Mixed Grylls on the menu

The plan in politics is that you’d always like to be going forwards rather than backwards

RETIRING Federal Independent MP Tony Windsor set off a flare for rural Australia’s future in his retirement speech last week by highlighting the successful independent political style and achievements of Brendon Grylls' WA Nationals.

It must have been a monumental compliment for Mr Grylls and acknowledgement for his team’s work to hear such rich praise coming from the man regarded by many as the best politician in Australia.

Rural Australians should now bookmark Mr Windsor’s parting statements, delivered in the national spotlight, as he stepped down from an incredible 22-year political career book-ended by holding the balance of power in the NSW State parliament and finally in federal politics.

To recap the inspired communication, Mr Windsor said country people may have 30 per cent of the vote but they could determine the result of every election, by uniting and refusing to play follow the leader.

“Since federation there hasn’t been one parliament where a country member of parliament - be it Labor, Liberal, National or independent - hasn’t held the balance of power,” he said.

“So the message to country people is look at this parliament.

“Country people don’t want to look at Oakeshott and Windsor in terms of this parliament.

“Look at the WA Nationals leader Brendon Grylls and look at what he’s done in relation to a negotiated settlement.

“(He was) quite willing to work with both sides of parliament and in the end chose the Liberals over there and that’s fine.

“But the outcomes for his people, the country people he represented, were very significant, and that’s the underlying message.

“If country people keep tying themselves to one side of this debate, they will always be taken for granted by both sides (of politics) and I think that’s the message.”

The name Brendon Grylls invokes both praise and criticism amongst Coalition ranks and even fear after his monumental campaign at the March State election, risking his political skin to eventually transform a safe Labor seat into safe National party hands.

The young leader’s move from traditional heartland National Party territory in the Wheatbelt to the mining dominated Pilbara, while retaining his former electorate in party hands, has everyone trembling in their boots, most of all rural Liberals.

It should also be highlighted the new member for the Wheatbelt Mia Davies is also a young woman; signifying another ongoing transformation for the traditional farming party.

The WA Nationals have a master plan to capture all 17 lower seats outside of Metropolitan Perth and if that’s achieved one day, I’d suspect there’d be a huge smile on the face of a one-time New England MP.

The WA Nationals had six members in the WA parliament when Mr Grylls started in 2001 and faced annihilation going into the 2008 election, according to most critics.

But the downward spiral was arrested in spectacular style by gaining nine representatives and the balance of power which was used to successfully implement the multi-billion dollar Royalties for Regions policy, which Mr Windsor and other Nationals have glowingly praised.

The WA Nationals gained three more seats at this year’s election taking the tally to 12 and fell narrowly short in claiming other seats like Eyre, despite a 10 per cent positive swing.

Mr Grylls attended the National Party’s federal conference in Canberra last month and spoke to Fairfax Agricultural Media about the continuing upward trajectory of his party’s political vision.

He said the party’s vote has previously been confined to rural seats but is now performing well in regional cities.

That’s exemplified by former party president Wendy Duncan winning Kalgoorlie and the leader’s growing presence in places like Port Headland and Karratha.

The National Party vote has increased to about 30pc in Geraldton and Albany but when he started they were returning just 7pc in those regional cities.

Mr Grylls said key rural seats like Albany and Collie Preston may not stay in Labor hands forever.

At this election, those seats were won by hard working incumbents that voters liked and were prepared to retain, he said, despite voter sentiment being with the Liberal National government.

Mr Grylls said his party was now focused on growing its supporter base matching its expansion in target areas in the State’s north.

“The plan in politics is that you’d always like to be going forwards rather than backwards,” he said.

“I know what it’s like to be involved when you’re going backwards and that’s not fun; everyone’s very quick to write you off.

“This election produced a really positive result for our party, into the future.

“Our next generation, for the next 15 to 20 years, was just elected which reminds me of when I first started in the early 2000’s.

“You can’t win two or three seats in the Wheatbelt and have a real influence on government policy.

“You have to win enough numbers in the parliament to make a difference and we’ve done that.

“My job is to keep building and ensure we do better in 2017.”

Mr Grylls was coy about Mr Windsor and Rob Oakeshott choosing Labor over the Coalition to break the hung parliament in 2010; a concept he considered after becoming king-maker following the 2008 WA election.

“You live or die by your decisions in politics,” he said.

“I’ve been there and so I know a bit about it.

“Again, I was on the record with opinions at the time and I’ve never shied away from that - but in the end I made a call that would deliver the best outcome for our team and I’m glad I did that.

“I’ve always said; we may not always win but we’ll get a blood nose trying.”

Mr Windsor’s one-time rival for New England - Queensland Nationals Senator Barnaby Joyce - wasn’t as rich in his praise of the WA Nationals and their methods.

The Senator, who crossed the floor 19 times under the Howard Coalition government, said Mr Gryll’s party deserved praise for a job well done, “But we all do our job in different ways”.

“I respect the work that Mr Windsor has done,” he said.

“I don’t necessarily agree with the mechanism with how he sees politics working because I’ve always believed that if everyone became an independent the place would be in chaos.

“There would be nothing done.

“It’s just a peculiarity from a certain period of time that I do acknowledge the balance of power was held in the lower house.

“The next election is going to be back where it was.

“That means to be heard you have to be near those making the decisions.

“That’s where our country people will be after this federal election.”

Canberra CommentFairfax Agricultural Media Canberra correspondent Colin Bettles tackles the big national rural and agricultural issues which will impact regional and rural Australians.


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