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Queensland: Premier warns the Prime Minister to re-think his response to the Wik decision on native title, citing a possible backlash from rural and regional Australia at the next election

MONICA ATTARD: Well, Queensland Premier, Rob Borbidge, says polls showing burgeoning support for Pauline Hanson's new party should be a warning to the Prime Minister to re-think his response to the Wik decision on native title. Mr Borbidge has been warning of a right-wing backlash as a result of the Prime Minister's handling of the issue, but the Prime Minister has dismissed the latest poll and added that criticism from within the Coalition of his 10-point plan to resolve the dispute over native title was unreasonable. The Queensland Premier, far from recanting, is now saying that unless John Howard produces a better solution to Wik, enough people will go to Pauline Hanson to put the Coalition in grave danger of losing office at the next Federal election. Here's Gerald Tooth with more.

GERALD TOOTH: Rob Borbidge is a man stuck between a rock and a hard place or, more accurately, stuck between a constituency with an uncompromising attitude to native title and a Prime Minister who just won't do what he wants him to. In the Queensland Premier's relentless battle for the extinguishment of native title under pastoral leases in response to the Wik ruling, he's not been afraid to take on whoever he's seen standing in his way. He began by attacking the High Court; then he threatened to end his personal friendship with the Prime Minister when he showed a determination to negotiate an outcome. When that outcome, in the form of a 10-point plan, didn't include extinguishment, Rob Borbidge threatened to 'fill in the gaps', as he put it, with state legislation. Today, he received legal advice that he couldn't do that, which has brought him to his latest strategy, holding up political polling as revealing unquestionable truths.

The latest Morgan Bulletin poll shows that 20 per cent of Australians would consider voting for a Pauline Hanson Senate candidate, the figure being closer to 40 per cent in Queensland. The Prime Minister has dismissed the figures, as most politicians do with most polls, but Rob Borbidge, linking the figures to the Wik debate, says it's a clear warning to the Federal Government that it must extinguish or face being thrown out at the next election. In support of that, he's also reminded the Prime Minister of the 1987 'Joh for PM' campaign, which split the Coalition and kept it out of office.

ROB BORBIDGE: I would hope that the Prime Minister understands, from bitter experience in the past, what can go wrong in Queensland.

REPORTER: So he could expect a revolt?

ROB BORBIDGE: Well, look, I can only say that, in the discussions that I had with industry leaders yesterday, the same sorts of reservations that I've expressed were expressed by those industry leaders and, you know, you can't dismiss these sorts of polls and I think anyone who does really is being a bit careless, and my advice is that research to the Federal Liberal Party is showing that the Federal Government is on the nose in rural and regional Australia.

GERALD TOOTH: And does he think John Howard has learnt the less of 1987?

ROB BORBIDGE: Well, I'm sure he hasn't. All I'm saying is that you can't take people for granted, particularly when those people are losing their property, and that's what's happening. And there is an expectation and a belief, and I think a confidence, in rural and regional Australia, that John Howard has the capacity to deliver an appropriate response, but certainly all the evidence is suggesting the response, at the present time, is not appropriate and that there's a lot of anger there. And, I mean, if you want to upset the bush, you just try and take something off them, and if you want to totally alienate the bush, you rob them of their land. Now, that is what the High Court, by exercising in judicial theft, has effectively done.

GERALD TOOTH: Can you explain further your argument that people are going to have their land taken off them, after all it's government land that is leased to them? I mean, the Government owns the land, doesn't it?

ROB BORBIDGE: Well, I mean, you know, that's the sort of question that we get from time to time that totally, in my view, misinterprets the very clear understanding. Unlike other states, pastoral leases in Queensland have never provided for statutory rights of access or for other people to have access to those particular leases. Now, in Western Australia, in South Australia and in the Northern Territory, there has been for a long time an understanding that, under a state-based regime, there are statutory rights of access. But it has never been the case in Queensland, and what we have seen is the High Court effectively overturning the Enclosure Act, overturning the very basis of the understanding of property law in this country.

GERALD TOOTH: Rob Borbidge is the only state leader not to endorse the Prime Minister's 10-point plan. What does he know that the others don't?

ROB BORBIDGE: Can I say that I believe, in respect of this particular issue, I'm in touch, if others are not.

REPORTER:... warnings to the Prime Minister, why does he keep dismissing them?

ROB BORBIDGE: Good question.

GERALD TOOTH: The Prime Minister today said Mr Borbidge should be reading Australian history, not taking any notice of the polls. It's advice he's not about to take, but he's happy to give some of his own.

ROB BORBIDGE: I'm not ... look, I'm not going to get into a slanging match with the Prime Minister. I am politely, and as a friend, saying that he has to think further on this particular issue. I would like John Howard to remain Prime Minister; I would like a Federal Coalition government to remain the Government in Canberra. What I'm saying is that if the very legitimate expectations of rural and regional Australia are not met, there are grave dangers that that will not be the case down the track, and I am also advised, from very senior sources within the Government, that the Federal Liberal Party's own research is showing that the Prime Minister and the Federal Government have a major problem in the bush.

REPORTER: So Wik could cost the Federal Coalition the next election?

ROB BORBIDGE: Well, it's a symbol of the Prime Minister's commitment. It's a symbol and a litmus test of the Prime Minister's leadership.

REPORTER: And the voters could turn against the Government over that symbol?

ROB BORBIDGE: The polls are showing that people are walking, and you ignore trends in the polls at great personal danger.

MONICA ATTARD: The Queensland Premier, Rob Borbidge.