WILSON Tuckey has remained uncharacteristically silent since losing the large WA rural electorate of O’Connor at the 2010 election - but the outspoken former Liberal backbencher has delivered a typical blast to his Liberal colleagues over wheat export marketing.
Mr Tuckey has joined a growing chorus of WA Liberals to publicly and privately challenge their Federal colleagues to back the State’s grain industry groups and follow their party’s free market values, by supporting deregulation.
WA Premier Colin Barnett has already offered his unambiguous support for removing federal legislation that underpins Wheat Exports Australia (WEA) and the watch-dog’s 22 cents a tonne levy.
Mr Barnett said the State government didn’t support retaining the Authority and costly regulations hanging over WA, as the nation’s major wheat exporting State.
“Why do you need to have someone regulating the export and marketing of grain?” he said.
“I would have thought those days were long, long past us.”
Earlier this month, Mr Tuckey sent a stern email to WA’s federal MP’s and Senators outlining why they must oppose the WEA’s retention and reject opposing arguments.
He described himself as the individual MP who spearheaded the campaign to rid WA growers of the multi million dollar cross subsidy they were forced to pay, to the benefit of eastern States wheat growers, under the regulated market managed by AWB.
He said the deregulation cause was also strongly supported by the late WA Liberal Senator Judith Adams and another WA Liberal Senator Alan Eggleston.
They trumpeted the concerns of WA growers “without fear or favour” which saw amendments passed giving the Labor party with no option but to deregulate in 2008.
Senator Adams famously stood up to former PM John Howard in the party room during the height of the deregulation debate and threatened to cross the floor on behalf of her WA wheat growing constituents, which was also a pivotal moment.
Mr Tuckey told Fairfax Agricultural Media the benefits of deregulation were now “irrefutable” and the next step in the process, for those who believe in the commercial rights of farmers to operate freely and without political interference, is removing the WEA.
Mr Tuckey said the WEA was a $2 million annual tax on wheat growers designed to keep a National party “Quango” alive.
A Quango, or quasi-autonomous non-governmental organisation, commonly refers to an organization that government has devolved power to.
“A Quango looks after a National party friend with a well-paid salary but they bring no benefits to the industry whatsoever,” he said.
“That’s how the Nationals distribute patronage.”
Mr Tuckey said if the WEA was removed, nothing stood in the way of State governments fixing their own industry issues, especially around port access, by creating local legislation to protect growers, rather than adopting a one-size fits all federal scheme.
His email also said State governments had “ample powers” to create their own single desk marketing authorities, as evidenced up until recent times by the existence of State based marketing boards for dairy, sugar and coarse grains like barley.
Mr Tuckey said the Wheat Marketing Act, which the government’s proposed legislation aims to repeal, was no longer worthwhile or practical and had no general wheat grower support.
“I can only assume that its retention (the Act) is defended by those who see it as a surviving symbol of times gone by, when in fact it is the last vestige of a discredited company so abandoned by wheat growers commercially as to be sold off and or disbanded,” he said.
Mr Tuckey said in 2008, the then Liberal party leader Brendan Nelson supported Labor’s deregulation push and they split from the Nationals when the actual vote was held, “for good reason”.
“As the free enterprise party we should have written the Act ourselves not Labor,” he said.
“But the Nationals were frantic about losing the single desk.”
Mr Tuckey said the Nationals were eventually freed up by Mr Nelson to vote against the Bill with no penalties, like frontbenchers having to resign for breaching party rules.
But he said the Coalition’s current stance, to delay the deregulation process and not allow WA Liberals to vote with their conscience in support of the government’s Bill, was “outrageous” and pandered to the Nationals.
“The precedent of settling ideological disputes within the Coalition has been established,” his letter said.
“The right of individual MPs and Senators to cross the floor on matters of special significance to their own electorates having given due notice to the Party Room and or Leader is a well established right of all Liberal MP's and Senators and made an art form by certain coalition Senators often without the appropriate notice.”
Mr Tuckey said without the AWB single desk, WA growers had benefitted more than $20 per tonne over east coast growers and no longer paid cross subsidies related to the monopoly system.
“There’s a good reason why WAFarmers have suddenly forgotten all of the nasty things they said about me and stood up at last election saying ‘you can’t vote for Wilson Tuckey because he divided you on wheat marketing’,” he said.