I begin by acknowledging the traditional custodians of the Worimi land on which we meet today. I would also like to pay respect to Elders, past, present and emerging and extend that respect to other Aboriginal people here today.

I also want to acknowledge the courage and resilience of rural people in the face of the current drought.

Last month, 99 per cent of the state was declared either in drought or drought affected.

We all know what that means – enormous stresses and strains on farmers, families, businesses and entire regional communities.

As well as providing assistance for farmers to get through the drought, we have to do what we can to prevent the economic decline of those communities.

That’s why yesterday I wrote to the Prime Minister seeking action. It’s time for a moratorium on bank branch closures in rural and regional towns.

Yesterday I was in Dungog where the NAB plans to close its branch this month.

Last year Westpac closed its Dungog branch. Let’s hope the Commonwealth Bank keeps its branch open.

Bank branches provide essential services to the community.

They make an important contribution to employment.

My message to the Prime Minister … tell the banks that it will be a condition of their licence that they keep rural banks open during the drought.

No more bank branch closures in drought affected communities.

Australian banks received strong support from the Australian Government during the Global Financial Crisis.

Now it’s their turn to provide support for rural communities.

Now, you won’t see this appeal from Ms Berejiklian.

Like her predecessor she came from a big bank into the Parliament.

And like her predecessor she will return to a big bank  when she leaves the Parliament.


When we last gathered at our Country Labor Conference nearly two years ago, we’d just witnessed a stunning change in the political landscape.

The Nationals had just lost a seat they had held since the Second World War, in one of the biggest by election swings in the state’s history.

That defeat saw the immediate resignation of the National Party Leader and the departure of the Premier shortly after.

Remember them?

Today we gather a week after another stunning swing against this government in another country seat … Wagga Wagga.  

The swing in Wagga, 28 per cent.

Last year in Murray it was 15 per cent.

In Cootamundra 20 per cent.

After every one of these by elections, the Liberals and Nationals promised to change, to listen and to work harder.

They were at it again this week.

Ms Berejiklian vowing to work harder.

Mr Barilaro vowing to wear different clothes.

Well delegates, nothing has changed.

The Liberals and Nationals aren’t listening to the people.

They’ll work harder selling the wrong policies – like a 2.2 billion dollar Sydney stadium splurge.

Congratulations to Dan Hayes and the Wagga team - the Country Labor members and volunteers, Kaila’s team and our trade union activists.

And given we are in Forster, I also want to acknowledge the work of one of this community’s  favourite daughters, Courtney Houssos.

She did a first class job organising our community shadow cabinet meeting yesterday.

Courtney was born and bred in Forster, went to Forster Primary and to Forster High –now Great Lakes College.


Labor’s first members of the New South Wales Parliament included representatives from the electorates of Balranald, The Bogan, Bourke, Forbes, Goulburn, Grenfell, Gunnedah, The Murrumbidgee, The Namoi, Orange, Upper Hunter, Young and Sturt (Broken Hill).

Our greatest New South Wales Labor governments – McKell’s, Wran’s, Carr’s – won and held country seats.

Over three and half years as Labor Leader, I’ve travelled the length and breadth of this state – to places like

  • Broken Hill, Wilcannia and Menindee Lakes;
  • Lightning Ridge and the Walgett Shire;
  • Tweed, Murwillimbah, Lismore Ballina and Grafton;
  • Singleton, Muswellbrook and Jerrys Plains;
  • Bathurst, Orange, Molong, Dubbo and Coonamble; and
  • Bega, Tathra, Cooma and the Snowy Mountains

Wherever I go in country New South Wales, I hear one message again and again.

People know this government has the wrong priorities.

A government that is prepared to spend $2.2 billion on knocking down two Sydney stadiums before spending the money on regional schools and hospitals has the wrong priorities.

This is a tired government, now in its eighth year…

On its third Premier, third Deputy Premier and fourth Treasurer.

Last weekend it lost a seat that it safely held for 61 years.

