"The fact that so many of my Labor team are here today is a reflection of our shared faith in the potential and possibility of country Australia."
- Bill Shorten
Leader of the Opposition
Member for Maribyrnong
I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet, and I pay my respects to their elders both past and present.
I want to acknowledge all our Labor candidates here today, especially our host, the former and future Member for Page, Janelle Saffin.
Thank you Joel for the kind introduction.
And thank you for all the effort you have put in as Labor’s spokesman for Agriculture and Rural Affairs.
Joel – and the Country Caucus he leads – are tireless champions for rural Australia.
And they are relentless.
Whenever I or any one of my colleagues are having a conversation about policy…sometimes even in the middle of speeches…Joel, or Justine Elliot, or Lisa Chesters will suddenly chime in and say:
“That all sounds good, but what about the regions. Don’t forget the regions!”
I can ever hear Janelle saying it!
The fact that so many of my Labor team are here today is a reflection of our shared faith in the potential and possibility of country Australia.
My colleagues and I are here because – like all of you – we believe Australians on the land and in our country towns deserve a stronger voice and a better deal.
We refuse to accept, all of us, that any party has a monopoly on the interests of rural Australia.
Especially not the Nationals.
Not Warren Truss…certainly not Barnaby Joyce.
In fact, on the train on the way here, I thought to myself that the Nats are a bit like the Liberal party’s faithful old working-dog.
You can picture it, can’t you.
There’s the Liberals, in their Rodd and Gunn vests, jumper knotted around their shoulders just like the old boarding-school days, driving the ute.
And there’s Warren and Barnaby, tied up in the tray at the back, like Pistol and Boo.
Sure, every so often the Liberals look in the rear view mirror to make sure the Nats are still there.
But the fact is, the Nationals don’t get a say in where they’re going…they don’t help steer or navigate…they’re just along for the ride.
I think Australians are hungry for a better alternative, for a party that truly cares about delivering better results and real progress for hard-working Australians in the bush.
Before entering Parliament, I spent 14 fantastic years in the AWU, which gave me the opportunity to visit a lot of rural workplaces throughout Australia:
- fruit pickers
- dried-fruit packers
- winery workers
- broiler chicken growers
- civil construction workers
- wild dog trappers
- tomato pickers and plenty more.
I represented shearers and my time on the boards of the shearing shed gave me an understanding of the hard work that shearers, roustabouts, wool classers and farm families do.
I got a glimpse of an Australia that a lot of people born and raised in our cities don’t know enough about…or perhaps think has gone.
And I understand that if Labor is going to win government, we need to speak for this Australia.
We need to represent the best interests of Australians like you.
We need to be a party as big, as bold and as diverse as the country we love and seek to serve.
We must engage with the challenges faced by communities beyond our suburbs.
And we must offer ourselves as proud, forceful advocates for the jobs, infrastructure, services and investment regional Australia needs to succeed.
Australia is so much more than three big cities on the east coast.
And if we’re going to compete and win in a global economy…
If we’re going to seize the opportunities of having the world’s largest marketplace on our doorstep…
If we’re going to boost our productivity and care for an ageing population…
Then we need to tap into the potential of our whole continent.
We need to invest in our regions, in people’s innovation and their innate capacity.
We need everyone connected – and pulling in the same direction.
This is true for free trade.
Labor has a proud history of support trade liberalisation – in the national interest.
We understand good free trade agreements are good for farmers and agriculture.
In government, we laid the groundwork for the Japan and Korea agreements.
And we supported them in Opposition.
We support the China Free Trade Agreement too.
We’re aware of the benefits it offers grain exporters and dairy.
But we are equally determined to make sure the right safeguards are put in place to uphold Australian conditions, Australian safety standards and Australian jobs.
Without our safeguards, on any project worth more than $150 million, for example a new aged care facility or a major new dairy processing plant or abattoir.
The company would be able to fly in construction workers from overseas, without having to check if Australians were available to do the job.
Labor will not be pressured into settling for a deal that sells Australia short, or cuts Australian workers out.
We want the benefits of the deal to include everyone.
On CHAFTA, as with everything else, we believe in making economic change work for all Australians - so people don’t get left behind.
This has never been more important.
Because inequality in our society is at a 75 year high.
And as so many of you know, there is a creeping inequality of geography gripping our nation.
A new ‘tyranny of distance’, where jobs, growth and opportunity are not fairly shared across our country.
For example, a recent PWC report found that in the last 15 years, the Australian economy has grown by around 46 per cent.
But while economies in our capital cities grew by between 37 per cent and 76 per cent.
Rural economies contracted by between 25 and 61 per cent.
And that economic gap is repeated for so many of the indicators we use to measure ourselves as a society:
In our schools, Year 12 completion rates and NAPLAN results decline, the further you go from our cities.
Fewer students from the regions get the chance to go to uni, and if they do go, fewer students complete their degree.
Life expectancy is lower – and the rates of chronic disease are higher.
