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Thursday, 19 September 2002
Page: 6817


Mr MARTIN FERGUSON (1:02 PM) —Today I wish to talk about the tail on the Liberal Party dog—a shambles that calls itself the National Party. As we all know—and as you, Mr Deputy Speaker Causley, know better than me—the so-called party for the bush is in dire straits all across the country and it is finding itself increasingly irrelevant in the Liberal-National Party coalition.

As the member for Hinkler would appreciate, in Queensland the Liberals just do not want to know them and the same goes for my home state of Victoria. Talk of the National Party in the Northern Territory brings looks of bewilderment from the locals. The same is the case in Tasmania. Here in Canberra, the Leader of the National Party, the member for Gwydir, is struggling, as we all appreciate, to keep the Liberal Party from engulfing grassroots bush seats—just look at the outcome of the last federal election. That is ironic because, when the National Party is supposed to be the party of the bush, it is becoming more and more irrelevant.

We should also understand that the National Party leader is struggling to keep the troops in line. Let us take the issue of the full sale of Telstra. Day in and day out, we hear the rumblings from the four National Party state branches. They know that selling Telstra will be a disaster for service providers. What is the National Party leader's response? I am sure the member for Hinkler is aware of this quote. The leader of the National Party has said:

... running a modern political party we always take serious note of what our organisation says, but the final say clearly always belongs with the party room.

I suggest to the House this afternoon that clearly the leader of the National Party cannot take the pressure from his so-called cabinet partner, the Liberal Party, and will roll over no matter what the cost. I contend that this speaks volumes about the commitment the National Party's parliamentary members have to serving their constituents. However, the National Party leader's parliamentary colleagues are turning to a new leader to guide them along the way. Who could look past the member for Dawson's recent worship of the Prime Minister at the National Party federal council, no less, over the weekend—a very good friend, I appreciate, of the member for Hinkler. Why are they losing faith in the member for Gwydir? The answer is simple: it is about leadership. Mr Deputy Speaker Causley, you have a history of being able to count the numbers. Why else would you be occupying that high office at the moment—


The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. I.R. Causley)—I remind the member for Batman that the chair does not—


Mr MARTIN FERGUSON —A strong party needs a strong and committed leader, a leader who will fight for what they believe in and serve the people who elected them to the best of their ability. I do not believe the Deputy Prime Minister is fighting for what he believes in. His constant failings in the Transport and Regional Services portfolio are further proof that the wind has gone out of his sails. I suggest to the House that the National Party leader has had enough. He is tired; he has said it on a number of occasions in his public murmurings. He wants to go back to the farm, to go home and rest. It is my belief, Mr Deputy Speaker—and I am not asking you to endorse my comments today because I know about solidarity in the party room: you can have your private and your public positions—that a position as esteemed as that of Deputy Prime Minister should be filled by someone committed to serving the people of Australia. Even you would like to put your hand up if the position became vacant, Mr Deputy Speaker Causley. The Deputy Prime Minister should not be someone whose apathy is reflected time and time again in his failings as a party leader and as a cabinet minister.

I believe that in essence we ought to consider this: if you are holding the reins, then ride the horse; if you are not going to ride the horse, then get off. In essence, the real challenge to the National Party at this point in time is whether it is going to allow itself to continue to be the tail on the Liberal Party dog or whether it is going to stand up for its traditional constituency—a job that it once did proudly, some time ago. Unfortunately, I have come to the conclusion that the tail on the Liberal Party dog is going to continue to get cut shorter and shorter at successive federal elections as we move further into the 21st century.

It is time for the member for Gwydir to head to the backbench and make way for someone committed to the job. We all know that the numbers are being counted—and not just in the Liberal Party. The Minister for Trade has his eyes on the Deputy Prime Minister's seat. (Time expired)