Governments should use their purchasing power to foster manufacturing in regional Australia, according to federal Labor leader Anthony Albanese.
In a speech providing a snapshot of how a Labor government would “harness the untapped potential” of regional Australia to grow jobs and the economy, Albanese called for investment in a number of areas including infrastructure, renewable energy sources, and heavy manufacturing.
He noted that COVID-19 has highlighted the possibilities of decentralisation, or “smart regionalisation”.
“It makes sense for governments to nurture smart regionalisation. It won’t just happen by moving a couple of government agencies from Australia’s largest inland city — the Bush Capital — into regional communities,” he said on Wednesday.
“That’s the Barnaby Joyce fantasy model. It failed. Decentralisation requires genuine investment, serious policy making and determined implementation.”
However, decentralisation would require investment in infrastructure, he said, including roads, “world-class communications technology”, and railways.
“For years now, I’ve advocated the construction of a High-Speed Rail Link between Brisbane and Melbourne via Sydney and Canberra … High-Speed Rail opens up the possibility of people commuting to capital cities while enjoying the lower cost and lifestyle benefits of regional living,” he said.
“It would encourage businesses to move or establish themselves in regions. It would also be an economic game changer for communities on its path with proposed stops at the Gold Coast, Casino, Grafton, Port Macquarie, Taree, Newcastle, the Central Coast, the Southern Highlands, Canberra, Wagga Wagga, Albury-Wodonga and Shepparton. Put simply, it would revolutionise interstate travel. It would revolutionise regional economies.”
Touching on an issue that has repeatedly divided his party, the Labor leader argued that Australia can and should transform into a renewable energy superpower, and accused Prime Minister Scott Morrison of having no energy policy.
“Our vast resources of lithium and other rare earths offer huge potential in a world that will become increasingly focused on the need for batteries to store energy,” he said.
“There are also opportunities in bio-energy, where bio-mass generation and waste-to-energy continues to evolve. Similarly, renewable hydrogen is a future potential export sector.
“The right plans will create hundreds of thousands of jobs in new industries, including in regional Australia whilst also reducing power prices.”
The government should also invest in heavy manufacturing in regional Australia to create jobs and boost skills, Albanese said.
“Take rail for example. Over the next 20 years, Australian states will invest billions of dollars in new trains and new lines for them to run on. Between Perth’s METRONET, Brisbane’s Cross River Rail and major projects in Sydney and Melbourne, we’ll need hundreds of rail carriages in the next few decades. And we should build them here,” he said.
“We need to use the power of government purchasing to help revive and grow manufacturing in this nation.”
He criticised the NSW Berejiklian government for purchasing trains from India and Korea, trams from Spain, and ferries from Indonesia.
Albanese also called for better access to health services and more support for education and training in regional Australia. He noted people living in these areas suffer higher rates of illness and have a lower life expectancy than those residing in capital cities.
“Much of the health disadvantage that we see in regions can be traced to lower rates of education, higher rates of unemployment, and lower incomes for those who do have jobs,” he said.
“Addressing those issues would also help people in the regions to live longer, healthier lives. But it is not just health care. The regions miss out when it comes to aged care too.”