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Leader of the National Party in the Senate discusses the party's position on native title; Opposition Leader says that Tim Fischer has breached Cabinet solidarity

PETER CAVE: Prime Minister John Howard has given National Party Leader, Tim Fischer, the all-clear to fight publicly for the party's position on native title. The unprecedented move to release Mr Fischer from Cabinet solidarity is designed to ease some of the pressure from his party and constituents who are demanding nothing less than extinguishment. At the same time, the National's Senate Leader, Ron Boswell, says it will never be cheaper than now to extinguish native title. The party's Executive yesterday directed Mr Fischer to fight harder for the National's position and it encouraged its MPs to vote against Mr Howard's 10-point plan if necessary. Senator Boswell says the National Party has upped the ante and he told Ross Solley the party needs a win on the issue.

RONALD BOSWELL: Well, it is very important for the National Party to win on this issue, not because we are posturing, but just because we believe that a person has the right to own their own property. These people either bought the properties or inherited the properties, the leases. They believe they had an exclusive right - we believe they have an exclusive right - so it's not a question of being frightened of Pauline Hanson or posturing, it's just that we believe owning a property and exclusive possession is right.

ROSS SOLLEY: Okay. So it's important for the National Party to have a win. Is it also important for Tim Fischer to have a win on this issue?

RONALD BOSWELL: Well, Tim's the Leader of the National Party and of course he'd want to deliver for the National Party. He knows the importance of the issue; he's been in there, fighting, in the Cabinet and I know he's gone in again tonight to carry the National Party banner into the Cabinet and reopen the debate so that the....

ROSS SOLLEY: Is he under a lot of pressure from the National Party, from the Executive, to perform?

RONALD BOSWELL: No, he's not. I mean, there's no question. The National Party ... there is no question, if you're suggesting there's any leadership challenge. That is not on; it's never been on. His leadership is not in question; there is no challenger, and I want to put that one to rest.

ROSS SOLLEY: But the statement put out by the Federal Management Committee of the National Party yesterday seems to be suggesting that people like Mr Fischer should step up the protest a bit more, step up the fight. Is that a fair reading of the document?

RONALD BOSWELL: I don't think it is a fair reading of the document. I think that the people in the Management Committee weren't complaining about Tim's efforts. What they were saying was, really, we've got to go all out on this one. This one is so important to us.

ROSS SOLLEY: Was there a suggestion that perhaps the feet might have been dragging a bit on this in some areas?

RONALD BOSWELL: No, no, not at all. I think people in the Management Committee are aware of what our three representatives in Cabinet are doing and they are appreciative of it.

ROSS SOLLEY: I understand Cabinet has given Mr Fischer the go-ahead to push the National Party line now, to push it publicly. What should we read into that?

RONALD BOSWELL: Well, I hope that would be an acceptance of Cabinet that the National Party line is right. If the Cabinet is saying that 'Go out there, Tim, and sell the National Party plan,' then they must agree with the National Party plan. They can't go out and tell someone to sell something if they don't believe in it.

ROSS SOLLEY: It's not a case, you think, of them trying to appease the National Party, to keep them happy or to perhaps suggest that they are being listened to?

RONALD BOSWELL: I would suggest if that message that you've just given me is correct, then if they have told Tim to go out and push the National Party line, they must believe in it, and I'm very glad about that.

ROSS SOLLEY: What do you understand is the Prime Minister's main argument against total extinguishment?

RONALD BOSWELL: I've never been able to quite work out his main argument, other than it would be costly. My answer to that is it's never going to be cheaper than it is today. If we don't extinguish native title, we're going to have it around our neck for the next many, many years.

PETER CAVE: The Leader of the National Party in the Senate, Ron Boswell.

Well, speaking in Cairns last night, the Opposition Leader, Kim Beazley, said that, in the past, Labor Ministers have been forced to leave Cabinet for breaking ranks.

KIM BEAZLEY: ... Mr Fischer was there, and it says that it was a unanimous agreement. Mr Fischer has breached Cabinet solidarity and the Government has a serious problem. That's the first point that I'd make just on that simple point. The second point I'd make is this: if this foolish Executive has its way, the pastoralists will be deprived of certainty, the pastoralists will find themselves and, with all the implications that that will have for their relationships with their bank managers and everyone else, will find themselves in endless litigation in common law actions, and the Australian taxpayer will be up for multi-millions if they get their way. Mr Howard knows that, Mr Fischer knows that. I think, gradually, the Australian people are coming to know that and the Australian people, who would be paying the taxes to support this adventure, would be rightly extremely annoyed, particularly as they would know, as I know, as Mr Howard knows and Mr Fischer knows, it is possible to give the pastoralists the certainty that they need without interfering with Aboriginal rights.

PETER CAVE: Opposition Leader, Kim Beazley.