Unemployment is around 2 per cent higher on average – and youth unemployment in our regions is far too high, across the board.
There is the national shame of family violence, which we must all strive to eliminate.
The challenges of mental health, depression and suicide – a sense of loneliness and isolation often compounded by physical remoteness.
And the new scourge of ice, a low-cost drug, ruining lives and tearing families apart.
Too many Australians feel like they have to leave the community they love, to get a decent opportunity.
As Labor people, as the party of fairness and equity, we cannot, we will not stand for this inequality.
Choosing a life in regional Australia should never mean second-tier healthcare, second-class education and a second-rate NBN.
And under Labor, it never will.
This is why we voted against the Liberal-National cuts to the pension and their cuts to family support.
It’s why we have stood against the Liberal-National cuts to dementia support.
It’s why we oppose their plans to slug sick Australians with a GP Tax – either upfront or by stealth.
And it is why Labor is committed to an economic and social program for revitalising our regions.
We have a plan for high-quality infrastructure decision-making, boosting productivity in our regions and linking our country towns to services in our cities.
We need our super funds investing in our regions – especially in infrastructure.
Right now only 0.3 per cent of Australia’s superannuation funds go back into vital construction in the bush – this has to lift.
Labor created a school funding model to break away from the politics of public vs private vs church schools – and the big beneficiaries are country kids.
And unlike the Liberal-Nationals, we will give students and teachers in our country schools the right resources and support – with schools funding based on need.
I’m proud to have played a part in the creation of the National Disability Insurance Scheme – a system of tailored support, empowering people with disability, their families and carers.
Ending the exile of a second class life – and resolving the midnight anxiety of elderly parents, worrying about who would care for their child with disability, when they no longer could.
And we will fight for the full, timely roll-out of the NDIS to our regions – no cuts, no delay.
We will support universal Medicare and proper funding for our public hospitals.
Because it is your Medicare card, not your credit card that should guarantee access to quality healthcare.
We will always stand for a fair pension and strong super, because Australians who have worked hard all their lives and paid taxes all their lives deserve dignity and security in retirement.
And this means providing decent aged care too, learning from successful programs like multi-purpose services.
Labor has a plan to invest in our universities, increasing access and boosting quality.
We will never support $100,000 degrees.
We want downward pressure on the price of university.
More young Australians from our regions and more mature-age students upgrading their skills, having the chance to go to university and graduate with a good degree.
We’re backing skills and apprenticeships, with support for public TAFE, because the pendulum has swung too far to dodgy private providers.
We believe in a first-rate National Broadband Network, bridging the digital divide with fibre to the premises.
Not just in one or two lucky towns like Armidale – but in every community: connecting businesses, schools, hospitals and homes to the world.
Farmers know, better than anyone, how important sustainability is.
Farmers care for 61 per cent of our continent – and 94 in every 100 farmers actively undertake natural resource management.
And you have every right to insist that projects like the proposed Shenhua Mine follow the proper processes.
The Liverpool plains is part of the largest groundwater system in the Murray Darling – and we should treat this precious resource with the utmost respect.
Sustainability goes beyond conservation.
Every day Australia fails to act on climate change exposes our farmers to more risk and it hurts our economy.
Every day we choose not to act, we are choosing more floods, more droughts, less certainty for cropping, less feed for livestock.
The benefits of taking action are immense.
If we embrace renewable energy, solar and wind power will create new jobs and new opportunities in our regional centres.
And it will add new value to existing industries, like the bio-digester being constructed at Inverell.
This will reduce emissions, put the business back in charge of energy costs, reduce unit costs, and it will produce clean water and bio-fertiliser.
We want to support more great projects like this.
And we will give more homes and businesses the chance to take control of their power bills with rooftop solar and more farmers the chance to earn new income by putting turbines on their land.
Our vision for Australia isn’t confined to one segment of our country or one set of postcodes.
We believe in growing our economy by extending opportunity.
And I want to assure you, more than ever, this will includes rural and regional Australia.
Paul Keating once said that ‘true believers’ were the people who kept the faith in difficult times.
I can’t imagine it’s ever been easy to be a true believer, or a Labor branch member in your communities.
And the task before you in the coming year is a mighty one indeed.
You and I know that for Labor to win the election, we have to stand up and be counted in the regions.
This means asking people who have never voted Labor before in their lives to trust us with their support.
And we are counting on you to help us achieve that.
We are counting on you to start conversations and to change minds.
We’re counting on you to be the standard-bearers for our message, for our policies and plans.
Your advocacy, your authenticity, your understanding of the real lives of your friends, colleagues and neighbours will be essential to our success.
And when they ask you: what does Labor stand for?
What does Labor believe?
You know the answer - you have lived it all your lives.
Labor stands for
- Good Jobs
- Quality Healthcare
- Great education
- And fairness for all
This is our Labor vision for Australia’s future.
A vision that spans our continent and includes every community.
This is our plan, to advance Australia.