Speech to 2020 Country Conference
I am proud to open the NSW Country Labor Conference.
As the ad says, when you’re on a good thing, stick to it.
I’ve stuck to it – I’ve been coming to these conferences for 35 years.
It is great to be here among so many members of the great Labor family.
I am honoured by the presence of my federal colleagues: Justine Elliott, Meryl Swanson,
Deb O’Neil, Jenny McAllister, Tony Sheldon and Tim Ayres.
And of course that great champion of regional Australia, Joel Fitzgibbon.
I’m also honoured by the presence of my state colleagues, led by Jodi McKay.
I especially enjoyed coming to Singleton today.
I came up the Hunter Expressway – Labor built it.
I saw coal freight being hauled along the Minimbah-Maitland third rail line – Labor built it.
I drove past the upgraded TAFE facilities, and the trades training centre at Singleton High School – Labor built them.
Labor is the party of nation-building. We build things – but not just in marginal or target seats.
We are the party regional Australia needs.
There is so much to be done – unless you’re the Coalition.
Nothing jolts them from their complacency. Not drought. Not fire.
While so many Australians stepped up in our time of crisis, Scott Morrison went missing in action.
Nothing exemplifies their inertia as much as the Nationals.
No one talks up regional Australia like the Nationals.
But no one lets down regional Australia like the Nationals.
Across the nation, they hold two of the three poorest electorates: Mallee in Victoria, and Page here in NSW.
Barnaby Joyce put it this way:
“Our constituents are the poorest … so we are always looking out for them.”
Barnaby’s greatest understanding of poverty came after his career hit a bump and his salary was cut to that of a backbench Federal MP.
He bleated about how tough he was doing it.
No violin small enough could be found.
The Nationals’ focus has drifted from the people they are meant to represent – and onto themselves.
On the day Parliament paused to remember bushfire victims, they brawled over who should be top dog.
On the day the Indonesian President addressed our Parliament, they tore themselves apart over the Deputy Speakership.
They’ve fallen a long way.
Black Jack McEwen would never have let himself be pushed around by the Liberals like this.
Doug Anthony wouldn’t have copped it. Tim Fischer wouldn’t have copped it.
Even Warren Truss must be shaking his head.
No wonder regional Australians feel abandoned.
The Nationals talk the talk, but they don’t walk the walk.
As a party proudly born in the bush, Labor has the plans that deliver for regional Australia.
And we can win back the trust of regional Australia.
Our record is a proud one.
Look at our transformation of the Pacific Highway.
Look at the Hunter Expressway – talked about for years without a hole being dug, until Labor came along and invested $1.5 billion.
Labor invested in the Third Rail Line. The extra coal exports it now carries is generating the revenue that sustains the entire interstate rail freight network.
We understand the need for infrastructure that boosts productivity and, indeed, transforms our economy.
Infrastructure such as High Speed Rail, which would promote decentralisation and end the tyranny of distance.
It would be a game-changer for communities along its path, including, Grafton, Coffs Harbour, Port Macquarie, Newcastle, the Central Coast, Southern Highlands, Wagga Wagga and Shepparton.
Locally, Labor pledged prior to last year’s election to build the long talked about Singleton bypass.
There wasn’t a cent from the Nats – though they did manage to rustle up $3 billion from the Urban Congestion Fund to pork barrel marginal city electorates.
More than a quarter of it went to just four seats held by the Liberals – the party that repeatedly rips off regional Australia but is kept in power by the Nationals and their secret Coalition agreement.
In NSW, they took the $105 million set aside for the Central Coast and pumped 94 per cent of it into the marginal Liberal seat of Robertson.
Dobell and Shortland residents were left short-changed.
Nothing for the rest of the Hunter. Or the Illawarra. Or Queanbeyan. Or Tweed Heads.
But then, this Government’s idea of regional NSW is a swimming pool on Sydney’s north shore – right next to the Harbour Bridge – which they upgraded using funds originally earmarked for regional communities.
No surprise that it’s a pool regularly used by Scott Morrison.
As the true party of the bush, we want rural and regional Australians to receive a fair share of the prosperity their efforts generate, and to build a more secure future in our changing economy.
What we need is a new paradigm for regional economic development.
Labor can deliver. We always have.
Curtin got us through World War II.
Chifley gave us the post-war economic reconstruction.
Whitlam modernised Australia.
Hawke and Keating transformed our economy.
Rudd and Gillard insulated us from the global financial crisis.
The task for the next Labor Government will be to address the challenges of the future.
Labor’s priority has always been to shape change in the interests of people.
We have done it before and we will do it again.
Not least with climate change.
The climate wars have squandered a decade. The community is losing patience with this Government.
That’s why last week I announced that a future Labor Government would adopt a target of zero net emissions by 2050.
We will talk with a broad spectrum of farmers, workers, business and organisations to develop the roadmap to get us there.
There is nothing radical here. Seventy-three countries have agreed to it, as have the Australians states – including Liberal states.
Big business including Qantas, Telstra, BP, the Commonwealth Bank and Santos, along with the influential Business Council of Australia, are aiming for it.
Just this week, Rio Tinto announced it will invest $1.5 billion in climate-related projects over the next five years as part of its 2050 pledge.
Here in the Upper Hunter, AGL is working with us to ensure that when the 50-year-old Liddell power station runs out of puff, the region remains the powerhouse of NSW.
Newer and cleaner technologies like pumped-hydro and gas peaking stations will help take up the slack, and a big new battery will store electricity and help keep the grid stable.
The odd ones out are the federal Liberals and Nationals – hell bent on putting politics before science.
