RETIRING WA Nationals MP Tony Crook has called on federal parliament to address mounting pressures facing the nation’s agriculture sector.
The O’Connor MP, who is stepping down after a single three-year term, made the impassioned plea during his valedictory speech last week in the House of Representatives in Canberra.
He was elected in 2010 in a controversial upset which ended the 30-year career of his predecessor and political firebrand, WA Liberal Wilson Tuckey.
Mr Crook’s final speech was delivered in the same week when grain farmers from his electorate joined others facing similar fiscal pressures in Canberra for urgently arranged meetings with parliamentarians from the two main political parties and key independents, to address mounting rural debt and escalating pressures on farm viability.
“It is totally unfair that our farmers continue to compete with their global competitors on an unfair playing field,” Mr Crook said.
“I liken it to two evenly balanced AFL teams and one gets to kick with the 10-goal breeze for the whole game, or two cricket teams playing with one team fielding only five men.”
Speaking to Fairfax Agricultural Media, Mr Crook said he had no immediate aspirations to re-enter politics but did not discount a move into the WA parliament some time in future.
But he was quick to say he’d had enough of federal politics and would only return to Canberra for a reunion of the five original crossbench MPs including Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott, who he shared centre stage with following the 2010 hung parliament and now calls personal friends, especially Tasmanian independent Andrew Wilkie.
“Never say never, except to say that I’ll never be back here in this parliament,” he said.
“I’ll stay in touch with the other crossbench MPs and I’ll keep their phone numbers in my phone and call to give them some advice if they need it after the next election, like I do now.”
If any MP in this hung parliament was to be believed for saying they were stepping down for personal reasons, Mr Crook is a standout.
His valedictory speech referred to the strain Canberra’s had on his home life, which he’s now looking forward to resuming.
He acknowledged wife Karen’s support and in particular daughter Jemma who has been an integral member of his office staff, travelling to the nation’s capital when parliament has been sitting.
He also thanked his other two daughters, Cassie and Georgia, and son-in-law, Damen, for their patience over the last three and a half years.
“I think that only those who actually do this job can truly understand the pressures it places on families and relationships,” he said.
“If you let it, this job can be all consuming.”
While acknowledging his unique role in the hung parliament, Mr Crook was also critical of the independents for their role in maintaining the dysfunctional government and continued backing of the Gillard government amid the constant turmoil, especially ongoing bitter leadership disputes between Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd.
Mr Crook said in comparison, this hung federal parliament and the recent WA hung parliament were “literally poles apart”.
“In the WA parliament Brendon Grylls and the WA Nationals delivered an outstanding regional policy in that hung parliament in 2008,” he said.
“In just over three years the Royalties for Regions Fund has delivered nearly $6 billion and over 2500 projects to regional WA.
“It is a policy that the Nationals leader Warren Truss has said is 'a regional policy the envy of all other states'.
“Most importantly, the WA Nationals and their WA Liberal partners delivered stable government.
“This, unfortunately, cannot be said for this hung parliament.
“For a parliament that promised so much for regional Australia by virtue of those who gave it power, it has failed dismally by comparison.”
Mr Crook said he would miss the friendships made in Canberra including his crossbench colleagues, even though he had disagreed with them most of the time.
He said after the 2010 election, sitting on the crossbenches as a first term MP was exciting and also a great challenge.
He admired that Queensland Independent Bob Katter had advocated passionately for his electorate, despite what others may think.
Mr Crook said his toughest moment in this parliament was the first time he voted against his conservative colleagues - on the flood levy legislation - which was introduced in response to the social and economic devastation caused by significant natural disasters, including areas affected in WA.
“I supported the flood levy and I’d support it again,” he said.
“It’s one of the few things this government got right.
“I don’t have any qualms about that decision at all.”
Mr Crook said he had the critical casting vote on the legislation but afterwards several Coalition MPs who voted against the Bill thanked him for supporting the levy and, “that’s when my disillusionment with the parliament started”.
“They agreed with how I voted and right then, I knew I was in trouble, morally, just two minutes after walking out of the house,” he said.
Mr Crook said he was proud the Prime Minister accepted his offer to visit the O'Connor electorate and be hosted by the towns of Esperance and Albany.
He briefed Ms Gillard on the PortLink Project which Infrastructure Minister Anthony Albanese labeled “a nation-building project without peer” when he also visited O’Connor.
But Mr Crook said he was also proud invitations were accepted to visit O’Connor by federal Nationals Leader Warren Truss, Nationals Senate Leader Barnaby Joyce, Shadow Agriculture Minister John Cobb and others.
“I was proud to bring anyone of influence, whether it be in this government or the next, to my electorate,” he said.
“In fact, I saw it as my duty to do so.
“To advocate for our electorates should actually be our number one job in this place.”