studies, remains to be seen.

Scott Morrison's declared drought his first item of business when he replaced Malcolm Turnbull last year, but Australia still lacks a national policy despite a decade of complaints from farmers.

Meanwhile, Labor has plenty of big policies, but just as many unanswered questions on the details and how their reforms will play out on the ground and it's unlikely they'll win any inland seats.

Labor has pledged major reforms to health, taxation, as well as regional water and the environment, among others. But the latter issue is a prime example of why local questions will be fertile ground for small players in regional seats.

Labor wants to take more water from irrigation at a time when Murray Darling Basin state seats have ousted their traditional Nationals base over the negative socio-economic impacts of water recovery.

On the environment front, Labor is appealing to urban voters with pledges of tough new environment regulation, but cannot provide details of how it's reforms will impact agriculture.

It also risks offending rusted on Labor voters in key mining electorates with some MPs anti-coal rhetoric.

There are also significant policy areas where you can barely fit a struck match between the major parties.

Labor has pledged to spend $100m a year on drought preparation, and to maintain a $100b infrastructure fund, while the Coalition has pledged a $100b drought future fund (spending $100m a year) and a 10 year, $100b roads program.

The Australian Local Government Association's election wishlist is topped by an issue which should provide a wake up call to the major parties risking the erosion of their regional constituencies.

Commonwealth funding to local councils has plummeted since 1996. Back then, the funding vehicle - Financial Assistance Grants - were worth 1 per cent of Gross Dependent Product, but that figure has fallen 43pc to 0.55pc of GDP.

The ALGA says the grants help equalise services across the country "particularly in rural, regional and remote areas".

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