This will not stop with Wagga. 

In the next 6 months we’ll finish what we started …

Together, we’ll defeat this thoroughly bad government on March 23

We will – and we must.

The future of the state depends on it.

Because you cannot trust the Liberals and Nationals with schools, TAFEs and hospitals.

Their approach: selloffs, sackings, a Sydney stadiums splurge, while they ignore the regions.

There are now fewer public schools in New South Wales today than when this government came to office…120,000 students in demountable classrooms.

A $570 million school maintenance backlog.

Our hospitals under staffed. An elective surgery waiting list of almost 78,000 patients.  And half of those on the waiting list live in regional New South Wales.

This Sydney centric government is spending:

  • $2.2 billion knocking over perfectly good Sydney stadiums
  • $6.5 billion on an unnecessary tunnel on Sydney’s northern beaches
  • Perhaps $3 billion on the Premier’s vanity light rail system in the Sydney CBD
  • And a single Sydney road, Westconnex, is costing $20 billion dollars. 20 … billion … dollars.

All this in Sydney - while the regions are ignored.

And the National Party? What are they up to?

We can see the ludicrous side – their leader saying the solution post Wagga is to change their clothes.

But there’s a serious side too.

The Nationals are presiding over a national scandal – the killing of one of our great rivers – the Darling.

To see the consequences of their conduct, go to Wilcannia as I have.

Most days you won’t even get your boots wet, there is so little water in the Darling river.

This is not the result of drought ... it’s the result of the Nationals allowing their mates to take billions of litres of precious water which they weren’t legally entitled to.

Building private dams the size of Sydney Harbour while farmers downstream are left with nothing.

The independent Ombudsman even says there has been political interference in the investigation into this water theft.

The National Party will never put the health of this river above their big cotton donors. 

Only a Labor Government, with Darriea Turley as the Member for Barwon, will save this great Australian inland river.

That’s far western New South Wales.

Let me turn to the north coast.

The Nationals white shoe brigade plans to turn the north coast into the Gold Coast.

Some of the most stunning coast line in the world. 

The Nationals and their developer friends plan to raise building heights at Kingscliff – against the wishes of the community.

Labor will not let this happen.

On Monday I will lodge a petition in the Parliament from 16,000 Tweed residents to retain Kingscliff’s 3 storey height limit.

A Labor government, with Craig Elliot as the member for Tweed, will save Kingscliff from National Party overdevelopment.


Unlike this Sydney-centric Government, Labor has a plan for revitalising regional New South Wales.

And at the top of our list is jobs.

A decent, secure job is the right of every citizen.

This is at the core of the Labor Party’s beliefs.

The entire $4.1 billion New South Wales has received from the transfer of the Snowy Hydro Corporation to the Commonwealth will be spent in regional New South Wales.

With these proceeds we will establish a Regional Jobs Fund, that will be spent on projects that will leave a lasting legacy in rural and regional communities.

We’ll follow the guidelines laid down by the Ben Chifley’s Federal Labor Government when it commenced the Snowy Hydro Scheme with the active support of the Bill McKell’s New South Wales Labor government.

In 1949 Chifley told the Commonwealth Parliament that the Snowy Scheme “provides not only for the provision of vast supplies of new power but also for an immense decentralisation of industry and population”.

In the spirit of Ben Chifley, Labor will use the opportunity to invest in regional New South Wales to create jobs and decentralise population.

Three principles that Chifley laid out will guide us:

One, the money must be spent on projects that promote the creation of jobs and growth of industry in rural and regional New South Wales.

Two, the decentralisation of population.

And three, the generation of new and renewable energy supplies.

Our Chifley principles will guide Labor’s investments in jobs generating projects across rural and regional New South Wales.



The Main street is the central hub of almost every country town.

But with many towns experiencing population decline, high unemployment and changing consumer patterns, their main streets are struggling.

Labor knows that a main street is the lifeblood of local towns.

When the main street prospers so does the town.

Labor will work with local councils to fix country main streets.

