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Wednesday, 31 October 2012
Page: 12861


Mr SLIPPER (Fisher) (17:22): Mr Second Deputy Speaker Georganas, allow me to congratulate you on your election to high office. I note that as a member of the Speaker's panel you were diligent, and with this new responsibility the parliament will be enhanced through your involvement.

On 24 November last year I resigned from the Liberal National Party of Queensland and the coalition to become an independent Speaker of this parliament in the Westminster tradition. I was honoured by being elected unopposed as Speaker of the House of Representatives but, in resigning from the Liberal National Party of Queensland, I did not resign from my conservative principles. I did not resign from my belief in free enterprise and I did not resign from my belief that producers of products or growers of wheat should be allowed to sell their product to whomsoever they wish.

The opposition, in opposing the Wheat Export Marketing Amendment Bill 2012 and in proposing the amendment currently before the chamber, is talking about saving the leadership of the Leader of the Opposition and about coalition unity. While I resigned from the Liberal National Party, I did not resign from my principles. The position being taken by the coalition in this bill is a resignation by the Liberal Party in favour of the National Party from the principles set out on the website of the Liberal Party of Australia.

Let me draw to your attention that, in listing the items in which the Liberal Party believes and in which I continue to believe, the first item is:

We Believe …

In the inalienable rights and freedoms of all peoples; and we work towards a lean government that minimises interference in our daily lives; and maximises individual and private sector initiative …

Let us look at the position of the opposition in relation to this particular bill. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition, the honourable member for Curtin, has been urging, as indicated by the report on ABC News on 3 October, and I quote:

… her WA colleagues to remain unified behind the Coalition's position, arguing it would undermine the authority of Opposition Leader Tony Abbott.

This is not about deregulation or not deregulation; it is all about internal unity on the part of the coalition and it is all about asking Liberals to surrender the first principle of the Liberal Party, which refers to private sector initiative and minimisation of government interference. I understand that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition also said on Sunday, 28 October, on ABC News:

Our policy is to support full deregulation when we're in government …

Let us be honest: if full deregulation, if and when the opposition is elected to government, is perceived to be a good thing, why is full deregulation when the opposition is in opposition a bad thing? I find the intellectual argument on the part of the opposition incredibly lacking.

Some would say that we have a bizarre situation where we have the party that in its original manifesto supported the socialisation of the means of production, distribution and exchange now being the champion of free enterprise and the champion of those people who want to sell their product to whomsoever they want to sell it. What a bizarre turnaround! I am not going to pre-empt the position of the honourable member for Tangney, but isn't it interesting that Western Australian Liberals are being urged to vote against a measure which the Western Australian grains industry says will save the industry some $3 million to $4 million?

Why is the Deputy Leader of the Opposition urging her Western Australian Liberal colleagues to vote against the interests of the wheat producers of Western Australia and, I would put it more broadly, the wheat producers of Australia? What is wrong with a person who grows wheat being able to sell wheat to whomsoever they want?

The member for Groom, who is a person I greatly respect, delivered a speech. He trotted out the party line, but I suspect that if you looked into the mind of the honourable member for Groom you would see that his position would be the same as that being taken by the government and those members of the coalition parties who are prepared to show their opposition to the coalition position in a tangible way.

Interestingly, I have been lobbied by the most unholy unity ticket. I have been lobbied by the honourable member for O'Connor, who is sitting two seats in front of me, and I have been lobbied by the former honourable member for O'Connor, Wilson Tuckey. When you get the member for O'Connor and Mr Tuckey actually agreeing on an issue, then each of us should sit down and look closely at what is being proposed because, surely, there must be something tangible and worthwhile in it.

To look at the specifics of the legislation, to its credit the former Howard government initially removed the Australian Wheat Board single-desk arrangements, and since that time—in 2007—bulk wheat exporters have been required to pass an accreditation scheme administered by Wheat Exports Australia. The government agreed that, as part of these changes, there would be a review of the changes to the regulatory system. In 2010, two years ago, the Productivity Commission handed down its report into Australia's wheat export marketing arrangements and recommended the removal of Wheat Exports Australia to align wheat with every other commodity in Australia as a freely traded commodity. So the so-called socialist party in Australia, the Australian Labor Party, is actually standing up for wheat producers right around the country. What an incredible change! What an about-face!

And this is not about deregulation, because the Deputy Leader of the Opposition says she supports deregulation, but not while Labor is in office. So if deregulation is good, if and when the opposition is elected to office, why isn't it good now?

