O'Connor war of words

11 Dec, 2007 09:00 PM
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A WAR of words continues to resonate in the Federal seat of O’Connor and in the heartland of wheat growing territory three weeks after the general election.

National Party candidate Philip Gardiner sparked a heated reaction from the local Liberal Party branch in the Wheatbelt electorate last week when he issued a media release stating that analysis of voting trends in the seat held by incumbent Liberal MHR Wilson Tuckey had proven there was overwhelming support for single desk marketing for bulk wheat exports.

Voting swings in O’Connor had pointed to strong support for the single desk and in particular for the single seller, grower owned and controlled model proposed by the Wheat Export Market Alliance (WEMA), Mr Gardiner said in his release.

During the election campaign, Mr Gardiner used his diametrically opposed views on wheat marketing to create a point of difference between him and Mr Tuckey during an otherwise bland contest in which the ALP nominated a 20-year-old Perth university student who was more focussed on his exam results than representing wheat growers in Canberra.

Despite the ALP’s flop, Mr Gardiner made a genuine impact during his lengthy door knocking campaign that stretched from Geraldton to Albany and included many smaller Wheatbelt towns.

He also criticised Mr Tuckey for his outspoken views on wheat marketing and held him accountable for constantly criticising the AWB during the course of the $290 million Iraqi wheat scandal.

Mr Gardiner said the outspoken Liberal Party stalwart had ignored the primary concerns of wheat growers by discrediting the WEMA and the AWB.

Mr Tuckey has held O’Connor since 1980, which at 26.7pc of its population has the country’s highest proportion of people employed in agriculture, including wheat growers.

The Australian Electoral Commission had not declared the final result for the November 24 poll at the start of this week, but with a whopping 66.59pc majority in the two-candidate preferred vote — down 3.8pc from the 2004 election — Mr Tuckey was easily on track to reclaim the seat and underline his status as one of the nation’s most durable politicians.

Mr Gardiner said it was analysis of the results of individual polling booths and not the final result that had proven his case on wheat marketing.

The National Party easily won the vote at Watheroo and Yorkrakine and just scraped home at Perenjori, Ballidu and by 12 votes in Mr Gardiner’s hometown of Moora.

In contrast, Mr Tuckey romped in ballots at Nyabing, Three Springs, Bruce Rock and Bolgart and held a slight advantage at Dalwallinu, Tammin and Hyden.

Mr Gardiner said the booths’ results showed the majority WA wheat growers supported WEMA even if all the other issues before the election-day were considered.

“If you take the primary votes of those polling booths located in towns of less than 300 voters in the Wheatbelt, there was a positive swing of 17pc to The Nationals, contrary to the national swing to Labor of 6pc, and a swing against the Liberal’s Wilson Tuckey of 14.3pc,” Mr Gardiner said.

“Even large Wheatbelt towns showed a 12.8pc swing to The Nationals and a 10.2pc swing against Mr Tuckey.

“These swings to The Nationals and against Mr Tuckey are decisive, especially given the absolute majority with which Mr Tuckey claimed the seat in the last election.”

But Liberal Party O’Connor Division president Jim Chown said although there had been a swing against Mr Tuckey, Mr Gardiner’s analysis failed to prove there was majority support for the single desk.

“Sure he had a percentage swing in Wheatbelt polling booths, but it is beyond me how he or anybody else could describe it as being proof that most wheat growers support WEMA’s model, or any other single desk entity for that matter.

“The fact is Mr Tuckey won the vote at 29 out of 47 small Wheatbelt towns and 14 out of 16 large Wheatbelt towns.

“In total, the Liberals won 71pc of the Wheatbelt polling booths in O’Connor and in anybody’s language that is a significant irrefutable majority.”

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