Nationals deputy leader Bridget McKenzie has declared it’s time for a new generation of Australian regional cities to emerge, as the Coalition tries to boost population outside bulging capital cities.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Wednesday announced an extra 23000 regional visa spots requiring skilled workers to live and work in regional Australia for three years before they can apply for permanent residency.
Ms McKenzie said the government would tip $220million into the new Stronger Regional Connectivity Package including $160million for mobile black spots.
‘‘It’s time for a new generation of regional cities to emerge,’’ she told the National Press Club in Wodonga last Wednesday.
‘‘I want an Australia where it is the natural choice of people to want to live out in the regions,’’ Ms McKenzie said.
The government is also advancing plans to create fast rail links between Melbourne and Shepparton, though details are scant.
Ms McKenzie said improving infrastructure and technology connectivity would be critical to growing regional Australia.
In a subtle dig at colleagues who derided latte-sipping elites in capital cities, Ms McKenzie said it was time to see beyond simplistic differences like the ‘‘goat’s cheese curtain’’.
‘‘This ‘goat’s cheese curtain’ represents as much of a cultural and epicurean divide as it does, I believe, a political divide. But I believe it’s now time to look at Australia beyond the divide,’’ she said.
‘‘I actually like smashed avo. I have picked up a chardonnay after the ’80s, and — sorry to the dairy farmers — the soy lattes are for me. I tried kombucha, didn’t like it.’’
The Nationals’ deputy leader also rejected claims the party was weak within the Coalition, with the spectre of reduced numbers in parliament looming at the next election.
‘‘The National Party is not an irrelevant rural rump, we are the tail that wags the dog,’’ Senator McKenzie said.
Ms McKenzie also announced a $3million regional deal for Albury and Wodonga.
She wants to see the population of Albury and Wodonga on the NSW-Victoria border triple to 375000 people by 2030, representative of a wider push to grow the regions.