OPPOSITION Leader Bill Shorten has declared Labor is "hungry" to win back seats in regional Australia it lost in 2013 and has the right policies to win hearts and minds.
Mr Shorten was in town for Country Labor's inaugural forum at the Casino RSM Club on Saturday. It was a strategic decision to stage the event in the Page electorate.
Former Page MP Janelle Saffin, who lost the seat narrowly to the Nationals' Kevin Hogan in 2013, is running again, and Labor has recognised the seat as a must-win for them to have a hope of winning other, perhaps tougher, regional electorates.
Mr Shorten, sitting with Ms Saffin (and with veteran Northern Territory MP Warren Snowdon nearby) declared no party had a "monopoly" on country seats.
His mission was to spruik Labor's country credentials and put the Nationals on notice.
"I'm hungry, Labor's hungry; we don't regard any postcode as being automatically the property of a political party," he said.
"We're determined to contest regional Australia by having the best policies."
Labor couldn't form government without winning Page - one of country Australia's most marginal seats.
Mr Shorten put Ms Saffin's 2013 loss down to a "national mood" against Labor, saying "a tide is a tide".
"Janelle's passionate… she's uncompromising… she knows what she thinks and that's what she's going for," he said.
"With Janelle what you see is what you get."
Asked about Labor's (questionable) support for the Free Trade Agreement with China - seen as vital for the regional economies - Ms Saffin chimed in that the party supported the FTA as long as basic safeguards were in place for Australian workers.
She said while in office she was part of a trade delegation to Japan and Korea during the negotiation of the FTAs with those countries.
On new-PM Malcolm Turnbull, Mr Shorten said he was a more "polished and eloquent" Liberal leader than Tony Abbott, but "it's the policies that count."
"I think Australians are hungry for a debate about content... you can't talk about the future without removing the deregulation of unis which forces the price of going to uni up, which particularly disadvantages regions... you can't talk about the future unless you're willing to commit to public TAFE… infrastructure projects in our cities and regions… a strong healthcare system."
He said Labor should be given credit for being a good Opposition to the first unpopular Coalition budget - while also swiping at the Government for the budget being in "disarray".
"Labor maintained such a strong opposition to the issues that matter to Australians, the Liberals didn't have an answer... so now they're going to try and adjust their sales team to try and come up with that answer," he said.
How Labor planned to tackle the same budget challenges remained unclear.
Mr Shorten said Labor was about "fairness" and making sure "no one gets left behind".
"Our safety net has to be jealously guarded," he said.
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