Representing everybody, and finding out what regional people need, regardless of whether they vote for Labor, was the focus of a recent visit to Dubbo from Labor's Senator Deborah O'Neill and Regional Services and Local Government spokesman Jason Clare.
Labor may have lost the election, but the two prominent parliamentarians have brushed themselves off and gotten on with the job of serving the people the best way they know how, by learning and gathering information to form policy.
The Daily Liberal spoke with the Labor stalwarts about policy for regional Australians, here is what they said.
What are you hearing from people in Dubbo?
Jason Clare: We are hearing that people want a lot more help from the federal government, more than they are getting now. We are here to find out what we can take back to Canberra and when we go to estimates is there anything that isn't being done that could be.
The Dubbo Regional Council is developing a plan for now and into the future, but ratepayers can't fund all of that, it is going to require some help from the federal government.
The first step is the council has developed a good plan that will help keep the town resilient now and into the future, the second step is the Nationals and Liberal government putting its hands into its pocket to help out.
Part of the problem is no one can see a plan from the Liberal and Nationals. That's what I have heard on this trip to Dubbo.
For example, there is this bucket of money the feds have of $7 Billion they say is available for these types of things, but how does a council apply to get the money to build the pipelines they want to build?
The rub is that the government has only made $100 million available per annum, and as you've reported pipelines are not cheap. This is a problem for Dubbo and Tamworth and Orange and all over Australia.
$7 Billion sounds like a lot of money, but the Liberals and Nationals are only allocating $100 million per annum, and it does not start until next year for infrastructure that is going to make Australia more resilient now and into the future.
So there is a difference from the perception, the Prime Minister saying the government is spending $7 Billion when it is actually not being spent.
Deborah O'Neill: Lending is not spending. A big chunk of that $7 billion is there as money for people to borrow. The criteria are more onerous than what the banks want, so not only is there a huge paperwork burden but it takes a long time to get the money to those who need it under the government's system.
We are here to hear from the community about the things that really matter to them. Clearly, the drought impacts on everyone in every way. We want to know the practical reality of the shortage of water and the flow-on effects in terms of the social and economic well being of the community. With this being the third term of the Liberal and National government we want to keep a close eye on what they are doing and bringing shadow ministers like Jason out here gives them a chance to observe and listen to what's going on. I think this is a community that has been taken for granted for a way to long by the current member and I think the community is awakening to the reality that the same representation has not given them the outcomes they want and need.
The Nationals won this seat (Parkes) in a landslide though Deborah?
Yes, they did, but Labor has things that we need to listen to in the community, and we have things to say in this community, and that is why we will come out here regularly to maintain that contact and to build hope and trust.
Jason Clare: The drought, if not the biggest is one of the biggest issues confronting the country and I am here to find out how that affects farmers and the business that rely on the farms and those here in the town. We met with Catholic care, and they told us the number of people coming in for help has gone through the roof, so the impact of the drought is far-reaching.
Going out with proactive solutions to the nation's problems did not work for you at the last election. So, does that make the Labor Party shy now about coming up with its solutions to problems because it leaves you exposed in an electoral sense? Will you just oppose everything or will you maintain a policy agenda?
Deborah O'Neill: This government is in its third term, and the planning around drought and infrastructure protection for this part of the country simply has not been undertaken. We are critical of that. But the Labor party will always be a party of ideas for a better Australia for everyone that is what we work towards. So I don't think we'll have any shortage of policy ideas from Labor going forward and that is what these visits to the places like Dubbo are all about. So there will not be a change in our values which are that every Australian should be able to access the opportunity of education, jobs and the services they need to live a great life. Critical to Dubbo at this moment is the fact that after six years of no planning and chaotic responses as far as infrastructure and planning around water in this county the government has finally commissioned Major General Stephen Day to get a drought plan established. He has provided that, but the government continues to sit on it they are not releasing any sort of plan. So that is why it is important for us to go out to places like Dubbo in the absence of any proper planning from the federal government.
Local government like yours in Dubbo are trying to stitch together plans that are finance dependent on federal government with a federal government missing in action. This community is begging for infrastructure and a long term vision for water security, but where is Mark Coulton?
Jason Clare: Look we got flogged at the last election, and the Libs and Nats are in power, so their job is to do the job they were elected to do.
Our role as the opposition is to hold them to account, to make sure they are dealing with the big issues in this county.
So we can practically do things like if the government comes up with a good idea, we will back it and make sure they have the money ticked off by the parliament that is a really good practical thing we can do. But we can also say if you do bugger all we can criticise you and we can say that this community here in Dubbo deserves better. But come the next election you can bet the Labor Party will be back saying here is a better way. At the moment our job is not to come up with an alternative plan it is to hold the govt to account. They won the election, and the Australian people gave them the job to do, our job is to make sure they do it.
A lot of people are rusted on National Party voters in Dubbo. A constant refrain from them is that "Labor does bugger all for the bush" so how do you plan on busting that myth?
Deborah O'Neill: The first thing we can do is show up. Albo (Labor Leader Anthony Albanese) was there at the bush summit, and we made it clear we will support any requisitioning of funds for the drought. For all politicians, at the moment, there is a trust deficit no matter which Party you are in. A lot of that comes from politicians talking at communities rather than listening, and that is why we are here. We need to talk with them and that is a critical part of what we want to do.
Jason Clare: Some people always vote National some always vote Labor but the Labor Party hopes to be a party of government we want to be elected to govern again, and that means we have a responsibility to represent everybody whether they vote Labor or not, we need to understand what's going on. We want to understand what people need.
You met with the council; what did you learn?
Jason Clare: We have to make sure we are resilient and can cope with drought when it comes, one of the reasons we wanted to meet with the council was to find out what infrastructure they could put into place for short term and long term water issues. Making sure there is enough water for farmers and the city for when this happens again. They had some really good ideas, and I came away, feeling very positive about what they had to say. What we need is more help and support from the federal government to help implement good plans. We had the bush summit here a couple of months ago, and Albo said whatever money the government wants to spend we will vote to support it in parliament. That is pretty unusual for oppositions, in opposition you are pretty limited in what you can do but where we do have some influence and power is when you have got a bill in parliament to vote for or against money for something. We have said the drought is so important that if the government says we need to do this, they can take our support as a given. But what we have not got from the government is a fully-fledged plan on how to help get through the current crisis and how to make sure we fix the inherent problems in the system going forward and set up for the next one.
WHAT DO YOU THINK? HAVE YOUR SAY