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Wednesday, 25 June 2003
Page: 17570


Mr ZAHRA (9:46 AM) —I read with some alarm in the newspapers this morning about the capitulation of the once great National Party on the issue of Telstra privatisation. As someone who grew up in a country district and was used to hearing plenty of things about how the National Party—and, before it, the Country Party—was the only defender of country people in parliament at a state or federal level, I have to tell you that this will come as something of a disappointment to many people in rural and regional Australia. It is not a disappointment to me, because I always viewed the role of the Country Party, and following it the National Party, with a great deal of cynicism—and I think I was always right to have had that view about that political party.

Wouldn't it be great if we had a strong leader in the National Party who could stand up for the interests of country people? Wouldn't it be great if we had someone in there who had some courage, some conviction and some belief and who could stand up for the interests of people living in rural and regional Australia? I look at the new generation of National Party slick politicians—people like the member for Gippsland, Peter McGauran, and the National Party leader, John Anderson—who all went to elite category 1 schools in big cities, and I look at the background of people like the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Larry Anthony, whose great claim to fame in National Party involvement was being the president of the Sydney metropolitan branch of the National Party, and I realise why it is that we have a National Party in this country that capitulates whenever it enters into any sort of discussion or debate with its coalition partner, the Liberal Party. It would be great if we had someone in a leadership position within the National Party who could stand up for the interests of country Australia.

Mr Deputy Speaker Causley, I know that you and many other people share my views about the weakness of the leadership in the National Party. I urge you and other people on the National Party back bench to try to stiffen up the leadership of the National Party so that we might be able to get decent services for rural people living in country Australia. I note that the price that the National Party has extracted from the Howard government for the full sale of Telstra is around $100 million for additional services for country Australia, which means that their share of the total proceeds of the sale of Telstra will be around one-thirtieth. As a country member, Mr Deputy Speaker, I know that you know that country people make up more than one-thirtieth of the population of this country. The National Party is a disgrace, and the leaders are an absolute pack of wimps. (Time expired)