I begin by acknowledging that we gather on the lands of the Wiradjuri Nation. 

I’ve been coming to these country conferences since the 1980s. To address you today for the first time as your leader is the greatest of honours.

One hundred and twenty five years ago, at the elections of 1891, 35 Labor candidates were elected to the New South Wales Legislative Assembly.

It was an achievement that changed Australian politics forever - the start of our great Labor story.

After the election, Jim McGowen emerged, if not as the official leader of this new political movement, then certainly as its authentic voice.

On 1 September 1891 he spoke of the essence of the infant Labor Party, to civilise capitalism through democratic legislation.

In his words:

To turn this never-ending grind for a bare existence into something brighter – something more beautiful – something more worthy to live for.

Three months later McGowen stood on the floor of the Parliament, on 10 December 1891, and declared:

Rightfully or wrongly, we are the representatives of the workers who, for the first time in the history, not only of this colony, but I believe of the whole world, sent, in any large number, men to represent their class straight from the workshops to the Legislative Assembly.

And from the start, country New South Wales was at the very heart of Labor.

Labor’s first members of 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).

One hundred and twenty five years is a long time, but some things never change.

Our historic mission, to provide equality and opportunity for everyone – wherever they may live – is still what inspires us today.

Throughout 2016 I’ve travelled across this state and engaged with country communities - in Broken Hill, Menindee Lakes, Kiama, Lismore, Queanbeyan, Cooma, Grafton, Orange, Bathurst, Coonamble, Dubbo, Jerrys Plains, Molong and Goulburn.

NSW Labor takes great heart from the advances made this year and I want to thank you for all your hard work.

Look at what we have achieved this year.

On July 2 we won a majority of Federal seats in New South Wales.

We held Richmond and Hunter and won Paterson and Eden-Monaro – putting Mike Kelly back where he belongs!

In September we enjoyed great success at the local government elections.

There are now popularly elected Labor mayors in Cessnock, Lismore and Broken Hill and energetic new Labor councillors right across the state.

In November, at three state by-elections, we had swings to us in Canterbury and Wollongong and brought down the National Party in Orange.

I want to congratulate Bernard Fitzsimon, the Orange Labor team and the trade unions for the great effort they put in.

We have a new team in Head Office with Kaila, Pat and Rose. I congratulate them on their work.

Electoral success three times over, at each level of government, is no fluke.

Orange was a humiliation for the conservatives.

The Nationals lost one of their safest seats – and their Leader and Deputy Leader.

There were swings of 60 per cent against them across the Cabonne Shire!

A key issue was Mr Baird’s forced council amalgamations.

Local communities steamrolled by a Sydney-centric government.

Thousands of local government jobs at risk. 

A government determined to delay elections and gerrymander boundaries.

Hundreds of democratically elected mayors and councillors have been sacked and replaced by Baird’s hand-picked appointees.

Labor has a different approach.

We’ll give local communities the power to decide these things for themselves.

A Labor Government will empower local communities to initiate a plebiscite on whether the forced amalgamation should be reversed.

If a community is happy and wants to keep the new boundaries – that’s fine.

And if a community wants to go back to their original boundaries – then we’ll respect their decision and make it happen.

Reform of local government shouldn’t be about rorting electoral boundaries.

Integrity is the foundation of Labor’s reform agenda for local government.

We’ll get rid of the developers, we’ll cap campaign spending and strengthen local democracy.

Delegates, the other big issue in Orange was Mr Baird’s contempt for the people who participate in greyhound racing.

Labor opposed the greyhound racing ban from the very day Mr Baird announced it on Facebook.

We opposed closing down an industry that employs thousands of people.

We did so because it treated people who had never done anything wrong as criminals.

Decent, hard working people who do the right thing should be treated with respect.

They shouldn’t be demonised and punished by a Premier who looks down on them.

Greyhound racing is a pastime enjoyed by a minority of our community.

It is an industry based in the regions and ever since the days of Premier Jack Lang, dog racing has been popular in working class communities.

A Government, dominated by Sydney Liberals, wanted to destroy an industry that is small, regional and working class.

To destroy an industry, to wipe it off the map – and with it thousands of jobs across country New South Wales. 

I’m proud that our party stood with the good men and women in greyhound racing.

Together we took on this elitist Premier.

And we beat him.

And you know what? 

Mr Baird told the public that the greyhound people are illiterate.

Well Premier, they might be illiterate – but they sure know how to number ballot papers!

