HUNTER VALLEY NEWS COLUMN 30 SEPTEMBER 2015

State branches of the Labor Party - most notably NSW - have been operating Country Labor entities and running "Country Labor" candidates for many years.

As part of my efforts to re-energise Federal Labor's efforts and improve electoral outcomes in rural and regional Australia, I've established :-

• a Country Caucus in Canberra where MPs and Senators from, or with an interest in, rural and regional Australia meet with interests groups, discuss policy, and hunt as a pack in the Caucus.
• The first provision in the National Rules of the Party for a Country Labor Network and a requirement that each state branch (those who haven't already formalised one) establish a Country Labor entity
• The inaugural National Country Labor Forum.

I convened the first Country Labor Forum in Casino last weekend.  It was a great success.

The objectives of the forum were :-

• To bring country members together to discuss rural and regional issues and to share ideas
• To devise campaign strategies for rural and regional Australia
• To showcase Labor's focus on rural and regional Australia
• To provide the Parliamentary Leader with an opportunity to address country members from around the nation

Around 200 Party Members attended the forum at the Casino RSM Club.  National ALP President Mark Butler and a number of Shadow Ministers and other MPs from federal and state parliaments also attended.

In the past 30 years Labor has not won office nationally without holding at least 13 rural seats as defined by the AEC and a combination of 29 rural and provincial seats.  We currently hold 5 and 14 respectively.  If we don't substantially build on that, history says we can't win!

But more importantly, a strong Labor Party in the regions brings political competition and better outcomes for our rural and regional communities.  That is the most noble of all my objectives.

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Last week the Shadow Minister with responsibility for vocational education visited our electorate to help me highlight the importance of our TAFE institutions and the threat government policy poses to them.

During her visit, Sharon Bird and I pointed out that NSW Government policies are slowly but surely killing TAFE and as a key funder, the Commonwealth is in a position to do something about it.

We believe that in addition to the restoration of state funding, governments need to recognise that the plan to introduce competition in the training market has failed in regional Australia where we don't always have the critical mass of students to allow it to work.

Sharon Bird has proposed we cap the amount of money which goes to the private providers.  That will strengthen TAFE's future.

We need a TAFE system local kids can easily access to obtain affordable training in the skills areas our economy so desperately needs. 


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