I acknowledge the Wonnarua People, the Traditional Owners of the Land on which we are gathered, and their Elders Past and Present.
As our great Party gathers today, we also reaffirm that a Treaty is more than just words on a page.
And the Closing the Gap targets are more than just numbers.
They are vital to achieve lasting reconciliation with the First Australians.
Can I also acknowledge my wonderful Deputy Yasmin Catley and thank her for that kind introduction.
Labor MPs and Shadow Ministers
Conference Delegates, union friends and Country Labor members.
I am so proud to stand here before you today.
Not just as Leader of our great party …
… but as the first NSW Labor Leader in a generation to grow up in a country town!
You have to go back to the 1960s – and the late great Jack Renshaw – for the last country leader.
It’s an enormous honour – and a big responsibility.
To be a custodian of the oldest political party in Australia – and unite city and country in a vision for the future.
Friends, the Liberals and Nationals have an easy job.
They are parties of the status quo.
Labor aims higher.
We seek a better society, a fairer economy, a more caring community and an environment that is sustainable for future generations.
I think what our purpose really boils down to is giving people hope.
Hope that life can be better tomorrow than today.
Hope that where you come from should never define you.
Hope that hardship and isolation can be beaten
That it is possible to achieve anything in NSW.
I grew up in Gloucester, about two hours drive north of here.
Mum owned the local haberdashery shop, while Dad left school at age 12.
He loved the outdoors and later worked at the water treatment plant for the local council.
Before that, he was in the dairy industry.
As I like to say, I grew up in the back of a Holden watching Dad artificially inseminate cattle!
You all know the values instilled, growing up in a town like mine.
To look after your neighbor, always work hard, and be honest and straight talking in everything you do.
Here in Labor, we have many MPs whose hearts and minds were first shaped in rural and regional NSW.
John Graham from Albury! Kate Washington from Tumut! Julia Finn from Canowindra! Greg Warren from Dubbo!
Trish Doyle from Wagga! Adam Searle from Mullumbimby! Courtney Houssos from Tuncurry! and of course we have Mick Veitch who was born in Gundagai and it goes on and on.
These MPs share a common thread with many of today’s country kids.
That more often than not, they must leave their hometown in search of work and opportunity.
But we never forgot where we came from and those country values never left us.
Because country values are Labor values!
Country NSW reflects the very best of what it means to be Australian.
But it is not just a spirit or an ethos.
Rural and regional NSW punch well above their weight in the State’s economy.
Industries like mining and manufacturing, food and fibre, livestock and tourism underpin our prosperity.
And with emerging industries like wind and solar – rural NSW will play a big role in our future.
Yet we cannot overlook the fact there are many people doing it tough.
Farmers with mental health anguish due to the drought.
Parents struggling to care for children with special needs.
Sick people forced to travel to Sydney for specialist treatment.
Young people on ice.
The desperate shortage of aged care.
The scourge of family violence.
Many people look at those decisions being made in faraway Macquarie Street and doubt any politician could ever have their back, or notice their deepest needs.
Today, my message is that under Labor and my leadership…
If you’ve ever been through tough times.
If you’ve ever yearned for a second chance.
If you’ve come to the regions to build a great future for yourself and your family
I see you and so does Labor!
During last year’s Labor leadership campaign, I made a promise.
That the Labor Party I lead will reach out to those in the community who have traditionally not voted for us.
That we will bring city and country together.
That will be a big tent – and we will have a big heart.
It’s why I’ve travelled from Armidale to Coffs Harbour…
… Lismore to Cootamundra
… Broken Hill to Bateman’s Bay
… Dubbo to Queanbeyan and Goulburn to Tweed.
I’ve walked main streets, I’ve trodden dry creek beds.
I’ve met farmers, inspected burnt-out orchards.
I’ve mingled in council chambers, caught more than my fair share of Rex flights…
And it’s been lovely to share a meal with Labor branch members wherever I can.
Three weeks ago, our entire Shadow Cabinet met in Tumut, and of course, we also visited Tumbarumba, Adelong, Batlow and Talbingo.
Our travels have been humbling and given us all a real sense of what the country is going through.
We have communities that are desperate, literally crying out for investment.
And then they see Gladys Berejiklian and John Barilaro, who lead the most Sydney-centric government in NSW history.
By now the blowouts, bungles and sheer stuff-ups would be familiar to all of you.
The Sydney Light Rail – $1.3 billion over budget and a year late.
The Sydney Metro – a $3 billion blowout.
WestConnex – a $6.8 billion blowout.
The $225 million blowout on the high rise school.
$116 million blowout on Walsh Bay.
And then there’s the $100 million blowout on the Sydney Football Stadium - so that’s nearly a billion dollars to rebuild a stadium that never needed to be knocked down!!!
