Nationals push for rapid regional growth

Bridget McKenzie says she wants it to be the natural choice of people to want to live in the regions
Bridget McKenzie says she wants it to be the natural choice of people to want to live in the regions

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 23,000 regional visa spots requiring skilled workers to live and work in regional Australia for three years before they can apply for permanent residency.

Senator McKenzie said the government would tip $220 million into the new Stronger Regional Connectivity Package including $160 million for mobile blackspots.

"It's time for a new generation of regional cities to emerge," she told the National Press Club in Wodonga on Wednesday.

Senator McKenzie also announced a $3 million regional deal for Albury and Wodonga, the Victorian town she recently moved her office to but eventually ruled out contesting the lower house of Indi.

She wants to see the population of Albury and Wodonga on the NSW-Victoria border triple to 375,000 people by 2030, representative of a wider push to grow the regions.

"I want an Australia where it is the natural choice of people to want to live out in the regions," Senator McKenzie said.

The government is also advancing plans to create fast rail links between Sydney and Newcastle, Melbourne and Shepparton and Brisbane and the Sunshine Coast, though details are scant.

Senator McKenzie said improving infrastructure and technology connectivity would be critical to growing regional Australia.

In a subtle dig at colleagues who deride latte-sipping elites in capital cities, Senator 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.

Australian Associated Press