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Allan Rocher resigns from the Liberal Party

MONICA ATTARD: After a parliamentary career spanning 17 years in the Senate and the House of Representatives, the Federal Member for the Perth seat of Curtin today tendered his resignation from the Liberal Party. Allan Rocher's decision stems from his loss of preselection for Curtin to Ken Court, the Western Australian Premier's brother, and what Mr Rocher calls the improper influence of Senator Noel Crichton-Browne in the State party. And we'll hear in a moment, Mr Rocher has little faith in current attempts to reform the Liberal Party in the west and his decision to resign and run as an Independent Liberal at the next election follows a similar decision by Paul Filing, the Member for Moore, who also lost preselection. In Perth, Mr Rocher explained his decision to John McNamara.

ALLAN ROCHER: I had to make a decision given the unsolicited requests I had received - and a large number of them, at that - from within my electorate, to offer myself as a viable choice to the endorsed Liberal candidate whom many feel has been imposed upon them.

JOHN MCNAMARA: Well, you say 'a viable choice' but if you're both backing John Howard, what kind of a choice is that?

ALLAN ROCHER: Well, I put it to people: who would be a more reliable supporter of John Howard? And I simply say that on that score I have an unenviable record. I can offer the choice of representation, and that must be very important to many people out there in Curtin, but I can also bring to bear the experience of a number of years in Parliament in delivering that support to John Howard between now and the next election and, of course, after the next election.

JOHN MCNAMARA: Was the preselection decision that went against you, was that in some way fixed?

ALLAN ROCHER: There were some improprieties in there. I mean, for example, I did enjoy a majority of support from delegates within Curtin division. Now, my opponent's majority came about with the assistance of the full complement of votes from the Liberal Party State Council as well as two branches, having four votes each, which come from outside the division, have never actively played a part in the affairs of the division. In fact, one of those branches, the West Perth branch, showed up at a preselection meeting for me .. or the most recent preselection meeting, has never been heard of before or since.

JOHN MCNAMARA: John Howard has basically said today that he has cast you adrift and that he will support Ken Court. But that can't surprise you, can it?

ALLAN ROCHER: No, I don't know that he has said he would cast me adrift. What he said: he will strongly support the endorsed Liberal candidate. I would expect no less of a leader of the parliamentary Liberal Party and despite that he will have my unerring, unwavering support and I think it can be far more useful to him than anything my opponent can offer.

JOHN MCNAMARA: Has he, and the Federal President, Tony Staley, have they both done enough in the West Australian Liberal Party to fix the problems that you see and that many others see as being abroad in the party.

ALLAN ROCHER: Well, as far as John Howard goes, I don't think he could have done anything more. I cannot imagine one single thing that he could have done. Let me say that the West Australian Party jealously guards its autonomy as part of a Federal structure - a federated structure - and, you know, John Howard has absolutely no legal force in Western Australia. The problem was, and remains one, for the Western Australian Liberal Party to sort out.

JOHN MCNAMARA: And the comments that came across from Richard Court, from David Honey, on Friday, did they go far enough?

ALLAN ROCHER: No, they smacked of trying to bed the matter down. They don't impress me as statements which indicate a commitment to the long term reformation of the party. Now, I hope I'm wrong in that assessment but certainly on what I've seen to date I don't believe that they offer long term solutions to the problems of the party in Western Australia. Far, far more has to be done. We have to become more inclusive in Western Australia and not isolate people who, within the broad scope of Liberal Party philosophy, are in a particular situation from time to time.

JOHN MCNAMARA: Well, how do you implement those sorts of changes, though? I mean, what exactly has to happen for the Liberal Party to become more of a broad church?

ALLAN ROCHER: Well, I think the membership of the party has to, you know, show a great deal more tolerance, in some cases, towards those of differing views and the end result must be engineered from within and by the party members themselves.

JOHN MCNAMARA: Is there the will there, though, for that to occur?

ALLAN ROCHER: Well, I'm encouraged by that large minority of people who chose to vote for Reg Withers at the last State conference. Now, that was a large minority and that is something which we may draw some comfort from. But, you know, the detail has to be gone into and the resolve has to be there to effect the sort of changes that I'm talking about, and a means by which the branches and members of branches of the Liberal Party can fully participate in its affairs and can inform their elected representatives of issues out there and discuss the issues to give guidance to their elected representative.

MONICA ATTARD: Allan Rocher. Well, West Australian Liberal Party President, Dr David Honey says he's disappointed but not surprised by Mr Rocher's decision to leave the party. Dr Honey is speaking here to John McNamara.

DAVID HONEY: There is no surprise in Allan's announcement, today. He made it pretty clear that that's what he was considering for some time and I'm pretty disappointed that Allan's taken that view. He gave us a signed undertaking that he wouldn't do this. He enjoyed a fair preselection and I might say it was no surprise in terms of Allan losing his preselection. It was pretty clear from the strength of the challengers in his preselection that, in fact, he was likely to lose it this time. And you've got to recall he had Lyndon Roe(?), Geoff Horne(?), Peter Johnson, Nick Keye-Wilson(?) and Ken Court as opponents to him. I believe that any one of those was likely to win the preselection against Allan.

JOHN MCNAMARA: What of a Federal election? What prospect do you believe Allan Rocher has as an Independent Liberal candidate?

DAVID HONEY: Well, you know, in Allan's statement, he's try to link himself in with John Howard, but John Howard's made it very clear that he doesn't want Independents, he doesn't support Independents. He's made it very clear that John Howard supports Ken Court as the Liberal's candidate in Curtin division. I mean, Independents aren't going to help get John Howard up as Prime Minister. It's going to be the party that's got the most seats in Parliament and in this case Allan Rocher won't be a seat for the Liberal Party and John Howard's made that very clear.

JOHN MCNAMARA: Well, Allan Rocher's making it equally clear that he will support a Howard government and, you know, if it's close then John Howard can rely on him. That's an equally important message to any voters, isn't it?

DAVID HONEY: I know the important message is what John Howard thinks, not what Allan thinks and to be frank John Howard has made it very, very clear that he supports Ken Court as the candidate. He wants Ken Court in Canberra representing the Liberal Party, not Allan Rocher. Now, that's very clear, and he's put that view very strongly. So, I mean, clearly, Allan has to try and position himself to ensure that he gets elected, but that's all it is. John Howard's view is very clear, and it's John Howard's view that matters.

JOHN MCNAMARA: David Honey, you are presiding over a State party that now has lost three Liberals to the cross benches in the State Parliament and two on the Federal cross benches. What does that say about the state of the Liberal Party in Western Australia?

DAVID HONEY: Well, the Liberal Party in Western Australia has continued to enjoy a high level of public support over a long time. There is no doubt there have been some matters within the lay party that have required to be sorted out and we're doing that now and we've done a significant amount already and I believe, coming into the Federal election, we'll have all of those matters sorted out and we'll be going in in a strong position. You know, it would be preferable that these things didn't occur, but they have. We have to deal with them as best we can.

MONICA ATTARD: Dr David Honey, the President of the West Australia Liberal Party, and he was speaking, there, to John McNamara in our Perth bureau.