And of course the ridiculous, crazy, absurd $1.5 billion to move the Powerhouse Museum – literally hauling across Sydney all these museum exhibits.
For nine years now, Country NSW has looked at Macquarie Street with growing fury and a sense of alienation.
We have a Government privatising assets that belong to all of NSW to fund questionable projects in Sydney…
… and to paper over cost blowouts in Sydney.
These are our assets like our electricity network. Our Land Titles Office. Newcastle buses and our ports.
The Government has failed to meet its own target to allocate 30 per cent of the Restart NSW fund to country NSW.
Whether it’s fixing roads filled with potholes or delivering water supply or sewage services, rural NSW has been shortchanged.
And things are only going to get worse.
Because Gladys Berejiklian now has a very big problem funding her very big promises in Sydney – including tollroads as far as the eye can see.
These promises will cost tens of billions of dollars. But they’re unfunded.
To get there, they’ll have to privatise more and more assets that are important to all of us, and country NSW.
Hunter Water. Essential Energy. The rest of Ausgrid and Endeavour.
Even our precious TAFE is in their sights.
One thing is for sure – they will prioritise Sydney over places like Forster – promised a hospital by the Nationals time and again.
During the recent bushfires, locals told me how scared they were when the Pacific Highway closed, cutting off the closest public hospital in Taree.
The Government promised an upgrade at Goulburn Hospital – but when I visited in October there was nothing there except a placard.
On the South Coast, there is a desperate need for a new Eurobodalla Hospital so people don’t have to travel.
Pregnant mothers in Yass are taking more than an hour to get to Goulburn, because Yass Hospital doesn’t offer maternity services.
Meanwhile, in the fast-growing Tweed, the local Nationals Member has broken a promise not to introduce paid parking at the hospital there.
In Monaro, towns around Queanbeyan are also growing fast.
But the schools promised at the election by John Barilaro in Jerrabomberra and Googong don’t have funding or delivery timetables.
And Bungendore and Jindabyne don’t even have confirmed sites.
And this is being repeated in country town after country town.
After a while, you start to see how so much of the Government’s promises to country NSW are smoke and mirrors, designed to string communities along.
Make a promise at an election.
Then make the same promise at the election after that.
The Nationals have been up to their eyeballs in every privatisation.
They’ve shown their true colours. They’re gutless and they’re never going to change.
My fear is that when all’s said and done, when all the assets are privatised and the proceeds have been blown up against the wall…
Vitally needed infrastructure will be pushed out into the never-never.
And the Nationals will stand condemned as accessories in the great plundering of country NSW.
This is not the time to plunder country NSW – it’s a time to reinvest and support communities going through incredible challenges.
Anyone who has experienced the bushfires this summer, or the drought in recent years, knows what’s happening is not normal.
We have seen Mother Nature do its worst.
But any effort to rebuild resilience must start with one simple truth.
Climate change is real – and it is happening today.
I believe country people accept this as much as anyone.
It’s the clear message to us from our rural and regional mayors and councillors.
From our farmers confronting low winter rains … and from our fire chiefs faced with a season that starts earlier and earlier each year.
Climate change is a clear threat to many in rural and regional NSW.
And I sincerely hope the recent calamities we’ve endured will unite the Federal and NSW Parliaments.
Because this is too important.
It’s time to put politics aside, and let’s finally act on climate change in a way that brings people with us.
The drought is something we will live with for a long time.
So much devastation could have been averted if NSW Water Ministers from the National Party hadn’t treated water as a commodity to be sold to the highest bidder.
We now know they designed the Barwon-Darling water-sharing plan to benefit big irrigators and big Party donors.
They choked off water from downstream communities.
They favoured the few at the expense of the many – and they brought on the effects of drought three years early.
Ever since, John Barilaro has been pointing the finger at everybody except himself.
And of course he beats his chest about building dams.
Hello - they haven’t built a single dam in the last decade!
When he’s in country NSW, Mr Barilaro promises a Royal Commission into water.
When he’s in Sydney, he votes against it.
The Leader of the Nationals is the biggest blowhard in the NSW Parliament.
Here, of course, the Upper Hunter has experienced the worst of the drought.
Murrindindi, for example, is still carting water.
Even my home town of Gloucester was forced to truck in water for the first time ever.
Up in the New England, Uralla is drinking bottled water as its supply contains arsenic.
And despite the recent rains, we’re not out of the woods yet.
Regional cities like Bathurst, Dubbo and Tamworth have less than 12 months water left.
Nyngan, Cobar and Wellington half that time still.
So it beggars belief the Nationals are up to their old tricks.
Just this week, they’ve lifted the ban on irrigators harvesting the Barwon-Darling before it’s even had a chance to flow downstream.
Through a gross lack of foresight and preparation, the Nationals have left country NSW exposed.