Delegates, a report this week set out the economic gulf between Sydney and the rest of the state that has emerged under this Government.

Since 2012, Sydney’s annual economic growth has averaged 2.2 per cent, while the economies of regional areas have contracted by 0.3 per cent.

But this Government does not care.

Look at their decision to spend $2.3 billion on new trains – and not require any local manufacturing at all.

This decision alone will see 1,200 potential new manufacturing jobs head overseas.

This is a real lost opportunity.

Whether it is local government, greyhounds or new trains the story is the same.

And the Nationals promised country people at last year’s election that they would protect electricity jobs. Now they plan to axe 1,600 of them.

The Baird Government does not care about jobs in regional New South Wales. 

I’ll have more to say about that at lunch time.

Delegates, the Government is privatising regional public hospitals.

At the 2015 election they promised upgrades to hospitals at Maitland, Shellharbour, Wyong and Bowral.

But instead, they have delivered four privatisations.

With no consultation, no warning, and no mandate – the Government announced those hospitals will be privately built and run.

I do not want an Americanised system where your ability to pay determines the level of healthcare you receive.

I make it clear – The next Labor Government of New South Wales will run our great public hospitals as public hospitals.

This government is ignoring the regions.

Health Minister Jillian Skinner has resisted moves to lift the lid on the chemotherapy scandal in the Central West.

A report into the underdosing at Orange and Bathurst clinics raised more questions than it answered, but still the Government refuses to hold a Special Commission of Inquiry.

The Government has admitted that we will never know the full extent of the under-dosing in the Central West.

We owe families and patients the truth, and we will continue to push for a Special Commission.

Delegates, this Government doesn’t believe in TAFE, because it doesn’t value public education.

Under the Deputy Premier’s watch, the Government has run down TAFE – it has sacked teachers, cut courses and dramatically increased fees.

This year there are 126,000 fewer students than there were in 2012.

Five thousand fewer teachers and support staff.

Hundreds of millions of dollars have been wasted on the shambolic IT system known as the LMBR software project.

And we know they plan to sell off a number of regional TAFE campuses – in places like Scone, Narrandera, Vincentia and Grenfell. 

They have already closed Dapto.

Ending opportunities for local apprenticeships – forcing young people to move away.

Funds have been transferred from TAFE to private providers – too many of whom have acted unscrupulously.

Once elected, we will move immediately to establish a Private Providers Investigations Unit.

The unit will investigate dodgy training providers who are breaking the spirits of our young people.

We will target the shonks and restore confidence and stability to the sector.

Labor will always be the party that stands up for TAFE.

We will also stand up for our schools and our students and teachers.

The school maintenance backlog has ballooned to more than $775 million.

The state’s most rundown school, Great Lakes College in Forster, needs a staggering $3,328,868 of repairs and maintenance.

Seventeen regional schools have backlog bills of more than a million dollars.

Five of those bills are more than $2 million.

Here in Dubbo, the maintenance bill stands at $7.6 million.

At a time of windfall stamp duty from Sydney’s property boom, the Liberals and Nationals are letting our schools fall apart.

Delegates, coal mining in our state has a long history.

The first export shipment was made in 1799.

Labor has always supported the coal mining communities of our state.

Miners’ struggles for decent working conditions are a proud part of our tradition.

But climate change is real and the global energy mix is changing.

We have already seen the closure of Wallerawang at Lithgow.

AGL has foreshadowed the closure of the Liddell coal fired power station in the Upper Hunter.

The communities that are dealing with these profound changes need to be supported.

We need to ensure a just transition and we have to protect and build the industries of the future.

The coal industry will continue to be an important employer and contributor to our economic prosperity.

But the Hunter’s economy must continue to diversify.

We can’t put all our eggs in one basket.

In the Upper Hunter we are already seeing this with the growth of tourism, wine and horse-breeding.

The Upper Hunter’s vineyards produce only two per cent of Australia’s wine – but they are premium wines that command international recognition.

The Hunter vineyard and tourism industries contribute $1.8 billion to the economy and directly employ more than 7,000 people.

The Hunter thoroughbred industry is a globally recognised success story.

It was jump-started into existence thanks to a Labor Government.

In 1985 Bob Hawke introduced a breeding stock tax depreciation.

As a result, for the first time, the best Australian bloodlines remained here.

And breeding stock from Europe and America began to come to Australia.

Today, our thoroughbred industry is producing champion race horses as good as any in the world.

