A NEW political force that directly challenges the National Party’s claim to represent farmers and regional Australians has been formed.
Proponents are currently seeking the minimum 500 members required to formalise the Country Party of Australia under Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) guidelines, while accepting donations.
The interim leader of the proposed party’s federal management committee is Peter Mailler – a former chair of Grain Producers Australia who farms near Goondiwindi on the NSW and Queensland border.
Mr Mailler also ran for the Katter's Australian Party (KAP) at the 2013 federal election as the party’s number one NSW Senate candidate.
On a website that went live on Monday, Mr Mailler said the new political force was “primarily a rural based Party committed to a modern country-mindedness in the best interests of the entire nation”.
“In the increasingly confusing political landscape it seems absurd to suggest that we need another new political party,” he said.
“In truth we seem to be yearning for old style political leadership and values that work in the interests of the nation before party.
“It is in this context that the Country Party is being launched, to re-establish old party values committed to honestly serving rural and regional Australia as the most logical foundation for the future of our nation.”
Mr Mailler also said over 85 per cent of the nation’s wealth is generated in regional Australia and less than 20pc of the population is considered to be regional, yet due to the political system the major earners have a disproportionately small voice.
“The Country Party was founded to bring renewed rigour and vigour to the political voice of the country,” he said.
“The National Party is unrecognisable to its roots and is blindly committed to the Coalition.
“In Queensland rural and regional representation has no unique identity.
“Systematically the influence of rural parliamentarians has been eroded by the party before country culture,” he said.
“This Country Party seeks to arrest this decline in rural awareness both politically and in the public eye.”
The party’s constitution states a key objective is to seek the election of candidates to the Commonwealth House of Representatives and Senate.
It also wants to “restrict the size of government and levels of taxation to the minimum required to achieve efficient administration with the least possible intrusion into the lives of individuals, industry and commerce”.
Fed up with lack of representation
Speaking to Fairfax Media, Mr Mailler said the Country Party was being established by a group of people. He declined to name others for the time being, but said they are working behind the scenes due to fear of potential political “reprisals”.
He said he’d been nominated as the group’s spokesperson for now, but as more momentum builds around the emerging party, “more faces will become visible”.
“We need something different,” he said.
“We’re a group of people who are fed up with the way the representative space has been working and have been for a while.
“It’s potentially a long journey and we’re taking a low key approach for now but we’re taking the first step and if we can build more momentum and if enough people are interested, we’ll take the next step.
“We’re never going to try and be a major political party but we want to be a credible voice for farmers.”
Mr Mailler said the current National Party leader Warren Truss was “almost invisible” as a farmers’ advocate, at time when better voices were needed to deliver strong representation in Canberra.
He said the party was also being formed to deal with frustrations concerning farming families, and broader frustrations about the impact on rural communities of reduced farm profitability.
“Rural economies are suffering too and rural towns are dying because you can’t spread the wealth through the community,” he said.
“That’s been a concern for some time but it’s now reached a crunch point.
“We’re sick and tired of the current bureaucratic response and approach that says ‘taxpayers shouldn’t fund farmers’ but it’s one of the most volatile sectors of the economy that needs support.”
Mr Mailler said policies and other documents were currently being crafted in the background but would also be unveiled as momentum and support increased around the new party.
Move will dilute country vote
Federal National Party director Scott Mitchell said the proposed political faction would only serve to dilute rural voters.
“It looks like another micro party who may give those people who want to protest an opportunity to do so,” he said.
“The National Party has been around for 100 years working for rural and regional Australia and in my view we’ve got a proud record.”
The emerging political force could also attract an objection over its name, once the AEC receives a formal application.
The National Party started out as the Australian Country Party in 1920 before changing its title to the National Country Party in 1975 and National Party of Australia in 1982.
An AEC spokesperson said there was no current federal registration for a Country Party of Australia on the AEC published register.
“The AEC is unable to comment on any in-progress registrations, however, we do publish applications that have reached the stage of being publicly advertised for comment,” the spokesperson said.
Mr Mailler said the new party was also buoyed by questioning the National Party’s ability to claim independence from the Liberals in the Coalition partnership, during the recent ABC documentary on the Nat’s history, A Country Road.
Earlier this year, the Australian Labor Party (ALP) also established a federal Country Caucus to try and strengthen its policy making on rural and agricultural issues in a deliberate move to win more rural and regional seats.
The Palmer United Party (PUP) also had a large impact at the 2013 federal election, with party leader Clive Palmer winning his Queensland seat of Fairfax and also claiming three Senators; one each in Queensland, WA and Tasmania.
However, Tasmanian Senator Jacquie Lambie has since quit the PUP and become an independent.
She is one of eight crossbenchers who currently hold the balance of power in the federal Senate, independent or representing minor parties.
The testing Senate make-up follows on from a minority government in the previous parliament, with two rural independent MPs holding the balance of power in the Lower House.
The Coalition model
In June, federal Nationals Leader Warren Truss hit back against the surge in support for minor parties like the PUP saying they may well gain backing from an element of the voting public who “just want to protest”.
But he said mainstream voters are more inclined to give longer-term support to parties that offer a “constructive policy approach”.
“We’ve always had independent parties or different groups coming along (and) we’ve had plenty of saviours in the past like Pauline Hanson and Bob Katter - they all made a little bit of an impact for a while,” Mr Truss said.
“There are areas where people just want to protest and sometimes these people will gain support from that element of the voting public.
“But really, I think we want people who’ve got a constructive policy approach and we’ve got the business capabilities and skills to be able to run the country and to deliver for all Australians.
“And therefore those who throw away their vote, in some kind of protest, are in fact ignoring their obligations to their democracy but also putting their country at risk.”
Mr Truss has repeatedly defended the Coalition model as being more effective over time, rather than using balance of power negotiations to extract a short-term policy impact.
On the website, Mr Mailler also indicated farmers are central to the fledgling political party’s value system.
“Good stewardship of our natural resources is best achieved by maintenance of viable family farming business units,” he said.
“The engine room of the Australian economy remains heavily vested in small business, in agriculture and across most sectors.”
Another objective is to “ensure the continued development of the party as an independently organised conservative political force, with the fundamental aim of ensuring adequate representation for rural and regional Australia for the benefit of the nation”.