What will the new Labor government do for rural and regional Australia? | Australian election 2022

Anthony Albanese says his desire as prime minister is to unite Australia with “no one left behind, no one held back”. However, for many living outside the capital cities in Coalition-held seats, being left behind is exactly what they fear.

Chief executive of the Foundation for Rural & Regional Renewal, Natalie Egleton, says despite the federal election results indicating the Nationals’ base is declining, the party held all their seats, meaning “there’s still a sentiment in the bush about the need to have parties focused on rural communities”.

Labor’s election win, Egleton says, offers an “optimistic message for many rural communities on the frontline of climate change”.

But while the party has tailored its policies in areas like the NDIS and aged care to account for regional Australians’ added challenges, important questions remain unanswered around agriculture and rural industries.

Tyson Cattle, a spokesperson for AUSVEG, the peak body for the vegetable industry, said agriculture and horticulture “hasn’t been a strong portfolio or a highly regarded portfolio within [Labor’s] cabinet”.

“However, there’s been a long history of where a Labor government has delivered good outcomes for Australian agriculture and horticulture,” Cattle said.

Speculation still surrounds who will be the Albanese government’s minister for agriculture, though Julie Collins has been the shadow minister.

So what does a Labor government mean for regional Australians?

Agriculture workers

Foreign agricultural worker visa rules were among the most controversial agrarian policies during the federal election campaign.

Labor announced it would create a dedicated agriculture visa stream under the established Palm (Pacific Australia Labor Mobility) scheme. It says this version of the visa has 55,000 workers ready to go.

The National Farmers Federation has been critical of Labor’s decision to scrap the Coalition’s new visa for workers from south-east Asia. No workers have arrived under that scheme yet.

Labor’s visa plan pays workers’ upfront travel costs for the seasonal worker program. At the same time, arrivals under the Pacific labor scheme will be permitted to bring their partners and children to Australia.

However, Cattle says, “we’ve already got avenues to access those [Pacific Island] workers”.

Cattle welcomes Labor’s national labor hire licensing scheme, as he says the agricultural industry relies on labor hire, and a license will provide stronger safeguards.



Labor has committed $34m to establish a National Water Commission aiming to drive reform, future-proof water resources, and increase policy transparency after Barnaby Joyce dissolved the national advisory body to scrutinize major water projects in March.

Water begins to flow in the Darling Barka River in Louth, New South Wales. Photograph: Jenny Evans/Getty Images

Labor has also committed to upholding the Murray Darling Basin Plan fully, delivering on water commitments, including 450GL for South Australia.

David Papps, the former commonwealth environmental water holder, said the delivery of the plan by 2024 would require a “remarkable change”.

Labor’s five-point plan for the basin includes improving metering and monitoring with a “no meter, no pump” policy, increasing transparency through market surveillance, and making data publicly available.

The Albanese government has also committed to increasing First Nations ownership, including $40m of cultural water promised in 2018, and incorporating First Nations’ knowledge into planning for environmental flows.

The plan has a strict 2024 deadline for water recovery, but the Productivity Commission has warned for years it is lagging. Labor has not ruled out water buybacks, unlike the Coalition.

The Labor government will also broaden the National Water Grid mandate to include town water supplies.

National disability insurance scheme

Fixing restricted access was one of the six key measures outlined in Labor’s plan to restore the NDIS.

The then shadow minister for the NDIS, Bill Shorten, said that Labor would appoint a senior officer within the NDIA to tackle the concerning barriers to service in regional areas.

Shorten said regional people with disability have had to “battle to get on the scheme and to access services in increasingly thin markets” as there are only a few providers in regional locations, leaving participants with nowhere to go if a provider terminates their service provision.

Aged and Healthcare

As two-thirds of aged care homes in regional areas are operating at a loss, Labor has committed to fully fund a senior care worker pay rise decided by the Fair Work Commission.

As shadow minister for aged care, Clare O’Neil described the senior care system as “in crisis in our cities – but even more so across regional and rural Australia”.

Anthony Albanese and partner Jodie Haydon visit Fairways aged care in Bundaberg, Queensland. Photograph: Alex Ellinghausen/AAP

Labor has pledged aged care homes will have registered nurses on site 24/7, mandated that every resident receives an average of 215 minutes of care a day, and promised mandatory nutrition standards, in addition to giving new powers to the Aged Care Safety Commissioner. However, the number of nurses available in regional areas remains an issue.

The CEO of the Rural Doctors Association, Peta Rutherford, welcomed Labor matching the Coalition’s commitment of $146m of rural-specific initiatives, including the rural generalist pathway, the changes to the medical stream of the workforce incentive program, as well as the expansion of the single employer model.

Future-proofing the regions

Labor has committed $16.7m towards establishing an agri-tech hub in Richmond, New South Wales, reserving $500m of its national reconstruction fund to help regional businesses enter new markets, adopt new technology, and adapt to a low-carbon economy.

They have also committed to improving regulations for accurate and clear food labeling.

The National Farmers Federation has welcomed Labor’s commitment to improving biosecurity, including addressing the potential spread of lumpy skin disease in cattle, reforming livestock traceability, pest, and weed controls, and doubling the number of Indigenous Rangers.

Labor has also promised to replace the emergency response fund with a disaster-ready fund, which will invest up to $200m a year on mitigation projects to help reduce the effect of natural disasters.

Unanswered questions

Labor has not provided a drought strategy for regional communities. The Coalition had the future drought fund allocated for drought resilience and preparedness. Still, there was no national strategy for distributing aid in the next severe drought apart from farm household allowance for food and loans.

The new government has pledged to ban live sheep export, which will predominantly affect Western Australia, but has not provided a timeline.

There has been no commitment from Labor to whether they will continue initiatives that measure and create incentives for farmers’ environmental performance, such as the Coalition’s national biodiversity stewardship market.

The emissions reduction fund remains in turmoil after a whistleblower alleged major failures in the carbon credit scheme and a plunge in the price of credits, triggered by a contentious change by the previous emissions reduction minister Angus Taylor.


Regional and outer-suburban areas will be the focus of the $250m. Labor has committed to the local roads and community infrastructure programs.

In their wheatfield, In their wheatfield, Caroline and Ashley Hermes of Bethungra, NSW, will be cut in two by the inland rail line. Photograph: Mike Bowers/The Guardian

The government says the Infrastructure Australia model will guide its decisions regarding nation-building infrastructure. This means uncertainty for controversial infrastructure projects such as Hell’s Gate Dam, with Labor, set to delay the $5.4bn project in favor of further consultation.

Labor has committed support for the inland rail but will be closely guided by the recommendations of the senate inquiry; over half the proposals the government did not support.

While the Coalition repeatedly told communities it was too late for amendments, Labor says it will listen to those concerned by the project. The Albanese government has also said it will continue the business case into extending the project to the Port of Gladstone.


The better connectivity for rural and regional Australia plan commits $400m to expand multi-carrier mobile coverage along roads, local homes, and businesses.

Labor says to guide future prioritie,  priorities will spend $20m on an independent national audit of mobile coverage in 2022.

A tender will be released to place mobile phone signal measuring devices on Australia Post vehicles to gather the necessary data.

Bella E. McMahon
I am a freelance writer who started blogging in college. I am fascinated by human nature, politics, culture, technology, and pop culture. In addition to my writing, I enjoy exploring new places, trying out new things, and engaging in conversations with new people. Some of my favorite hobbies are reading, playing music, making crafts, writing, traveling, and spending time with my family.