Our program will invest in local infrastructure as well as lease vacant shopfronts for community use.


A government led by me will rebuild TAFE.

Rebuilding skills training will be central to ensuring jobs and career paths for people in regional New South Wales.

A minimum 70 percent of vocational education and training funding will go to the public TAFE.

That’s a guaranteed minimum under Labor.

The only guarantee under the Liberals and Nationals will be the further destruction of TAFE. 

5,700 teachers and support staff have lost their jobs since they came to office.

Scores of courses have also been cut while fees have soared, resulting in 175,000 fewer enrolments.

Our new Private Providers Investigations Unit will weed out the shonks and fly-by-nighters.

We make no apologies for backing the public provider.

One of the state’s great institutions over the last century is the TAFE Commission of New South Wales.

Labor will rescue TAFE.

We will end the systematic off shoring of state government jobs.

IT contracts have been sent offshore. Contracts for new buses and trains have been entered into with foreign companies, denying good local businesses and their skilled workforces lucrative work.

We will make it a priority to keep jobs in New South Wales.

An incoming Labor government will introduce a policy called Local Jobs First that will enshrine new principles for all government departments when issuing tenders.

Local Jobs First will require government departments and agencies to commit to:

  • Local jobs
  • Regional NSW renewal and innovation
  • Addressing the gender pay gap
  • Developing the skills of New South Wales workers.

The NSW Government’s current Procurement Policy Framework does not even mention the word “jobs” – not once.

Labor will make local jobs a priority for Government contracts.

A clear direction from an incoming Labor Government that local content must be prioritised – this will put New South Wales workers and businesses back on top in the race for lucrative government contracts.

A government I lead will end the understaffing of our regional hospitals.

Earlier this month, I visited ten country hospitals speaking with staff and patients. I heard shocking stories of understaffing.

In Wagga, I met a nurse who had worked 52 hours overtime the previous week – on top of her ordinary hours - because of staff shortages.

I talked with a Cooma hospital nurse who was caring for 11 patients in a ward on her own.

Labor will deliver hundreds more nurses in regional NSW through new nurse to patient ratios.

Shift by shift nurse to patient ratios will mean that a patient recovering from a hip operation in a country hospital will receive the same amount of nursing care as a patient recovering from the same operation in a big Sydney hospital.

Health care should not depend on your post code.

Good health care is the right of every citizen no matter where you live.

Labor will bring country hospital staffing levels up to the city’s.

And here on the mid north coast, the real impact of the Liberals and Nationals cuts to health is devastating.

The cuts mean that mastectomies can no longer be performed at the Manning Hospital.

The Manning community has lost trauma services at its hospital – a lack of equipment and medical staff means that trauma patients have to be transported to Port Macquarie.

Dr David Keegan has worked at the Manning Hospital for decades.

He’s witnessed first hand the cuts to this community hospital - from a government that prefers to splurge billions on Sydney sports stadiums.

Only a Labor Government with Dr David Keegan as the member for Myall Lakes will rebuild the Manning Base hospital.


We must confront the scourge of ice that is devastating country communities.

This is an epidemic . It tears families and communities apart and it’s spreading at a frightening speed.

A Labor government will open new clinics across the state for the detoxification and rehabilitation of patients with severe ice addictions.

There will be six facilities. Four of them will be located in regional NSW.

The clinics will treat up to 1,300 ice addicts a year and will be staffed by specially trained nurses, health professionals and security guards.


After eight years this Government has a terrible record.

For all the media stunts and PR spin this Sydney-centric government can’t hide the fact, that at its core, it has the wrong priorities.

It puts Sydney stadiums before schools and hospitals.

Labor has better values and the right priorities.

Regional communities are looking for their fair share.

Over the next 27 weeks we will make the case, in every corner of this state that only Labor will deliver a fairer New South Wales.

Only Labor will deliver fairness and opportunity to rural and regional communities.

6 months to go.

Let’s get out there and get this done.

See you on the campaign trail.