ANYONE who isn't trying to fix a "neglected" aged care system needs to get out of federal politics, Bendigo MP Lisa Chesters says as party leaders begin a faux-election campaign.
"It should be in the top three issues for the election," the ALP member said during a one-one-one interview ahead of a poll that could be as little as three months away.
The upcoming election will begin a three-year period when the parliament can spark structural reforms to aged care to protect vulnerable people, fund more jobs and training, and protect the good facilities from going broke, she said.
However, Ms Chesters is unsure whether aged care will be the issue that decides the 2022 election.
She and her team are going through many of the issues that might. She is gearing up to begin campaigning in earnest after Australia Day.
Ms Chesters is not taking anything for granted.
"It wasn't all that long ago that we just held this seat," she said, referring to the 2013 election and the instability that had seen Labor lurch between prime ministers Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard and back again.
"In a pragmatic, practical community like Bendigo, people were saying 'if you can't work out who your leader is, how can we have faith in you to lead the country?'"
Ms Chesters spent six years and two elections battling to raise her two candidate preferred vote - the measurement used to show which two candidates electorates prefer once preferences are calculated - out of marginal territory.
She ended up amassing 60 per cent of that vote in 2019 but thinks that number is misleading.
The Liberal Party made few Bendigo-specific promises during that election and Ms Chesters thinks many voters decided to send them a message.
The Liberals are yet to respond to queries about who its candidate will be in 2022, or when it will reveal them.
Its leader, prime minister Scott Morrison, is yet to lock in an election date but Ms Chesters is expecting two possible dates, including a March election called after Australia Day, or before a deadline in May.
Ms Chesters believes opposition leader Anthony Albanese will be a safe pair of hands for Labor during the 2022 election, which she framed as a referendum on Prime Minister Scott Morrison's leadership.
"This election is going to be less about Labor vs Liberal and more of a question about who Scott Morrison is," she asked, pointing to his handling of the French submarine saga.
"Does he really want to represent what we want in our nation's leadership?"
Ms Chesters said that at a local level, she wanted to see sporting projects get funding after a damning auditor-general's report criticising the Coalition for prioritising a number of projects in marginal seats ahead of the 2019 election.
City of Greater Bendigo projects were among those that scored highly for eligibility for grants but were not funded, according to documents obtained by the ABC in 2020.
Ms Chesters also wanted to lobby Labor decision makers to attract some of the 465 free TAFE places and 20,000 new university places Mr Albanese says his government would bring.
It ties in to a fundamental question: How do you rebuild Australia after COVID-19?
Everyone Ms Chesters spoke to wants to talk about it.
"People are tired. There is a sense of 'will this ever be over?'," Ms Chesters said.
"I believe people are going to be looking for strong leadership on that and will want to know what the plan is to see us through.
"We don't have purpose built quarantine facilities despite being two years in. If they weren't in hotel quarantine, we would have proper protection from other variants coming in."
COVID-19 is still affecting Bendigo, Ms Chesters said.
"I don't believe there is enough support for those businesses over the long term," Ms Chesters said.
"The pandemic has also exposed faults in our supply chains and economy."
Ms Chesters senses opportunities for Bendigo businesses to fix some of those faults and she senses opportunities for them in Labor election platforms.
Mr Albenese recently gave a speech declaring that he wanted to end any first term as Australian prime minister with "an economy that makes more things here at home, powered by cheap renewable energy".
Ms Chesters says Bendigo would do well out of that policy.
"We are well placed to compete for any grants. Our manufacturers are already in this clean energy space," she said.
Ms Chesters is also considering a number of ideas on the Bendigo council's wish list, some of which she committed to at the last election.
She is lobbying for items like a new Bendigo Airport terminal on Labor's 2022 election platform.
Ms Chesters is also assessing new council ideas like a new Marong industrial park to ease looming land shortages.
"I've met with the mayor to ask for more information on the projects and where the council is at. Some of them require state (government) movement, some require federal work," she said.
"My understanding on the business park is that towards the end of that project they will need $10 million from the federal government but there's a lot of planning work to do with the state government before they get to the build stage.
"What you really want to see happen, though, is that if you make an infrastructure promise your opposition are going to match it, because then it is going to happen no matter what," she said.
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