At worst, they’ve been corrupt.
At best, they’ve been hopeless.
And there is only one solution – the Nationals must be stripped of the Water portfolio!
The recent bushfires have shocked our State.
We all mourn the human toll: 25 precious lives lost in NSW, including six brave responders, and almost 2,500 houses destroyed.
We also acknowledge the economic cost being acutely felt in our regions.
The businesses sent broke; and the restaurants, shops and tourism providers hit by massive losses during their busiest time of year.
During the worst of the crisis, the Premier rightly stood next to Commissioner Fitzsimmons, as any Premier should do.
But in the recovery phase, she’s had to stand on her own two feet and she’s suddenly gone missing.
We face a population exodus from fire-hit towns if we don’t get this recovery right.
The Government must deliver an economic stimulus plan for rural and regional NSW.
We have infrastructure to rebuild - roads, rail lines, bridges, schools, health facilities, power lines and communications.
We have thousands of kilometres of fencing to repair.
Let’s not just replace that fencing but make it feral pest proof.
There’s a chance to put young people to work like never before.
Let’s get these shovel ready projects out the door.
And let’s partner with councils on their very best ideas.
In January Gladys Berejiklian promised $1 billion to bushfire recovery.
They said the money would go out immediately – well it hasn’t.
A decent Government doesn’t play Scrooge with bushfire victims.
It doesn’t scapegoat charities.
It doesn’t get Ministers like David Elliott out to attack the Red Cross.
I say to Gladys Berejiklian and I say to John Barilaro, if you have no problems spending billions and billions in Sydney, then start coughing up for bushfire recovery.
Friends, Labor also calls on the Government to provide targeted support for bushfire-affected industries and jobs.
Already we’ve had a big win.
Labor has saved our state forests from being privatised!
We’ve forced the Government to back off its crazy plan to sell off Forestry Corporation.
And it is a big win for rural communities.
We now demand the Government adopt the rest of the Forestry Industry Assistance Package that we announced as a Shadow Cabinet in Tumut.
This includes appointing a Forestry Recovery Commissioner.
And taking strong action to re-seed plantation areas and help workers and businesses in timber-dependent towns.
Of course, the bushfires have also been an ecological catastrophe.
One billion wildlife lost, and habitats ravaged.
We’re told things could have been different if the Government hadn’t cut so many staff from the National Parks and Wildlife Service.
Our park rangers and area managers – they had decades of experience. They knew the parks like the back of their hand.
Labor calls on the Government give these people back their jobs.
We must protect critical habitats from pests and tackle the weed explosion as the drought recedes and the bush grows back.
Labor is the original party that lovingly built up our national parks estate – and we demand the Government start the important repair of our environment right now.
We do not accept a future in which rural and regional NSW sleepwalks into decline.
It’s the mission of Labor as a Party to give every person hope, every community a future.
And my Hunter upbringing has taught me Labor must always stand for jobs – the jobs of today, and the jobs of tomorrow.
That’s why I’ve appointed our Deputy Yasmin Catley to lead this important portfolio.
In regions like the Riverina, Illawarra and Clarence Valley, unemployment is much higher than the state average.
And youth unemployment is in double digits – more than 13 per cent on the Mid North Coast and 16 per cent in the New England and North West.
I feel very deeply that kids from rural NSW should be able to find good jobs close to where they grow up – if that’s what they want.
The Government likes to talk up the jobs from its Sydney-based infrastructure projects.
But when was the last time you heard the Premier speak with true passion about growing jobs in Goulburn, in Lismore and Taree, or right here in Singleton?
Her Government has located what she calls a “Centre of Excellence” in Agriculture on the outskirts of Sydney when it could be inspiring young people right here.
We’ve also seen public sector job cuts bite deep in the bush.
The result is that country communities don’t see many public servants these days.
They are fewer, they are more stretched, and ever further removed from the communities they are meant to serve.
Thousands of jobs have vanished through electricity privatisation alone.
And the jobs of 500 Essential Energy workers still hang by a thread.
The Government has only held off because Labor has so ferociously challenged them.
Of course, last year, the Premier said she wanted to make NSW the “manufacturing capital of Australia”.
How hypocritical from a Government that has sent billions of dollars of contracts overseas.
They’ve sourced buses from Malaysia.
Trains from South Korea.
Metros from India.
Light rail vehicles from France and Spain.
And now 13 new Sydney Ferries from China and Indonesia.
We have incredible manufacturing capacity right here in NSW.
We have people hungry for opportunity who are being denied.
Well I say we must use the State’s procurement power to support local businesses and to support local jobs.
Manufacturing has a strong future in the Hunter and Illawarra.
And that’s something a Labor Government will always cherish – and we will never forget.
Just as we support manufacturing, Labor supports our miners and their families to achieve greater security in employment.
