NSW Nationals reveal contentious policy platform for 2019 after state conference

PLAYING POLITICS: Upper Hunter MP Michael Johnsen has had his say on outcomes from the latest NSW Nationals Party conference.
PLAYING POLITICS: Upper Hunter MP Michael Johnsen has had his say on outcomes from the latest NSW Nationals Party conference.

IT goes without saying that any policy conference is going to cause controversy.

But, if you're the regional-focused party in the sitting coalition during the middle of a drought then the microscope will be placed very firmly upon you.

That's why much has been made of the recent NSW Nationals conference in Inverell, where their platform for the coming year was decided over the space of a weekend, with 54 out of 197 motions being passed, with some unable to be debated at all.

As to be expected there was much emphasis placed on the drought and primary industries, while key aims for mental health and regional development were also among the most eyebrow-raising topics.

With their take on the environment and climate being a cornerstone of much of what they do, it is worth noting one of the more contentious motions that was voted down.

Tweed State Electorate Council put forward "That the NSW Nationals recognise that climate change is impacted by human activity and implement economically effective solutions that protect regional areas but also enable rural and regional communities and landholders to take advantage of the associated economic opportunities".

That act was lost, along with one from the Inverell branch calling for "a scheme whereby cash advantages are given to farmers post-drought to enable them to restock or plant crops".

While that is sure to irk some farmers, several drought assistance measures were passed with Upper Hunter MP Michael Johnsen giving particular focus to their Fixed Price for Milk policy.

The party will call on the state government to place a minimum fixed farm-gate price on milk until 2022 as a temporary measure to help repel additional costs caused by high electricity prices and the drought affecting dairy farmers.

"As a government we're committed to putting in a fresh milk and dairy advocate and we are not far off making an announcement on who that person is," he added.

While it could be argued the platform is light on measures that immediately help those currently struggling, Mr Johnsen is confident The Nationals are planning well for the future.

"The policies that we have from the floor of the conference are basically supporting the government in saying effectively 'be flexible, be responsive, do what you can when you can to be able to assist farmers and make that a long term thing as well', which is the key central platform of our drought policy," he said.

Better access to mental health in regional areas was another major issue which was voted upon, and while that is likely to draw widespread support their Regional Development Approval Process may be a harder sell.

They will request that where a "proponent has existing relevant data from monitoring near to or adjacent to the project, that this data should be applicable over the development area to streamline approval processes".

This could be particularly pertinent to the Upper Hunter, where major works including mines often have to go through years of tests and research before a decision can be made on their viability.

While the local parliamentary secretary for Agriculture and Resources didn't put forward any motions himself that were passed, he firmly believes the ones that were will have a major influence on the state and the Hunter specifically, if they successfully make it through government.

With many of the policies intended to be slow burners, it may be years until their payoff can be measured, but it won't stop heated debate from across the floor in parliament in the imminent future.