IN his final speech in federal parliament, outgoing NSW Liberal Senator Bill Heffernan has called on the Liberal and National parties to merge and end their “ridiculous pretence of differing constituencies” to strengthen rural Australia’s “political hand”.
“I would not mind a bag of wheat for every time I have been asked, `Why are you interested in politics?' and `Why aren't you a member of the National Party?',” he said.
“Suffice to say, I have a strong view that the Liberal and National parties should recognise the changing demographics in Australia, end the ridiculous pretence of differing constituencies, set aside individual agendas and ego, and have the guts and determination to give up the horse and sulky logic and become one strong, united party.
“A decision to merge the Liberal and National Parties would strengthen the political hand of rural Australia, do much to strengthen cooperation and interaction between city and country and would be the most strategic political decision taken in recent political history.”
Senator Heffernan - a wheat and livestock farmer from Junee in NSW - chose not to stand for re-election after serving 20-years in the federal Senate.
In his valedictory speech, he also paid tribute to primary industries like farming, fishing, forestry and mining saying they continue 75 per cent of Australia's net external earnings.
Senator Heffernan said rural women deserved a medal but were often taken for granted while Australian farmers are “an endangered species”.
“Rural women display greater patience, more resilience and are generally better educated than are rural men,” he said.
“Rural women often have to contend with droving, drafting and old harvest trucks, yet find the time to do the books, do the washing and ironing, cook the meals, oversee the homework, school excursions and weekend sport, water the garden and look like a lady of leisure for church on Sunday.
“Our rural women deserve a medal for holding together the spirit of family farming.”
Senator Heffernan said despite a range of challenges for farmers “our farmers and the world's farmers have to feed an extra 90 million people every year”.
He said for Australia, the challenges include; the number of farmers falling to 120,000 and an increasing average age that’s now at 53, more people living in the western suburbs of Sydney today than all of rural Australia; and a relentless decline in terms of trade for agriculture.
“We live in a world where 1.3 billion people lack regular access to fresh water, where 800 million people do not enjoy food security, where 185 million children suffer malnutrition and where 1 billion people have an income of no more than $1 a day,” he said.
“Population growth is wearing down Mother Earth and swallowing up our farming land and agricultural water resources.
“The great challenge in feeding the world will be to produce enough food at a price that is affordable to all without destroying the environment.”
Senator Heffernan said he hoped his contribution in the Senate over the past 20-years would be “judged by my fellow Australians as worthwhile”.
“My only wish then will be that God allows me to return with my family to the peace and tranquillity of the bush,” he said.
The Liberals and Nationals have a formal Coalition agreement in the federal parliament that’s negotiated between the two leaders but differing management structures throughout the nation.
They are a single merged party in Queensland under the LNP banner and have formal agreements in NSW and Victoria with strong presence of elected-members in the federal and State parliaments.
But the WA Nationals are a separate party to their State Liberal colleagues and at this federal election have run three-cornered contests against sitting Liberal MPs in the seats of O’Connor and Durack.
After the 2008 State election, the WA Nationals threatened to form government with Labor in balance of power negotiations but ended up choosing to side with the Liberals to form a conservative, having the numbers in both houses of parliament.
The Nationals have no federal or State members from South Australia and Tasmania and NT Country Liberal Party Senator Nigel Scullion sits in the Nationals party-room in Canberra.