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Wednesday, 21 March 2012
Page: 3841

Mr TRUSS (Wide BayLeader of The Nationals) (09:36): Next week marks the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the forerunner of the Nationals: a Farmers and Settlers Association was formed on 28 March 1912 in Perth. A year later the association carried a resolution to establish a political party, to be called the Country Party. In 1914, the Country Party contested the Western Australian election, winning two seats in the Legislative Council and eight in the Legislative Assembly. That the Country Party, which became the Nationals, has for 100 years played a pivotal role in ensuring that the voice of people living in regional, rural and remote areas of Australia is heard in parliaments of Australia, is remarkable.

This party, which I now have the honour of leading, has served on federal government benches for longer than any other political party in Australia's history. It is a tradition and legacy not lost or forgotten by myself or any of the 17 Nationals that currently take up the cause of regional people every day in this place. Over these long years, the Nationals have produced three Prime Ministers: Sir Earl Page, Sir Arthur Fadden and Sir John McEwen, all towering figures within the Nationals. Like them, our philosophy is country-mindedness. It is just as important today as it has been at any point in our history.

Farmers across Australia began promoting themselves in loose associations from the late 1800s to promote their interests and combat the growing strength of the unions of rural workers. One of the first was the Amalgamated Farmers Union formed at Wagga Wagga in New South Wales in 1890. Many of these groups developed a pledge to work together for greater recognition of farmers' interests by governments, politicians and the wider community. For instance, in Queensland in 1895, 12 country members of parliament met and agreed 'to watch over, encourage and endeavour to develop agricultural interests generally.' Farm organisations elsewhere soon followed the Western Australian example. They sponsored country parties in Victoria, Queensland and South Australia, and in New South Wales in the form of the Progressive Party.

Almost universally, these parties were derided by their opponents, with predictions they would quickly become extinct. In fact, Melbourne's Argus famously predicted the demise of the Country Party in 1922. Well, we are still here, but the Argus, I note, closed its doors in 1957. The voters responded. They recognised that it was important that there be people who would stand up for those who live in regional Australia and we have succeeded because we have delivered over these 100 years.

Today, we mark with pride the formation 100 years ago of the Western Australian Farmers and Settlers Association as the nucleus from which the Country and National parties have developed, and we commit ourselves to continuing to effectively represent the people who live outside the capital cities.