MONDAY, 5 FEBRUARY 2018
SUBJECTS: Coalition’s pork-barrelling National Stronger Regions Fund, Newspoll, Citizenship
STEPHEN JONES, SHADOW MINISTER FOR REGIONAL COMMUNICATIONS, SHADOW MINISTER FOR REGIONAL SERVICES, TERRITORIES AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT: Good morning everyone.
Well, all morning we have seen National Party and country Liberal Party MPs file through the doors here – probably with some of them stopping to talk to you – and say how they are going to spend the week and the year ahead sticking up for regional electorates. Over the weekend, we have seen a story break which shows how little they have been doing when they have had the opportunity. In fact, when the National Party have had the opportunity to have a Minister in place for regional development, they set up a $620 million fund – a regional fund – to address regional inequality. Their own Ministers were responsible for allocating that money and yet, they have siphoned off 20 per cent – 20 per cent – of those funds and distributed it to the wealthiest electorates in the country.
Now, the National Party represents some of the poorest electorates in the country and some of those electorates are the very ones which have missed out.
What are the electorates that I am talking about? Well, Minister Josh Frydenberg’s electorate of Kooyong; where I’m sure there is lots of worthy projects but it is one of the wealthiest electorates in the country. Millions of dollars siphoned out of the regional fund for the inner-city wealthy electorate that could have gone to struggling regional communities. Now, we know that the Nationals have a problem in this area. Is it any wonder that One Nation is chomping at the bit and causing them all sorts of problems in regional Australia.
Regional inequality is growing. The gap between the city and the bush is growing. It doesn’t matter whether you are measuring wage inequality, income, life expectancy or access to healthcare – in fact, whatever measure you pick – the gap between the city and the country is growing. And the National Party are ignoring it by siphoning off regional funding to address regional inequality to wealthy city electorates.
So, there is a new Minister in the portfolio and this is a challenge for him this week. To stand up for regional electorates and explain why his predecessors have been siphoning off money which has been earmarked to address regional inequality to benefit wealthy city electorates.
JOURNALIST: Bill Shorten spent a lot of time at his Press Club speech talking about inequality and talking about the left-behind generation. Do you think that that message is getting through given that Malcolm Turnbull is ahead in the polls as preferred PM?
JONES: When you travel throughout regional Australia and you talk to people about Malcolm Turnbull, they shake their head and say ‘he is the bloke that just doesn’t get it.’ He just doesn’t get what life’s like for people who live outside the beltway or the wealthy inner city suburbs of Sydney or Melbourne. In regional Australia, they want representatives who get what they are going through. Who are going to do something about the fact that business incomes have stagnated, that wages have stagnated, that costs of living are going up, up and up and nobody gets what they are going through. That person is not Malcolm Turnbull.
JOURNALIST: Do you think that Newspoll is accurately representing the views of regional Australia?
JONES: I think Newspoll is accurately representing regional Australia. Newspoll has shown that for 26 consecutive polls the Coalition is trailing and that is because they do not have an answer for growing inequality, for stagnated wages, for increased cost of living. I mean on the weekend, Malcolm Turnbull said more of the same – let’s just leave it to the market and these issues will all be dealt with. Well, we have had years and years and years of that and it is not working. The people in regional Australia know that. Their representatives know that and it is time that they come to Canberra and say that.
JOURNALIST: The Coalition may be trailing two party preferred but Malcolm Turnbull has consistently been ahead of Shorten on leadership issues and now some are even looking to others.
JONES: Well, Bill is doing a sensational job. Isn’t it good to be part of a party with such a talented frontbench. Where people are looking at it and saying jeez you are all doing an outstanding job. With so many of them popular in the electorate.
Bill is doing an outstanding job leading a sensational team and, more importantly than that, developing the policies which are resonating with people. Whether it is that we are no longer giving tax subsidies to buy their fourth or five or sixth home instead of helping people buy an affordable house for the first time. These are the policies that Labor is leading on. Ensuring that we don’t attack penalty rates at the same time as household income is falling. These are the sorts of policies that Australians are listening to. It is resonating with them and it is why Malcolm Turnbull just simply isn’t cutting it outside the beltway and the inner-city. It’s why his party is doing so poorly in the polls.
JOURNALIST: Do you think that there will be a deal done today on citizenship?
JONES: Can I make this point. There is nothing more undemocratic than making people go to a general election; have people vote for a Member to represent them here in Parliament and then for a Government to use its numbers on the floor of the Parliament to essentially suspend a person’s elected representative. Now if there are questions about a person’s eligibility to sit then there should be a bipartisan agreement to have the matter sent to the High Court to have the matter considered authoritatively and definitively.
As much as we all respect Chris Pyne. While we all love his wisdom and his wit, he is not a justice of the High Court. Let’s leave it to the High Court to do their job and not have Chris Pyne or Malcolm Turnbull or others puffing themselves up and running around the country saying who is and isn’t eligible to sit in Parliament. It shouldn’t be done for the politics; it should be done in a bipartisan way which Labor did attempt to do in the last week before Christmas.
JONES: I agree with what Scott Buchholz said this morning. I think he has hit the nail on the head and I am sure there are plenty of other people in the Coalition party room who agree with Scott Buchholz. Let’s take the politics out of this. People are sick of us talking about citizenship, they want us to focus on the issues that matter to them. Let’s get this dealt with in a bipartisan way and take the politics out of it.
JOURNALIST: It’s a new year. What are your priorities?
JONES: I’ve come here to push issues which are important to my electorate. We have a railway line which needs to be built. We have a State Government which is knocking down a very good stadium and building another stadium at a cost of $2 billion when we have rail lines in my electorate which are slower than they were 100 years ago. These are the issues that matter. I will be continuing to plug the issue of the NBN and ensure that we can get our broadband sorted. These are the issues that we want sorted in this Parliament – not citizenship, for god’s sake.
JOURNALIST: Barnaby Joyce would be really happy to hear you say that. He is really keen on talking about the inland rail.
JONES: Inland rail is a great project but it shouldn’t stop before it gets to its destination. They love fibre to the node, well what they have got in the inland rail is rail to the node. It doesn’t, on their planning, it doesn’t take the freight to where it’s needed. It stops before it gets to Brisbane which is a wasted opportunity. We backed inland rail and we back rail. Labor in Government rebuilt over three quarters of the country’s freight rail network. We support rail projects and we want the Government to get behind it and put real money into it.