We want to see a mining industry that is responsible, well-regulated, sustainable, safe and strong.
In recent years, people in mining communities have become increasingly worried about the practice of using labour hire companies to recruit workers.
This has drastically reduced the number of permanent full-time employees in the industry.
About one-third of miners who work underground are contractors.
They often work the same schedule as permanent employees.
They just have none of the same protections.
And if you’re a casual, you can be stood down or let go for any reason and you’re paid on average 30% less.
Today I announce a McKay Labor Government will legislate to ensure mining companies engage in safe and fair workplace practices.
This will be a condition of their planning approval to operate.
They will need to demonstrate they have fair dispute settlement procedures.
Labor will require that at least 80 per cent of workers on site are directly employed.
And we will also impose a condition that labour hire workers cannot be paid lower than anyone else.
Miners deserves a fair go – here in Singleton, across the Upper Hunter and right across NSW.
Labor will always stand up for mining workers and their families – and that is a message I proudly deliver in Singleton.
In the years to come, I sincerely believe there is no limit to what country NSW can achieve.
When I was involved in establishing Hunter Medical Research Institute, the Hunter was a region in transition.
It was said the Hunter would never survive the closure of the BHP Steelworks.
But survive it did – by redefining the city’s economic base and re-imagining the future.
We turned to medical research, and we invited the private sector, the university and the community into a genuine partnership – a partnership that now supports more than 1400 researchers.
Coal will remain a significant contributor to the NSW economy and continue to provide jobs in the Hunter for decades to come.
I also believe that as rural and regional NSW enters a new decade, it must build on its strengths with new sources of innovation.
It’s no secret that as the Member for Newcastle, I supported a container terminal for the Port of Newcastle to diversify the Hunter economy.
I advocated for that position even at the price of attracting powerful enemies and losing my seat – and I will continue to advocate for a container terminal at the Port of Newcastle.
Unlike this Government, Labor’s vision for job creation won’t be limited to the Sydney CBD.
Over the next three years, you can expect us to develop exciting new policies to support employment, retraining and start-up activity in country NSW.
As industries undergo change and disruption, it’s time for a jobs plan that maps out the future and diversifies our economy.
Where are our new sources of GDP growth going to come from?
Why shouldn’t regional NSW be a leader in advanced manufacturing? Or Bioengineering?
Precision agriculture? Data science and artificial intelligence? Medical research and technology, and of course, renewable energy?
And we must also nurture and grow our workforce in areas like early childhood, nursing, aged care and disability care where demand is set to soar.
It is Labor – and only Labor – that will properly invest in our schools.
At a time when NSW results in maths, science and reading are at their worst in 20 years, a State Government must do more than upgrade a building or install air conditioning.
Labor knows it’s what happens inside the building that counts.
And beyond the school gate, we will never ever allow this Government to privatise TAFE, just like we will never allow them to privatise our hospitals.
Singleton used to have a TAFE – it’s now got something called a CLC and you can’t even study metalworking, mining or agriculture.
We will build up TAFE and we will get it to a place where it’s held in as high esteem as university.
Because the joy of learning should be available to every single person.
Whether you are young or old.
And no matter where you live in NSW.
Country NSW was at the heart of my pitch for leadership.
A country-ness that can only be understood if you have lived it.
It is a way of life, it’s an outlook, it’s a set of principles that was drummed into me, and helped evolve the way I see the world.
Over the next three years, I pledge to give my absolute all to getting Labor back into Government here in NSW, to implementing our values, and to delivering for rural and regional NSW.
Country Labor will be integral to that effort.
I want to thank all of you for your continued support of our Party.
For standing up for your beliefs at branch meetings, advocating for Labor ideas in your communities and handing out how-to-votes on election day, even if you’re the only person staffing that booth.
It is my firm belief that our Parliamentary representation should reflect the breadth and diversity of our membership.
So today I commit to having two Country Labor candidates in winning spots on our ticket for the Legislative Council.
Friends, country values are Labor values.
It is no coincidence Labor’s roots lie in the heart of rural Australia.
The Tree of Knowledge did not grow in Martin Place – but in rural Queensland.
We began as the party of the shearer and the rural worker – and we can be again.
Ben Chifley started out life as a train driver in Bathurst.
And his Light on the Hill is just as relevant in 2020.
That desire for betterment, that generosity of spirit, and that dreaming of a new day, throbs deep in the heart of every Australian.
It doesn’t matter if you sit at a computer or load up bales of hay.
We must work together.
So let’s work together –
To build a society where people are valued and our most fragile and needy are cared for.
Work together –
So our kids get the best education and all can hope for a brighter future.
And finally let’s work together –
To unite city and country – to lift up each other – and recognize, respect and revel in the diversity that makes our State great.