Minister for Regional Australia Simon Crean has criticised Opposition leader Tony Abbott for his failure to give regional Australia priority billing in his Real Solutions manifesto launched last weekend.
Mr Crean says the bush hardly rated a mention with only a half -page reference in the 51-page document.
While Mr Abbott’s mini-policy launch provides fodder for his critics, it should not be seen as the Coalition’s definitive policy on regional and rural Australia. Yes, it should have featured more prominently and Mr Abbott needs to provide firm commitments on behalf of the Coalition as The Nationals leader, Mr Truss, is rarely seen or heard.
Despite the seven-and-a-half month lead-in to the next election, all the major political parties will keep the policy announcements to the election campaign which will begin in earnest from August 12. Enlightening the electorate too early is not seen as a tactical advantage.
Simon Crean’s comments, however, are a reminder that regional Australia needs to be on the election agenda. In an opinion piece published by this newspaper today, he boasts about the Gillard government’s commitment to regional communities.
He is right in claiming the regions have done well, but there are other forces at play here. The government has been forced to spend billions on projects in regional Australia because of the agreement forged by the country independents Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott, who in return, delivered the votes Labor needed to form a minority government.
Mr Crean failed to mention the input of Mr Windsor and Mr Oakeshott in his government’s focus on regional Australia.
In fact the agreement is all about regional communities, and in real terms, is probably the most significant policy document for the bush seen in years.
Had circumstances been different, Labor would not have been so generous had it won government in its own right.
With a Coalition government the most likely election outcome at this stage it will be important for regional communities to push the Liberal and National parties for concrete policies which contain dollar and cents allocations for important regional projects.
Assuming the bush will be looked after, or will be better off, would be foolish.