Nationals leader says party must rebuild trust with women but rejects quotas

David Littleproud says regional Australians should be considered at Labor’s jobs summit as he outlines vision to party faithful

The leader of the Nationals, David Littleproud, has said his party will make rebuilding trust with women a top priority, but rejected quotas for his party.

“I don’t believe in quotas,” he said.

“I believe in creating the environment for women to come forward.

“We’ll be looking to identify female candidates in new seats and those seats that we will have retiring members in and we’ll start that process as part of this journey in being open and honest, but we want to be genuine about this.”

Littleproud outlined his vision for the Nationals to the party faithful gathered in Canberra for a federal council meeting on Saturday.

In the first address of the meeting, the Nationals federal president, Kay Hull, spoke of the importance of women in politics and the contribution they made to key regional industries, including agriculture.

“We need to be resetting, ensuring we are embracing particularly the women of our nation,” she said.

“And so they are part of our heartland … we stand as one of the few parties that have such a proud track record.

“I think there are many areas that we need to embrace and further reset.”

Analysis of the Coalition’s election defeat showed women deserted the Liberal party in droves, as a number of women – the teal independents – won city seats from the Liberal party.

The independents campaigned strongly on climate change action and integrity.

Hull said the Nationals was the most diverse of any political party, and spruiked the lived experience of its members.

“They’ve had to make decisions and pay for mistakes out of their own pocket, not out of the taxpayers’ purse,” she said.

“They make decisions on good economic basis on what they would do if this was their own business and their own livelihood.”

Littleproud said he would take policies representing regional and rural communities to the Albanese government’s national jobs summit next month.

“It’s disappointing that regional Australia wasn’t even thought of,” he said. “We were an afterthought, and it’s important regional Australia has a voice there.

“We want to prosecute our case with some pragmatic solutions.

“The fact that regional Australia wasn’t even invited just goes to show that this stunt was all aimed at just sending the symbolic messages to the electorate.”

The federal government will hold its jobs and skills summit in Canberra over the first two days in September.

Labor invited the opposition leader, Peter Dutton, to attend, or send a Coalition member in his place, but the Liberal party turned down the offer.

At the Nationals meeting on Saturday Littleproud said pensioners and veterans should be able to work more without their payments being affected, as a reward for their service to the nation.

“This is a payback to them,” he said.

The party will also fight for a visa to fast-track permanent residency for workers in rural and regional communities.

“We believe that it needs now to go forward and to incentivise those migrants that come to regional Australia,” Littleproud said. “We need to give them the incentive of becoming residents and citizens of this great country.

“This is an opportunity to grow regional Australia to make sure the next generation are out there and taking us to our full potential.”

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Littleproud said the program of paying university debt of healthcare workers in the regions should be extended to other graduates in areas experiencing skills shortages.

Littleproud was elected leader in May, following Labor’s election victory, emerging the winner of a three-way contest with ousted leader Barnaby Joyce and former minister Darren Chester.

He has called for the party to “evolve” with the changes in the electorate, but to continue to stand up for rural and regional Australians.

Guardian staff with Australian Associated Press

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