As a kid, growing up in Western Sydney, local government for me was the park I played soccer at on the weekend.
It was the lights that let us train at night.
It was the garbage truck that woke me up in the morning and the sausage roll and sauce at the local pool.
Stuff I cared about as a kid.
I’m new to this job. I’ve only had it for two weeks.
And there’s a lot I don’t know about local government.
But as a local MP I realise it’s about more than just parks and pools.
I have got the privilege to represent the Western Sydney community I grew up in, here in Canberra.
But I realise so much of what they rely on and care about happens back at home.
Almost everything that happens in my local community is funded or run or organised or designed or approved or coordinated by the local council.
And I am pretty sure the same is true of almost every local government represented here.
This is the level of government that deals with the sort of issues that people can see and feel. The things that are right in front of them. Out the front of their house. In their street. In their suburb. Where they live.
And I know, because I do this all the time, if I stand on a street corner in my electorate and invite people to come talk to me, chances are they are not going to ask me about interest rates or tax cuts. They are going to ask me about roundabouts, speed humps and playgrounds.
Most of the things people stop me on the street and ask me about are local government issues.
In places like Western Sydney, I am also very conscious that this is the level of government that has to deal with the traffic and population and housing problems that other levels of government throw at it.
I know that, but I also know I know a lot less about the work you do than you do.
But I want to learn. That’s why I have been here for the last few days. To meet as many of you as I can and organise a time to come and visit and see all what you do in your community.
I also know my new boss Anthony Albanese cares a lot about local government. I don’t think any federal politician has treated local government as seriously or as respectfully as Albo did when he was the Minister. At least no one since Whitlam.
As I am sure you know, when Albo was the Minister he led the debate on constitutional recognition and he created the Australian Council of Local Government.
He was also responsible for more investment in public transport by the federal government than all other federal governments since Federation combined.
He still talks about it. He’s proud of it.
When he gave me this job two weeks ago he reminded me of it.
He gave me this job because he cares about local government. Because he thinks it’s important.
We suffered a pretty painful defeat a few weeks ago.
Losing elections isn’t fun.
We lost in lots of places.
We lost it in big cities.
And we also lost it in the regions.
We lost it in places where unemployment is high and wages are low, places where you would expect people to be angry with the government.
On Sunday I had a look at the State of the Regions Report released here at the Regional Co-Operation and Development Forum. It’s a great report. If you haven’t got a copy yet grab one.
It shows, as you would expect, some regions are charging ahead and others are struggling.
It also shows this. In a lot of the places that determined the election – places like Northern Tasmania, Central and Northern Queensland, in the northern parts of Brisbane and the outer suburbs of Perth – things are pretty tough.
In all these places the report shows that unemployment is way above the national average and wages are actually going backwards.
A lot of these are places where people rely on the land and what we can extract from it to make a living.
They are places where a lot of people work in blue collar jobs.
Where people work in industries facing big changes, and they didn’t like the changes we were offering.
In other parts of the country it was a different story.
In parts of Sydney and Melbourne – places swimming in jobs – we had a swing to us.
What I am describing isn’t unique to Australia. The same thing happened in the US Presidential elections.
In New York, where the GFC started, unemployment is low and wages have jumped significantly over the last few years. In the mid-west it’s a different story. In places like Michigan and Wisconsin and Philiadephia lot of people are struggling. And they are the places that voted for President Trump.
It’s the same story in the UK and Brexit. In London where the economy is pretty strong people voted to stay. In other parts of England where people were doing it tough they voted to leave.
What’s the lesson here?
There are a lot of people here and overseas who are frustrated and angry. They feel like the system isn’t working for them. They feel like they are being ignored, and they are sick of their lives being affected by people making decisions a long way away from where they live.
And if you don’t listen to what they are saying you will pay the price.
But this isn’t just about politics.
It’s about what’s happening to our communities.
What’s happening to our country. A country that’s becoming more divided.
If you live in a capital city today you are more likely to finish school and go one to TAFE or university than if you live in parts of regional Australia. If you live in a capital city you are also more likely to live longer.
But it not just the division between cities and parts of regional Australia.
There are also big divisions in our big cities.
Take my electorate. It’s only about 25kms from the Sydney CBD. But the unemployment rate is triple what it is in other parts of town. Wages are lower. Rental stress is through the roof. And we have got lots of other challenges.
That’s why I am excited that Albo has given me this job.
Because I think if we work together – as partners - local government can help fix some of these big and difficult problems.
So thank you for the opportunity to speak today.
And more importantly thank you for the opportunity to sit with you over the last few days and listen to the discussions and debate.
l am really looking forward to working with you.