The mighty mare Winx, winner of the last two Cox Plates, recently rated the world’s best turf racehorse in the international rankings, was bred, born and raised in the Hunter Valley.

Our thoroughbred industry is world’s best practise.

The fertile soils of the Upper Hunter are the best in the world for breeding horses.

There are 470 horse studs in the Hunter and another 1,300 across regional New South Wales.

The Hunter’s thoroughbred industry employs 4,800 people.

Our party made this possible.

Bob Hawke’s vision created this…..an industry that leads the world.

Horse-breeding, tourism and wine - they are all sustainable industries.

Clean and green, they are employing thousands of people and have the potential to create thousands more jobs in the years ahead.

I want to keep these industries in New South Wales and I want to see them grow.

Labor is looking closely at what we need to secure the future of these industries.

Because it’s all at risk.

The leading thoroughbred industry players may be forced into relocating to another state, because of Baird Government inaction.

This government pays lip service to the concept of co-existence of industries in the Upper Hunter.

Last month, for the fourth time in recent years, the thoroughbred industry had to fight for its future before the Planning Assessment Commission.

The Drayton South open cut mine proposal has been rejected three times, but it is back again for a fourth go.

Repeated applications for the same project are an abuse of the planning system.

It creates stress and uncertainty in communities and makes it difficult for other enterprises to get on with their business.

If the Drayton South project is rejected again, then that should be the end of it.

Enough is enough.

If it is rejected again, the Government should place a new State Environmental Planning Policy on the land to end the matter once and for all.

We have to protect the equine and viticultural industries of the Hunter by imposing a minimum distance between those critical industry clusters and mining.

We will talk with industry, unions and other affected parts of the community about what the appropriate buffer distances should be.

Mr Baird’s government won’t act.

We will.

Labor will save the thoroughbred horse industry and keep its thousands of good jobs here in New South Wales.

Delegates, the koala is a symbol of Australia.

Instantly recognisable, they are a beautiful, unique and iconic animal.

But today, we face the very real prospect of the koala becoming extinct in our state.

New South Wales is now home to fewer than ten per cent of the nation’s koalas.

Are we prepared to accept that in a couple of decades from now, koalas will only exist in captivity, in zoos and wildlife parks?

Understand this is the trajectory we’re on.

Unless we act.

I will act.

Labor will act.

Today I commit that the next Labor Government of New South Wales will prioritise the creation of national parks that protect the remaining koala populations of the north coast.

China’s panda reserves are world famous.

Reserves covering a million hectares of the panda’s bamboo forest habitat have been established and provided with World Heritage listing.

They attract tourists from around the world.

The Australian koala is as internationally recognisable as the Chinese panda.

Yet to date no reserves have been established here to ensure the protection of the koala in the wild.

We will change this.

And….…koalas benefit the Australian economy.

The New South Government itself tells us that they create over 9,000 jobs and contribute up to $2.5 billion per year to tourism in Australia.

Koala reserves, like China’s panda reserves, will attract tourists from around the world.

Our plan to save koalas will also grow jobs and tourism in northern New South Wales.

Eucalypt forests and rainforests that are home to significant koala populations will be assessed for priority additions to the national park estate.

I also call on the current government to hold a New South Wales Koala Summit, as a matter of urgency, to bring together experts and all stakeholders concerned with koala protection to plan effective action across the state.

The last Koala Summit was held in 1988.

I want to see land managers, scientists – including those involved in ground breaking chlamydia vaccination research – voluntary wildlife carers and rehabilitation providers come together to save the koala.

Delegates, the next election is a little over two years away.

And half of the seats we need to win to form Government are in country areas – electorates like Monaro, Lismore, Tweed, Upper Hunter, Goulburn, Bega and Myall Lakes.

This government’s arrogance is its biggest failing.

This Premier insists he always knows best.

The Liberals and Nationals didn’t listen to regional communities on greyhound racing.

They still don’t listen to regional communities on forced council mergers.

They see hospitals, schools and technical and further education colleges as targets for budget cuts.

Labor has a different set of values.

We know that our hospitals, schools and TAFEs are the foundation of a decent life for all of the people of our state.

We will allow local communities across New South Wales to determine their own futures.

And we’ll protect local jobs.

This year, Labor showed what we can do at the federal elections, at the council elections and at the state by-elections.

We now have two and a quarter years to convince the people of New South Wales that Labor can be trusted with the future of the state and to deliver for their children.

I know that my parliamentary colleagues and I will have your support in that task.


Thank you.