Politics before common sense.
Politics before people.
They talk of the cost of action, but ignore the cost of inaction, which is far greater.
They ignore the CSIRO, which tells us action on climate change means more jobs, and cheaper, cleaner energy for families and businesses.
Unlike the Nationals, there are organisations that study the evidence because they actually do represent the interests of regional Australians.
The National Farmers’ Federation has adopted a carbon neutrality objective in its 2019 roadmap.
Meat and Livestock Australia has said a net zero red meat sector by as soon as 2030 is achievable.
While the Government runs scare campaigns about job losses for cynical political gain, Labor and the real world see opportunities for regional Australia.
We understand the global shift towards a carbon neutral economy provides new opportunities for growth in both our traditional industries and our emerging ones.
According to the Clean Energy Council, there are 29 large-scale renewable energy projects across regional NSW – either under construction or due to start soon.
These add up to $6 billion of investment and 4000 jobs.
There are completed projects like the Sapphire Wind Farm between Inverell and Glen Innes, which has enough generation capacity to power 115,000 homes.
Ross Garnaut has written about the potential for a clean energy jobs boom in regional areas.
This will be through the return of energy-intensive Australian manufacturing, powered by cheap, plentiful renewables.
With the development of an Australian hydrogen industry, regional Australia would be a natural home for expanded industries in aluminium, steel, silicon and ammonia.
There are huge opportunities for regional areas to contribute via carbon farming.
Australia has the potential to capture 1 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide a year, generating a new source of income for our farmers in the process.
The forestry industry has a bright future as our economy changes.
We are also the second largest producer of rare earth elements.
Just as coal and iron ore fuelled the industrial economies of the 20th century, they will fuel the clean energy economies of the 21st.
If we leave it to the Nationals, we will drift back towards the 19th century. They would rather cling to yesterday and run scare campaigns than embrace the opportunities of tomorrow.
This lazy cynicism is shameful. They sell out their own communities and our full potential as a nation.
As the true party of the bush, we will prioritise regional jobs.
It is why I’ve created a Regional Jobs Taskforce under Meryl Swanson to lead this work.
But all this requires vision.
Chifley spoke of the light on the hill.
But afraid of the present and terrified of the future, the Liberals and Nationals have settled for the fading afterglow of the past.
They have no plans for our nation.
To create the impression of drought action, they scrapped the Building Australia Fund, took the money away from regional infrastructure projects and set up a fund.
Now, over a year later, our struggling farmers are yet to see a single dollar from it.
This Government is the Masterchef of cooking the books.
Is it any wonder they’ve been so inept with fire as well?
The fires you have lived with. The fires you have seen, smelt, even touched.
The fires that have killed 30 of our fellow Australians, and three Americans who came so far to help us.
The fires that killed more than a billion animals.
The fires that incinerated 13 million hectares.
Experts tried in vain to warn the Prime Minister.
Over the summer as he failed to step up, Labor was there on the ground.
As NSW burned, I travelled to Lismore, Casino, Nowra, Batemans Bay, the Central West, and across the Blue Mountains.
I saw communities pulling together.
And I saw the bravery of the Rural Fire Service.
I know many of you here are proud members. You do hold a hose.
We can never thank you enough.
One volunteer firefighter I met in Casino was Wayne Finch. He went to sea at 15, and he’s still an MUA member.
When he came home, he joined the RFS at Sextonville.
I’m very proud to say Wayne is also a Kyogle Branch member.
It was Wayne who, on behalf of his mates, first raised with me the idea of financial compensation for our RFS volunteers, who’ve given up months of work to fight for the rest of us.
Wayne, it was an honour to shake your hand.
A true Labor man. A true Australian.
But we can’t just resign ourselves to these fires.
Who can Australians turn to?
Not the Nationals, who say nothing needs to change ever.
Not the Greens, who say everything has to change tomorrow.
Both are about symbolism before substance, locked in a culture war.
They’re as bad as each other.
Neither offers a path to global emissions reduction, or support real and good jobs in country communities.
It’s time to have a frank discussion about climate change and jobs.
It is manifestly in Australia’s interests to have strong global action on climate change.
And our actions should always be about delivering the maximum global action.
The truth is the global community is not asking Australia to stop exporting coal.
In fact, the global steel and aluminium industries – all needed to build solar panels and wind towers – will continue to demand high quality Australian coal for decades to come.
They are asking us to reduce our own emissions. Really reduce them. Not with a sleazy accounting trick.
And only Labor will deliver the real reductions that will:
- attract investment in good jobs in country towns;
- lower energy prices to make Australian steel, aluminium and food processing more competitive; and
- put Australia at the front of the global queue for investment and jobs.
Coal will remain an important part of the picture, but the Hunter doesn’t have all its eggs in the coal basket.
Contrary to Nationals rhetoric, regional Australia is more than resources alone.
Look around you. The mighty Hunter is Australia’s largest regional economy, with an output of more than $47 billion each year.
Could you imagine Australia without Hunter wine? Could you imagine horseracing without Hunter thoroughbreds?
Down the road we have the University of Newcastle. Up the road, the University of New England. Two of the jewels of our tertiary sector.
To ignore the diversity of regional Australia makes no sense.
To deny energy alternatives as the Nationals do is to rob regional communities of their future.
A future of renewables growth and opportunity.
We have what it takes to become a clean energy superpower.
That is what the road to a zero net emissions future is all about.
Jobs, security, and an environment fit for future generations.
As a proud former infrastructure minister, I can tell you:
It’s all part of the great tradition of nation-building.
A tradition that will always be embodied by Labor.