Bill Shorten knocks the Nationals on a visit to Casino
THEY call him the King of Zingers, and Bill Shorten lived up to his reputation by dosing scorn on the National Party during a speech to the ALP's country faithful in Casino today.
Mr Shorten opened his barrage by saying no political party, especially not the Nationals, could claim a monopoly on country electorates.
Then, pausing for effect, he described the Nationals as the Liberal Party's "faithful old working dog(s)", singling out Barnaby Joyce and Warren Truss for particular ire.
"There's the Liberals... driving the ute, and then there's Warren and Barnaby, tied up in the tray at the back just like Pistol and Boo," he said.
The comparison to actor Johnny Depp's dogs who Mr Joyce famously ordered out of the country was a particular hit with the ALP gathering, drawing plenty of laughs.
But there was a strategic side to the salvo, with Labor recognising that it has to win back country support at next year's election to have a hope of winning government.
And no better place to start than the electorate Page, where former Labor MP Janelle Saffin only narrowly lost her seat in 2013.
Mr Shorten has appointed a "country caucus" in the Federal ALP-elect to talk specifically about country issues and country-focused policies.
The inaugural Country Labor forum at the Casino RSM on Saturday morning was put on to move that agenda forward.
Earlier while strolling along Casino's Barker St, Mr Shorten said the seat of Page, to be contested by former MP Janelle Saffin, was a must-win for the ALP.
"We can't form government without it," Mr Shorten said.
After taking the train from Brisbane, Mr Shorten had a coffee at Casino's Mike's Cafe surrounded by Labor staffers and country MPs such as Northern Territory veteran Warren Snowdon and Queensland's Shayne Neumann.
Shying away from personality politics - except to say he expected to be given "equal billing" to Malcolm Turnbull in the election campaign next year so the public could get to know him better - he instead wanted to focus on Labor's platform of "fairness".
He cited policy elements like the needs-based schools funding (formerly known as Gonski) and the National Disability Insurance Scheme as examples, alongside Labor's approach to funding health, welfare, and services in the city and the bush.
"You've got to make sure no one gets left behind," he said.
At the conference he also spruiked Labor's plans for an emissions trading scheme, coming in light of China's announcement it would have an ETS in place by 2017.
Off the back of criticisms that Labor is not supporting the Free Trade Agreement with China, Mr Shorten and Ms Saffin said Labor did support the measure but wanted to safeguard Australian workers' rights as well.
They also argued that Labor did groundwork on the similar Japan and Korea free trade agreements and were pro-trade liberalisation.
Asked about whether people could believe in the unity of the Labor Party after the debacle of the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd years, the former factional "faceless man" said Labor was now very united and turned his criticisms to the "unedifying" leadership tension between Barnaby Joyce and Deputy PM Warren Truss, which he said was the "last thing" country Australia needed.