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Senator says Liberal Party members also oppose the Prime Minister's 10-point plan on Wik, and reitterates his stance on crossing the floor on the issue

PETER CAVE: Relations between John Howard and sections of his backbench have worsened following a five-hour meeting yesterday on the Prime Minister's native title plan. National Party Senator, Bill O'Chee, who claims he's stuck by Mr Howard through good times and bad, is now publicly defending himself against charges of disloyalty from the Prime Minister. Senator O'Chee says the debate has now descended into personal politics and has renewed his vow to cross the floor rather than vote for a Bill he doesn't believe will protect farmers' interests, and Senator O'Chee told AM's Catherine Job that, contrary to Mr Howard's claims, the Queensland Nationals weren't the only members of the Coalition committee on indigenous affairs to oppose the Prime Minister's plan at yesterday's meeting.

BILL O'CHEE: It was very specifically the case that the committee was not going to endorse the plan. A majority of people were happy to work through and look at further detail before they came to a view on the 10-point plan, and that's not an unreasonable thing to do, but that was certainly not endorsement and a number of people, like myself, believe that the only way, the only sensible way in which you can solve the problem is to say that all private property rights will be protected from native title and, at the same time, extend to Aboriginal people and Islanders private property rights themselves. Now, that's what we've been arguing, that's what I've been arguing, for the last three-and-a-half years, and I don't intend to resile from that viewpoint now.

CATHERINE JOB: Are there Liberals who agreed with you in that meeting?

BILL O'CHEE: There were Liberals, indeed, who share the same concerns that I have, in fact Liberals that raised issues that I hadn't thought of either. I mean....

CATHERINE JOB: Did they vote the same way you did?

BILL O'CHEE: Oh, it's quite clear that there were Liberals who voted in the same fashion as I did and as many members of the committee did.

CATHERINE JOB: Do you still see yourself crossing the floor or possibly even leaving the Coalition on this issue? It seems Mr Howard has actually said that he'll only change a few things around the margins; his plan is not an ambit claim and the substance is not going to change.

BILL O'CHEE: Well, at the end of the day, I have an obligation to people who have private property, be they Aboriginal or white, and the only way in which private property will be protected is by taking private property seriously. If this plan, at the end of the day, does not protect private property, well I will have to vote for private property.

CATHERINE JOB: We're seeing a lot of rhetoric - some might even say posturing - from especially Queensland Nationals at the moment on the Wik issue, but posturing and public politics aside, how much damage could this really do relations between the Coalition partners inside the party room?

BILL O'CHEE: Well, I don't posture, Cathy, and I think everybody in Queensland knows that. If I say I'm going to do something, I always do it. At the end of the day, I think it's very unfortunate that this has descended into personality politics. I mean, I've been one of the people who's been one of John Howard's most loyal supporters in either party over many, many years and through a lot of problems that we've had. I've stuck by him absolutely, and the suggestion that I am somehow unreasonable or disloyal is, I think, not borne out by the facts. It's not borne out by the facts either that, at the end of the day, you have to have people who are going to be honest when you are leader and tell you when you have problems. We do have problems in terms of the public perception of what is happening and we do have problems in terms of delivering good outcomes. I would be disloyal if I didn't say those things to the Prime Minister.

CATHERINE JOB: Has the Prime Minister accused you of unreasonableness and disloyalty?

BILL O'CHEE: Well, the Prime Minister seems to think that I'm being unreasonable. I'm not being unreasonable. The Prime Minister seems to think that I'm being disloyal but, at the end of the day, I told him very honestly what people believe in Queensland and I told him very honestly that I've got a lot of time for him, but on this matter, it doesn't matter how much of a friend I happen to consider him to be, my obligation is to my constituents.

CATHERINE JOB: How disappointed are you in Mr Howard?

BILL O'CHEE: Well, I don't want to get into attacking John Howard personally. You know, I've always had an enormous amount of time for him, but the suggestion that I am being disloyal when I've stuck by him through thick and thin, through all sorts of problems, I find a little disappointing and I would hope that, in the cool, calm light of day, he would understand that my obligation is to ensure that we get the best possible outcome, and I don't think we are there yet.

CATHERINE JOB: Are you getting all the support you need from your leader, Tim Fischer?

BILL O'CHEE: Well, the Federal Executive of the National Party has made it very clear to Tim what the views of the party are, and at the end of the day, we all have to deliver on the obligations that we have to the Federal Executive and to the special conference of the National Party that considered these things.

PETER CAVE: Queensland Senator, Bill O'Chee, from the National Party.