If there are advantages to the wheat industry by proceeding at this time, why should the wheat producers of Australia be disadvantaged to the extent of millions of dollars by having to wait until there is a change of government? As I said at the outset, on 3 October the honourable member for Curtin let the cat out of the bag: she was not talking about principle; she was not talking about policy; she was talking about naked politics; she was talking about protecting the position of the Leader of the Opposition.

When one looks at recent opinion polls, it is by no means certain that the Leader of the Opposition will be leading the opposition at the time of the next election. You know what it is like in politics: you see the barracudas circle; you see the knives encircling an embattled person. I suppose you have to admire the Deputy Leader of the Opposition because she is supporting her leader. After all, she supported—how many leaders has she been deputy to? Sadly, I find it quite abhorrent that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition is prepared to say to the wheat industry of her home state that it is important to defeat the government legislation not on any matter of principle, not to assist producers, but simply to assist the continued leadership of the Leader of the Opposition—and I presume that she would anticipate that, if the Leader of the Opposition remains in office, she is likely to continue to remain in position as Deputy Leader of the Opposition.

But the honourable member for Curtin should not be pessimistic. She has served a number of leaders before and she could well serve yet another leader as deputy leader. But ultimately I think the people of Australia would respect the Deputy Leader of the Opposition more were she prepared to stand up and say that she believes in continued regulation of some sort in relation to this industry. I can respect those honourable members who actually do support regulation of industry—if they come from a position of principle. I do, however, find it extremely difficult to support a policy which is not about whether something is good or bad for an industry but to prop up a person's position in office.

Referring to the news report on 3 October, it is interesting that the president of the Durack division of the Liberal Party, Mr Gordon Thomson, has taken a shot at Ms Bishop, the honourable member for Curtin, and Western Australian Senator Mathias Cormann. He said, 'It is apparent that neither has any political nous or common sense on this issue.' So you have a leading Liberal luminary actually coming out and making those comments about people who hold a very senior position in the opposition. Let us also look at the report on 28 October, when the Liberal Party had a state council meeting in Albany and overwhelmingly backed a motion to support the federal government's bill. In fact, Western Australian Liberals have been requested by the organisation to stand up for the wheat growers of their state. Despite that, we are seeing naked party politics being played.

I just want to say that this legislation before the House is good legislation. The amendment being proposed by the honourable member for Calare is one that I can understand he believes in—because he is a member of the National Party, and the National Party is the party of agrarian socialism. And I am happy to declare a public interest: I was first elected as a National Party member, but I got back to Queensland after my first meeting of the Parliamentary National Party and said that I had more in common with the Liberal Party than the National Party—and I suspect that some people were not too impressed by that particular statement. However, the member for Calare is at least honest. He is standing up as an agrarian socialist in this place and talking about this failed body, Wheat Exports Australia, having its existence extended for not less than six months after the commencement of the 44th Parliament to enable the government of the day to modify Wheat Exports Australia or replace it with another body to better represent the needs of the wheat industry. And he notes that the coalition commits to a consultation process which will commence immediately and provide stakeholders with a forum to outline what wheat industry issues need to be addressed.

There has already been an inquiry; the Productivity Commission has brought down its report. This government, which historically has not been a government of free enterprise, has had the courage to introduce this bill, yet we find that people in the opposition who are all about preserving positions as leader, deputy leader, shadow minister and shadow parliamentary secretary are endeavouring to thwart it. The people of Australia are sick and tired of political hype.

I return now to where I started. On 24 November last year I resigned from the Liberal National Party of Queensland to become an independent Speaker in the Westminster tradition; I did not resign from my conservative values. But the approach being urged upon Liberal Party members in this place by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition indicates that the Liberal Party is resigning from its political principles. The Liberal Party is no longer the party of minimising government interference. The Liberal Party is no longer the party of deregulation. The Liberal Party is a party which supports the continuation of a body which is outdated. It supports the continuation of a levy. In fact, the Liberal Party's position has no political credibility at all and is all about naked politics.

As Australians, we expect the Parliament of Australia to talk about issues. We expect members on both sides of the House to stand up and be counted on what is right and what is wrong. What is right about this bill is that we are talking about making the industry more efficient. We are talking about giving freedom to wheat growers. We are talking about deregulation. What is the opposition talking about? I suspect that many of them will vote with a heavy heart because there are many on this side of the House who would support the government's intentions. This is all about preserving the flawed, fatal and terminal leadership of the Leader of the Opposition, the honourable number for Warringah. (Time expired)