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July 4, 2011

The Gillard Government’s mishandling of the live export issue and the decision to cut childcare funding from small regional areas stand as two compelling pieces of evidence in the case for including more regionally-based MPs in the Cabinet.

Despite the fact that almost one-third of Australians live outside the capital cities, the current Gillard Cabinet does not include a single Member of Parliament who can truly claim to represent the interests of regional people.

Although the Minister for Regional Australia Simon Crean talks a lot about ‘localism’ – standing up for the interests of regional Australia is not an academic pursuit. You need to live and work amongst rural and regional people to fully understand their hopes and aspirations for the future.

The big issues that affect regional people like trade, energy and resources, health, education, environment and roads are all administered in Cabinet by city-based Labor Ministers.

The Minister for Agriculture Joe Ludwig is a Brisbane-based Senator who comes across as a hell of a nice bloke but quite frankly, he is completely out of his depth in a portfolio that requires detailed knowledge and passion for the future of the farming sector.

Despite all of the warnings from Coalition MPs with direct experience in the live export trade and the potential impacts of a ban on live exports to Indonesia, the Minister crumbled under pressure from city-based MPs and the Greens. No-one is defending the appalling scenes of animal cruelty but the Minister has panicked and failed to consider the full implications of his decision because he doesn’t understand regional communities.

This decision hurts innocent people. We’re not just talking about corporations, we’re talking about individual farming families who have been hit with a ban that strips away their income and leaves them facing an uncertain future.

It’s the same with the decision by an Adelaide-based minister to cut funding for the ‘Take a Break’ childcare program. In many parts of Gippsland, this funding was critical to providing services in smaller regional towns and without the Commonwealth’s support, the programs will cease.

Anyone who lives and works in regional Australia would understand that the repercussions of these decisions flows throughout our communities. But when you look closely at the Gillard Cabinet, why should anyone be surprised?

The only Cabinet Minister with a dubious claim of holding a regional seat is Greg Combet, the Minister for Climate Change who was parachuted into Newcastle to win a place in Parliament. Even he has failed to stand up for regional jobs in the face of Julia Gillard’s broken promises on the so-called carbon tax. 

If regional Australia wants a voice in the room when the big decisions are being made about our nation’s future, it will have to wait until there’s a change of government.

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