Last week my good friend Tony Abbott defended the Coalition's poor polling in The Australian (December 12). Manfully, he explained how voters liked Christmas bonuses and lower petrol prices, but then he sought to give counsel to Nationals senators in revolt over the carbon sinks and the $2.4 billion communications fund votes. As Tony is a political warhorse, I hope he will take comments from one of those senators as from a comrade-in-arms and a known staunch Coalitionist.
"The Liberal Party can't save the country from Opposition," he writes. But surely it has to try. In the House of Representatives, the Liberals tried to do so by insisting on our amendments. The Nationals simply did the same in the Senate.
We well understand that "it's impossible to be part of a coalition only when it suits" us.
The Nationals are forever being criticised for going along with the Liberals. Several recent decisions have been difficult for us to accept but in the interests of unity we have co-operated. A coalition is give and take: neither party can have everything its own way, and that has to be understood by both parties.
The Senate was debating two issues of great import to our constituents: carbon sinks taking land away from agriculture and the future-proofing of rural telecommunications.
This criticism of Nationals senators seems very one-eyed considering that so many Liberal Senate colleagues failed to vote at all. If disunity is death, there was more internal disunity among the Liberals that night than there was disunity between Nationals and Liberals.
"The prospects of defeating the Government shouldn't be jeopardised because some people can't decide which team they're on." Exactly how many Liberals didn't vote? And which way did they vote in the lower house? The same as I did.
Of course our mutual objective is to win back government. That means showing the Australian people a better way by our actions and our votes. Why have an Opposition if there is nothing to be opposed and no stands of principle to be made?
Have we really sunk to a political monoculture?
Peter Costello once told me that unless we bring managed investment schemes under control, family farming as we know it will be a thing of the past. The Nationals and many Liberals believe that must be highlighted to the Australian people.
Senate Nationals resisted a new version of MIS by opposing carbon sinks that threaten to recast 34 million hectares of the Australian landscape. This equates to 30 per cent more than the area under crops at present. In our Senate opposition to this we are guided by our grassroots constituency.
As Malcolm Turnbull commented recently, "Labor is a very top-down, hierarchical political system where decisions are taken by a handful of party bosses and union bosses at the top. Our system is different. We've got very large grassroots membership in our branches. They have to make the decisions and it has to be driven from the grassroots. That gives us great strengths politically. It means we're much better connected to the people than the Labor Party as an organisation is."
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