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Ag portfolio vacant again

Rueben HaleCountryman
Dean Nalder talks to the press after losing the challenge he mounted against Colin Barnett.
Camera IconDean Nalder talks to the press after losing the challenge he mounted against Colin Barnett. Credit: Bill Hatto

State Transport and Agriculture Minister Dean Nalder’s resignation this week will mean the WA Liberal-National Government will have had at least four agriculture ministers and four transport ministers during its current term of government.

The vacancy has fuelled speculation about who will fill the vacant portfolios just six months out from an election, with the possibility Nationals WA chief Brendon Grylls may try to claim the traditional agricultural portfolio back for his party; something Mr Grylls did not totally rule out whenCountryman spoke to the newly reappointed leader late last last month.

Regional voters had held hopes that Mr Nalder, a former farmer from Wagin, would bring his “boy from the bush” mentality to State politics when he replaced Troy Buswell as Transport Minister in 2014 and then took over from Ken Baston as Agriculture Minister in March this year.

It was a bumpy ride for the new Transport Minister in 2014, as he walked into a head storm from angry Wheatbelt farmers demanding he intervene in the feud over grain rail access between Brookfield Rail and CBH.

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Mr Nalder was widely criticised for allowing the closure of more than 500km of grain lines known as Tier 3 in June, 2014, and then being seen to fail to respond adequately to a parliamentary committee’s damning report into the State Government’s handling of the freight rail network lease to Brookfield Rail.

But as Agriculture Minister, Mr Nalder inspired many with his apparent determination to focus on WA agriculture by prioritising a “stocktake” of the Department of Agriculture and Food WA, which had been hit by big job losses in recent years.

He also committed to the repeal of laws to free up the use of genetically modified crops in WA and push ahead with the sale of Fremantle Port to create a new live export facility in the outer harbour.

WA’s peak farm lobby groups have expressed frustration and regret over Mr Nalder’s resignation.

“The industry deserved better, and that stability in leadership was greatly needed,” WAFarmers president Tony York said.

“We are extremely disappointed and frustrated that we have lost another Minister for Agriculture, the second within less than a year.

“There are many ongoing issues that require the attention of a dedicated minister such as the State’s dairy industry difficulties, GMOs, and the issues surrounding DAFWA’s structure and biosecurity funding.”

Pastoralists and Graziers Association president Tony Seabrook said Mr Nalder was “hitting his straps” in both of his ministerial roles.

“As the Minister for Agriculture and Food and as the Minister for Transport, I believe Mr Nalder was doing a good job and really getting across both portfolios extremely well and it will be difficult for the party to find a suitable and effective replacement for him in the six months before the next State election,” he said.

Meanwhile, WA Labor Leader Mark McGowan said the State Government’s leadership crisis was crippling government in WA and the Agriculture portfolio continues to suffer.

“There’s no minister, no direction, no plan. The Government has lost the ability to govern,” he said.

A spokeswoman for Premier Colin Barnett said replacement ministers for the two portfolios would be made as soon as possible.

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