MARK down Monday, July 30, 2018 as the day the 2019 NSW election campaign began in earnest – for areas west of the Great Dividing Range, at least.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian and Deputy Premier John Barilaro were both in Bathurst on Monday for two major announcements.
The first was the promise of an extra $500 million in emergency drought relief for farmers across the state who are battling a worsening drought while the second was the launch of a 20-year vision for regional NSW focused on “job creation and promoting regional development”.
Together the announcements answer two key criticisms of the government: That it has not done enough to support farmers and that there is no long-term planning in place for regional NSW.
At the same time the government will hope to have taken much of the wind out of the sails of the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party that would have been gearing up to fight a number of key regional seats on those two policy areas, in particular.
Significantly, one of the first organisations to welcome the package was the NSW Farmers’ Association, representing the Nationals’ key constituency who were about to be bombarded by the SFF urging them to change allegiances.
Farmers’ president James Jackson called the package “generous” and said the government had showed it understood that drought planning for farmers began well before the drought had started.
“The decision to provide back payments to January 1 recognises that planning for drought happens before the country is dry,” Mr Jackson said.
That would be music to the ears of senior Nationals in Macquarie Street, given the SFF has spent so much time claiming the government doesn’t understand at all.
Which all leaves just one question to ponder: Why was Bathurst selected for these major policy announcements?
The area is certainly drought-affected, but by no means the hardest-hit area in the state. And while the city will play a key role in regional NSW’s growth over the next two decades, so too will any number of inland towns and cities – particularly Parkes, which will become home to an “inland port”.
It’s hard to escape the nagging feeling it might have been a case of showing the people of neighbouring electorate Orange just what they could be risking by spurning the Nationals again.