Firstly I'd like to thank the NSW Socialist Left for entrusting me with the deputy chair of the Country Labor committee. I'd also like to pay tribute to my predecessors in this role, Paul Sekfy and Carmel Cook as well as retiring committee member Merryn Wagstaff.
Their support and guidance over the years has been so important. Additionally I'd like to welcome the new Left committee members; Asren Pugh, Veronica Husted and Darriea Turley.
For all the talk of reform in the ALP very little of substance is achieved. The leadership of the NSW branch remains either unwilling or unable to implement any meaningful changes to the structure and processes of the Party. At state conference after state conference we see a new programme of "reform" and hear about it being an "important first step."
We need to take the second step.
Direct election of parliamentary leaders is a worthy thing and this change is both timely and welcome. Nevertheless it falls well short of the real reforms that we need if our Party is to prosper into the future.
Country Labor is a prime example. Country Labor's 15-member committee, its chair, deputy chair and secretary are elected at the NSW state conference. What's more, the country organiser is also elected by state conference rather than by the members or even by the country conference itself.
This fundamental lack of accountability to rural members of Country Labor officials is why NSW Country Labor fails to produce the high standard of policy of which it is capable.
The NSW Right represents itself as the champion of Country Labor but in fact the opposite is true. The Right treats Country Labor as little more than an ornament. Show conferences of largely tepid debate held infrequently to allow the favoured sons and daughters of Centre Unity to promote themselves and their careers.
The cant and hypocrisy of the Right on the question of democratisation of Country Labor borders on the faint making. When presented with undeniable arguments – such as why NSW Young Labor can be trusted to elect its own officials and executive yet NSW Country Labor must submit to the will of metropolitan based delegates – Centre Unity can only dissemble.
However all is not lost.
The NSW Left remains committed not just to making Country Labor representative of rural communities but also to pushing forward with a higher standard of policy. The policy workshop structure of the 2014 country conference is an initiative of the Left. More importantly, we will be pushing for the adoption of a rural education and employment strategy.
The last three and a half years of Tory rule in NSW has been a disaster for rural and regional communities. In my region, the Central West, we have lost more than 1,000 jobs in manufacturing, mining and primary industries and the public sector. Vital services have been slashed. TAFE fees pushed through the roof.
Combine this with vicious agenda of the Abbott federal government and the future seems bleak for our regions.
Therefore a comprehensive policy addressing education and employment in the bush is essential and only the ALP can deliver on this. Moreover it is only the NSW Left which has the capacity and commitment to push this ambitious agenda through the often Byzantine processes of the Party.
But deliver we will. We have no choice – our future is at stake.
NSW COUNTRY LABOR