For all Australians, a modern efficient transport network is essential to sustaining our way of life, growing jobs and improving productivity.
But for those of us in regional Australia, good connections to our major centres are fundamental for doing business and crucial in an emergency.
Living in a regional community I know how much investment is needed just to maintain our vast networks, let alone the new projects needed to boost productivity, improve safety and grow jobs.
That’s why Labor Governments prioritise investments in nation building infrastructure for both our cities and through our regional and remote communities.
We know that the whole country does best when government supports good jobs in construction and manufacturing, including by boosting apprentices on worksites.
The flow on impacts for improving the productivity and capitalising on regional strengths are clear.
Instead, we have a third-term government in Canberra led by an ad man without a plan with a beleaguered Transport Minister consumed by internal fighting.
After spending years slashing infrastructure spending, they see investing in our road and rail only as a political opportunity not as an economic lever to grow jobs.
This attitude was on full display at the end of last year when Morrison and McCormack staged a week-long black-slapping exercise congratulating themselves for finally heeding Labor’s calls to bring forward investment in infrastructure to support to softening economy.
Calls backed by none other than the Reserve Bank Governor as well as from a range of industry and senior economists.
But rather than emulating a genuine stimulus, like Federal Labor’s response to the global financial crisis, Morrison and co were all fizz and no pop.
With underemployment across the regions on the rise, there is a great need for investment in infrastructure to support good jobs and get the next generation into training.
In New South Wales just 18 percent of the package is forecast to be spent this financial year.
Once you get into the detail it’s even worse.
On the South Coast, Labor’s Fiona Phillips is championing greater investment in the Princes Highway south of Nowra.
Fiona’s communities have had a torrid summer, first from the ongoing drought, then the bushfire emergencies followed by flash flooding.
But despite all the fanfare, only $5 million is allocated for the whole Princes Highway in this financial year.
Demonstrating that in this case it’s incompetence over pork barrelling, it’s just as bad over in the Minister’s seat of Riverina.
Despite the headlines, not a cent will flow until July 2021 for upgrades to the Newell Highway.
Time and again, Scott Morrison uses infrastructure as nothing but a marketing ploy in our regions, leaving funding – and the jobs that come with it – stuck off on the never never.
This approach is clearly not good enough.
Our regional economies need this investment and jobs now.
Of course, upgrading regional roads is not just about the jobs in construction but just as important is the road safety improvements that flow once delivered.
We all know too many Australians continue to lose their lives in avoidable crashes on our roads.
When Labor was last in Government, Anthony Albanese and I delivered a new National Road Safety Strategy, which aimed to cut the road toll by at least 30 per cent by 2020.
Unfortunately, as we enter the final year of the strategy the road toll is higher than it was five years ago and the Federal Government is failing to show any leadership to get it down.
In 2019, 352 people lost their lives on NSW roads and too many of those deaths were in country areas.
We can’t let this last decade of failure on road safety hamper our efforts.
The Federal Government must redouble its efforts to deliver national action across driver education, safer roads and vehicle technology.
It’s not just in road investment that the Coalition is hurting regional New South Wales.
The Inland Rail project has the potential to lift economic growth while improving the productivity of our national freight sector.
But so bad is the Federal Government’s approach to ‘consultation’ along the route, some affected landowners are now openly hostile to the project.
Even the NSW Liberal-National Government agrees, using its submission to the Labor-initiated Senate inquiry to highlight negative feedback on ‘community consultation’.
So bad is the consultation, last year the Government paid $190,000 to a Melbourne-based firm to produce a Social Licence Strategy to help ‘develop empathy’.
Labor’s Senate inquiry is giving a voice to affected communities from Illabo in the south to Boggabilla on the Queensland border while the Liberals and Nationals just don’t care.
Thank you for the opportunity to contribute to Challenge magazine.
On growing jobs, supporting training and delivering the next wave of nation building infrastructure investment, only Federal Labor will stand up for regional Australia.
This piece is first published in Challenge Magazine.