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Call for the Liberal and National parties to merge

PETER THOMPSON: Victoria, too, has a history of coalition disunity. At the recent State election which the conservatives lost, the Opposition Leader, Jeff Kennett, prevaricated about forming a coalition with the National Party. Joining me now from our Melbourne studio is the Victorian President of the Liberal Party, Michael Kroger. Good morning, Mr Kroger.

MICHAEL KROGER: Good morning.

PETER THOMPSON: Well, is coalition disunity holding back the conservative cause?

MICHAEL KROGER: I think Australia wide the Liberal Party and the National Party have to get together on a more permanent basis. The direct answer to your question is that the two parties ought to merge.

PETER THOMPSON: The two parties ought to merge. So you're going further than Mr Howard did with suggesting the three-cornered contest ought to be eliminated.

MICHAEL KROGER: Well, I don't think John reflected on the merger question yesterday from what I understand of his conference. But I do think it's time for us to put all this behind us - I mean, three-cornered contests, separate election campaigns, separate secretariats, separate policies. I mean, of course if you're going to have two political parties working independently of each other effectively, even though we do have coalition federally, you're going to have differences and all that does is allow your political opponents in the Labor Party to exploit them.

PETER THOMPSON: Of course some people even say the States should be abolished, but others say well, that's unrealistic. Isn't your proposition for the parties to merge unrealistic?

MICHAEL KROGER: I don't think it's unrealistic, no. I think we live in historic political times. This is the first time we've had a Labor government federally ever elected three times in a row, and I think it calls for a very considerable leadership and strength on the non-socialist side of Australian politics. And, as I said, not only do I agree with John Howard's view that three-cornered contests ought to be abolished where there are sitting members, but I think the two parties ought to say, well look, it is time to merge. I mean, I don't see that the historic reasons why the Country Party, as it then was, started and we started as to why those reasons still exist. I don't think they do. I don't think there is a need any longer for two separate parties.

PETER THOMPSON: If there hadn't been differences between the coalition parties in the west, would the Opposition have won?

MICHAEL KROGER: Well look, I don't know. I don't want to buck the question, but I am just too far away, really, to know. I think that's very difficult to say. I think it's probably better that someone from the Western Australia party reflect on that.

PETER THOMPSON: Well, what of this criticism that Mr Howard has raised, this three-cornered contest issue, to deflect attention away from his own leadership?

MICHAEL KROGER: Well, I don't think he's done that.

PETER THOMPSON: Well, the plain men of politics talk about Mr MacKinnon being another Mr Howard must be of worry to senior Liberals.

MICHAEL KROGER: I don't think so. There are very different circumstances. Of course John Howard didn't raise these matters yesterday to deflect those issues. The fact of the matter is he quite properly talked about our relations with the National Party, and I think that is one of the things that we must resolve before the next election. I mean, one of the answers to the Western Australian election, of course, is that we needed 53 per cent to win. Labor are always good at talking about gerrymanders. Well, I've got a perfect in Western Australia. We got 52 per cent of the vote on a two-party preferred basis but still didn't win. Now, that's an outrage, and it's the reason why the Labor Government were returned.

PETER THOMPSON: Mr Kroger, last year you warned business about the dangers of, I think the quote is: 'getting into bed with Labor and catching an incurable disease'. Well, Mr Bond appears to have done that - whether he's caught an incurable disease or not I don't know - but what's your comment on Mr Bond's relationship with Labor in the west?

MICHAEL KROGER: Well, I think it bears out what I was saying. I am very disappointed that Mr Bond has given the support to the Labor Party that he has. I don't think he ought to have given that support, and effectively what you've got is a climate where the Labor Party are trying to be moderate. They're trying to talk deregulation policies, they're trying to free up the markets. They're trying to do what they think is fashionable. Of course the Liberal Party and the anti-socialist forces set this political agenda. Labor thinks it's popular, but of course as soon as the political wind changes Labor will change. Labor will go back to being the aggressive socialist party that it has always been, and that will leave, I think, people like Alan Bond very much in the cold.

PETER THOMPSON: Well, thanks for coming in to our Melbourne studio this morning.

MICHAEL KROGER: My pleasure.

PETER THOMPSON: Michael Kroger, who's President of the Liberal Party in Victoria.