Speech - Labor Country Conference - Sunday, 16 September 2018

It’s great to be back at Labor’s Country Conference.

It’s great to be back at Labor’s Country Conference.

I acknowledge the Worimi People, the traditional owners of the land on which we meet.  I pay my respects to their elders past, present and emerging.

The ongoing success of this gathering is a great credit to the Country Labor Committee Mark, Kaila, Jay and the NSW Branch team.

There can be no doubt that our Annual Conference in Sydney’s Town Hall is the pre-eminent annual gathering of our great Party.

It’s the most historical, the largest and the most colourful of our rituals.

As Australia’s next Prime Minister Bill Shorten said when addressing the Conference this year: It’s the place where:-

“Every Labor generation has looked outwards, to face the big challenges and forge the big decisions”.

It hasn’t been around for as long, but what we do and say here at the NSW Country Conference is every bit as important.

We can also be pretty colourful.

Labor can’t win government at either the state of national level if we don’t hold the requisite number of regional seats.

And delegates, millions of Australians are relying upon us to form a government whenever our third Prime Minister in five years is prepared to call an election.

And critical to our success will be the army of rank-and-file Members who’ll be carrying the Labor flag in rural and regional Australia.

The first Country Conference I attended was held in Singleton -in my own electorate - more than thirty years ago. 

In the period since, I’ve watch the conference debate grow from cattle, sheep and dairy – as important as they are – to a whole suite of policy issues critical to the health and well-being of our regional economies and communities.

Health, education, jobs, child, care, aged care, equality of opportunity, fairness in the workplace and of course, the preservation our natural environment for our children and grandchildren.

I could be wrong, but I don’t recall seeing many of our trade union colleagues at the Singleton gathering back in 1987.  But I’ve seen plenty of them in more recent years and that’s important because a Conference without our trade union affiliates is no Conference at all.

Delegates I ask you the question; what do the following people have in common?

Peter Dutton, Christopher Pyne, Paul Fletcher, Steve Ciobo, Christian Porter, Michael Keenan, Darren Chester, and David Littleproud.

  • Yes, they are all Muppets.
  • Yes, they are all blokes in suits.
  • Yes, they are all Cabinet Ministers.
  • But they have one other thing in common.
  • No, delegates, it’s not a love for one another.

The answer is: none of them wore their Australian Flag lapel pin in the Parliament this week.  They are the dissidents in a fractured and dysfunctional government and they want the whole world to know it.

Delegates, being in Government is about much more than taking the salary and the trappings of office.

It’s about having a vision for the future of our country and its people.

It’s about developing and implementing the policies needed to meet our aspirations.

And when tough decisions need to be made, it’s about having the strength of your convictions and the powers of persuasion necessary to take people with you.

For the past five years Bill Shorten’s team has been doing that from Opposition and with your help, we could soon be doing it from the Treasury benches.

Let me remind you of just some of the things we’ve announced on the economic reform front alone:

  • Negative gearing reform;
  • Capital gains tax reform;
  • Dividend imputation reform; and
  • Reform to discretionary trusts.

These were all bold decisions, courageously developed and sold by Chris Bowen and our economic team.

Not only are they the right decisions, they will help a Shorten Labor Government pay for our important commitments to schools funding, TAFE and our universities.

Our policy commitments won’t stop there delegates; far from it.

A Shorten Labor Government will:

  • Take serious action on climate change.
  • In addition to mitigation, we’ll help farmers adapt to a more challenging climate – it’s the best defence to drought. And I thank the Conference for giving the current drought so much focus yesterday
  • We’ll ensure our limited natural water and soil resources are allocated efficiently, effectively and in a way which produces the highest return for both our farmers and our economy.
  • We’ll deliver an energy policy which brings down carbon emissions while also delivering affordable and reliable supplies of electricity to both households and industry.
  • Delegates we will re-build our health and hospital systems after five years of neglect.
  • We’ll address stagnant wages and growing inequality.  I remind you delegates; the recent National Accounts figures told us that corporate profits are now growing five times faster than wages.
  • And we’ll do everything in our power to get the NBN back on track.

The Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison Government promised its second-rate NBN would be faster, delivered sooner, and be more affordable.

The reality is very different:  3 in 4 premises on its copper network cannot access top speeds. 

It is now $22 billion over budget and 4 years behind schedule.

And into their sixth year in government, the Coalition still does not understand the transformative potential of the NBN to bridge the digital divide.

Unbelievably, NBNCo recently tried to make regional Australians pay $20 more per month for access to the same broadband speed as someone in the city; which demonstrates that the Tories don’t understand the role of fibre in closing the city-country divide either.

It took swift action by Labor led by Michelle Rowland to call that move out and force the Government to dump its plan to hit regional residents with a fibre-tax.

Delegates, the minor party rabble that call themselves the “National Party” – even though that’s not really its name - is pretty good at talking the talk but they rarely walk the walk.

They love the boondoggles and pork barrels, but they have no strategic plan for rural and regional Australia.

They used to talk about decentralisation a lot but they never mention it any more.

Decentralisation can be part of a broader strategy but only if it’s properly planned and executed.

You don’t create more jobs just by moving them from one location to another.

The strongest and most successful regions are those which enjoy strong and innovative leadership. 

Political and business leadership capable of thinking outside the square, identifying the opportunities and weaknesses, and securing the federal and state government funding needed to both overcome the challenges while capitalising on the opportunities.

Labor believes in a bottom-up approach to local economic development and empowerment. 

Lead by Albo, when we were last in Government that’s the path we laid, working closely with local councils and economic development bodies, and making sure local projects were funded on merit, not based on the political preferences of local communities.

Which brings me to Barnaby Joyce.  The Member for New England is a cancer on our democracy, and now he’s back as David Littleproud’s errand boy.

The National Party represents this Nation’s poorest electorates and poor they like to keep them.  People like Barnaby Joyce have been key architects of their political model.

A model which has two tactical branches.  The first is to divide communities by fuelling dissent on an issue and then pitting one side against the other.  In other words they are not about consensus building, unity and empowerment, they are about division. 

The second branch of the model is to throw just enough crumbs to their supporters to keep them loyal.

Well that loyalty is now ebbing away delegates.  We saw it in Orange and more recently the Wagga Wagga result sent shock-waves through both the Liberal and National Parties.

As did “Super Saturday”!

The Coalition Parties are a mess delegates.  The Libs are tearing themselves apart in Canberra, they hate each other. 

On Thursday, Julie Bishop just happened to be wandering around the Press Gallery at a time there just happened to be journalists and cameras everywhere. 

There she looked down the barrel of a camera to make it quite clear crossing the floor to refer Peter Dutton to the High Court was a live and real option.

Watch Wentworth with interest delegates. A big swing against the Government will give birth to many Coalition kittens in Canberra.

Not only will it further dull Morrison’s political prospects, it will leave the Government with just 75 of the 150 seats in the House of Representatives. 

Indeed just 74 after providing a Speaker.

Labor has 69 seats and would have 70 if we were to take Wentworth. The cross-bench numbers six or possibly seven after the Wentworth by-election although I doubt we can count on Page MP Kevin Hogan, the Nat who spat the dummy over Malcolm’s execution and went to the cross-bench.

I don’t think the people of Page will be relying on him either. Our own excellent candidate Patrick Deegan can’t believe his luck.

In the current political environment delegates, anything can happen.        

But the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party takes nothing for granted delegates.

We can’t afford to wait for them to lose - we have to be ready to win.

The Canberra team is well lead by Bill Shorten and we are united delegates.  We have the policies and the personnel.

And we have you.

With your support we can win and achieve.

Let’s do it.                           

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