Sometimes, I feel a bit sad for the National Party of Australia. As the smaller half of the Coalition – the country cousin, you might say – they do seem to get the short end of the stick in Government with the Liberal Party. While lip-service is paid by the Coalition to the needs of rural and regional Australians, it seems, at least to me, that the Nationals don’t tend to see many of their policies put into practice. I’m not entirely sure what is in this Coalition for them – but perhaps even minor influence is better than no influence at all?
As the Nationals are fairly well-known to the Australian public, I’ll keep this post short and sweet, and just focus on the policies they’ve highlighted for the coming election. I’ve talked about the Coalition’s preferences on my Liberal Party write-up, so rather than go through the same tickets again, I’ll simply note that yes, they really did put the Greens last, after Labor, and that the Coalition has tended to preference the religious right, the Shooters and Fishers, and the Country Alliance high on their ballot paper.
The Nationals’ Victorian website simply has the slogan “For Regional Victoria”, and the main thing you see on arrival is an invitation to join the party “If you’re passionate about the future of regional Victoria”.
Scrolling down, there are how to vote cards and information about the team, a link to ‘OUr Plan for a Better Victoria”, and then “Our Stories”, which appears to be the four major policy platforms for this election. And there is a bit ‘Get Involved’ banner, soliciting for members, volunteers and donations. I have to say, this banner makes me feel sad again – such eagerness for people to *care* is a hallmark of the smaller parties – and the Nationals seem to be falling back into that category.
(I could be reading this wrongly, and eulogising prematurely, as it were. But it does look worrying to me.)
The Coalition has a Plan! It is a three-point plan, focusing on jobs, hospitals, and infrastructure. And they want us to know that Regional Victoria is the way of the future:
Building on what we’ve achieved together over four years of hard work, The Nationals have strong plans to establish regional and rural Victoria as the key driver of Victoria’s future prosperity and help all local communities share in the benefits and opportunities this creates.
Well, that certainly sounds good. We have the usual government in power guff about how brilliantly they are managing the economy, so we can take that as read, and then we have the nitty gritty, which is a $1 billion Regional Growth Fund, designed to attract new businesses to regional areas, and grow local ones. They also talk about increasing local access to education and training, including upgrading education buildings and facilities for country students.
(Just not the ones at Gippsland TAFE or Advance TAFE in Sale…)
Look, I’m not out to pick on the Nationals here, but I haven’t actually been paying attention to TAFEs and regional Victoria, and even I was aware that they’ve been making massive cuts to Gippsland TAFE. If I were a Gippsland local, I’d be a little annoyed about this policy.
They plan to upgrade country hospitals and build better cultural and sports facilities. This is through the Regional Growth Fund again. I’m wondering how far this $1 billion will go if it’s paying for everything, and technically, this is still the same policy, but never mind.
Finally, on Infrastructure, they plan to build more roads, because the Coalition loves roads. I think someone didn’t let them play with toy cars often enough when they were children. They also promise better railway services, and will be “investing with private industry and the Commonwealth to improve access to mobile phone coverage and delivering modern, fast broadband and Wi-Fi services locally.”
This last one seems to be for real, and I’m going to stay out of discussions about whether the Labor version would have been better. My understanding is that anything that improves phone coverage and internet access in regional Victoria is going to be a plus.
Moving on to Our Stories, we have four big ticket items to brag about. The first is a new Specialist school in Sale at a cost of $15 million. This is apparently the result of community lobbying, so well done all round.
Next, we have a commitment of $8 million to extend the Gippsland Lakes Environmental Fund, to protect the lakes, including $2 million to buy back commercial fishing licenses. (I’m beginning to think that Our Stories actually means Our Spending.)
They are committing $10 million to the Macalister Irrigation District Modernisation. I’m a little hazy as to exactly what they are doing with this, but good for them,Finally, they are giving $9 million to rebuild Korumburra Secondary College.
I can’t help noticing that all four of these big spends are designated for Gippsland – a district which, as I’ve already noted, seems to be attracting a large number of independents at this election. I wonder if the Nationals are maybe feeling vulnerable in this district, particularly after the fires at the Hazelwood Open Cut Mine.
I also can’t help noticing that $42 million over four years, while not loose change, is not actually as much as it sounds like, when you’re talking about infrastructure and the rest. Just over ten million a year… and the cost of the Hazelwood fires just in this year was something like $100 million.
For that matter, the cuts to the two TAFEs apparently came to around $14 million per year…
(Which is my slightly evil way of saying to Gippsland folk that if you are going to let the Government buy you – and, frankly, if that’s what gets you the resources you need, more power to you – you should hold out for more. You can probably get it.)