WA Liberal MP goes against party grain

Andrew Probyn with staff reportersCountryman

WA Liberal MP Dennis Jensen will defy Tony Abbott to allow passage of the Gillard Government's legislation to fully deregulate the wheat industry.

Amid grumbling on the Liberal backbench about Mr Abbott's leadership, Dr Jensen said he was not convinced the coalition would abolish Wheat Exports Australia (WEA) or the 22c a tonne wheat export charge.

It is understood Dr Jensen remains unsatisfied with a joint statement issued by Opposition leader Mr Abbott and Nationals leader Warren Truss on October 11 committing the coalition to "well-managed deregulation".

"For me, the issue was that we needed firm commitments on the abolition of WEA and the dates by which they will be abolished," Dr Jensen said earlier this week. "As things are now, I will abstain if this comes to a vote because I am not convinced that we (the coalition) have a commitment to get rid of WEA at any time in the near future."

At the State council meeting in Albany senior Liberals, including deputy leader Julie Bishop, urged members to back Tony Abbott's plan to maintain WEA until at least the next election.

But the Liberal State council meeting voted overwhelmingly, 64 to 29, to urge WA Liberal MPs and senators to support the Government's wheat Bill.

With New South Wales Liberal Alby Schultz also vowing to abstain and WA Nationals' Tony Crook, NSW independent Rob Oakeshott and suspended Labor MP Craig Thomson to support Labor, the Bill is likely to pass the Lower House.

Other Liberal lower house members Ken Wyatt and Mal Washer are also believed to be considering abstaining from a vote, while WA senators Dean Smith and Alan Eggleston are supporting the Bill.

Liberal insiders claim the issue has been poorly handled by Mr Abbott and his deputy, who have bowed to pressure from the Nationals in order to preserve coalition unity, while at the same time the Nationals have allowed Tony Crook to cross the floor.

WA Liberal party members are also disappointed.

Durack Division party member and Calingiri producer, Gary McGill was at the weekend's State council meeting and said Ms Bishop, her fellow frontbencher Mathias Cormann and WA senator Chris Back were completely unconvincing when addressing the council in support of temporarily maintaining WEA. "It's my opinion that Mathias Cormann supports deregulation but as a frontbencher is locked into his leader's stupid decision," Mr McGill said.

He added Mr Back had made a poor judgment in deciding to side with Mr Abbott on the issue.

"(Mr Back) has made a stupid mistake - the man knows nothing about wheat," Mr McGill said.

"He's simply followed down the path to vote against this motion when he should have considered his WA constituents.

"The (Federal Liberals) have totally deferred to the Nationals on this and they need to wake up to the fact the Nationals aren't the only ones with views on agricultural issues."

However, Mr Abbott claims the WA wheat industry is divided over the future of WEA.

He said although the Pastoralists and Graziers Association backed deregulation, other "senior experienced wheat growers" were opposed to the current plan.

That's not the message coming from WA's farming organisations and now national body GrainGrowers is calling on Federal Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig to convene a roundtable meeting for State farming organisations and GrainGrowers.

"There is a clear message from all grower groups that WEA as it currently stands has no role in the grains industry," GrainGrowers' policy group spokesman Chris Kelly said.

"While it is clear there is no role for WEA, it is also apparent that grain producers have concern with the future provision of industry good functions.

"GrainGrowers policy group believes industry good functions oversight needs to be managed through an independent body that provides real value to all Australian grain producers which is a separate discussion from the WEA debate."

The ongoing debate and disagreement among producer groups is centred on what is the most appropriate way to develop and implement the correct ongoing industry good functions oversight.

"We call on all State farming organisations to join with GrainGrowers and government to agree on a solution in the best interests of all our grower members," Mr Kelly said.

Get the latest news from thewest.com.au in your inbox.

Sign up for our emails