OPPOSITION leader Bill Shorten has accused the Nationals of subservience to their Coalition partners, by comparing the party’s key leaders to faithful working dogs, riding in the back of a Liberal driven utility.
Mr Shorten made the analogy on Saturday during his speech at the ALP’s National Country Forum at Casino in the NSW Northern Rivers region, before about 200 party delegates.
In seeking to impress the National party’s traditional rural voter-base, Mr Shorten said Australians on the land and in country towns deserved “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,” he said.
“Especially not the Nationals.
“Not (National Party leader) Warren Truss (and) certainly not (deputy-leader) 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 (Johnny Depp’s pet dogs).
“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.”
Speaking to media afterwards, Mr Shorten said the National party was “showing real signs of division” in the next leadership move, following Malcolm Turnbull’s removal of Tony Abbott as Prime Minister.
“Whilst unemployment in regional Australia is unacceptably high, the only job which Barnaby Joyce seems focused on is Warren Truss's job,” he said.
“(Labor) don't accept that any political party has a monopoly; that it can treat voters like their personal property and that this is National, this is Liberal or this is Labor areas.
“Labor understands how real people live their lives.
“We are not out of touch.”
Mr Shorten’s wide-ranging speech challenged the National party’s grip on traditional core policy planks like health, education and infrastructure, while attacking the government’s climate change policies.
He also defended his party’s stance on labour concerns in the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement (ChAFTA), in seeking to boost Labor’s standing as an inclusive party, representing both regional and metropolitan voters.
“Our vision for Australia isn’t confined to one segment of our country or one set of postcodes,” Mr Shorten’s speech said.
“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.
“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.”
Mr Shorten said good free trade agreements were also good for farmers and agriculture and in government Labor had laid the groundwork for the Japan and Korea agreements.
He said Labor also supported those deals from opposition along with the ChAFTA.
“We’re aware of the benefits it offers grain exporters and dairy,” he said of the China deal.
“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.
“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.”
Mr Shorten said there was a “creeping inequality of geography gripping our nation” and new “tyranny of distance” where jobs, growth and opportunity are unfairly shared.
He cited a recent PWC report which found the Australian economy had grown by around 46 per cent in the last 15 years - but rural economies contracted by between 25 and 61pc.
“That economic gap is repeated for so many of the indicators we use to measure ourselves as a society,” he said citing tougher educational opportunities for regional students, lower life expectancy rates and a 2pc higher unemployment rate.
“Too many Australians feel like they have to leave the community they love, to get a decent opportunity,” he said.
“As Labor people, as the party of fairness and equity, we cannot, we will not stand for this inequality.”
Mr Shorten said farmers know the importance of sustainability “better than anyone”.
“Farmers care for 61 per cent of our continent and 94 in every 100 farmers actively undertake natural resource management,” he said.
“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.
“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.”