WA LIBERAL MP Rick Wilson says Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce must resign or reveal whether the WA National party intends to run candidates in WA’s two huge Liberal-held rural electorates who would split from the federal Coalition, after the next federal election.
Former WA National party leader Brendon Grylls has been linked to a potential future role in federal politics via the seat of Durack, held by Liberal MP Melissa Price.
In a recent media interview, Mr Grylls backed Mr Joyce as the next Federal National leader pending the potential retirement of current leader Warren Truss who last week indicated he’d be renominating to contest his Wide Bay seat.
However, Mr Grylls also indicated he wanted the federal Nationals to adopt a more independent political stance under Mr Joyce’s leadership, rather than continually kowtowing to their senior Coalition partners.
Mr Grylls is the State representative for the seat of Pilbara and stepped aside as leader due to family commitments.
He helped engineer the $1 billion per year royalties for regions program when the WA Nationals claimed the balance of power after the 2008 WA election.
He attributed his inspiration behind that success to Mr Joyce’s independent political style.
A similar campaign underpinned Mr Wilson’s predecessor Tony Crook’s ascent to Canberra at the 2010 election in promising to “reverse the rip off” with a federal royalties for regions program.
Mr Crook initially sat on the cross benches along with independent MPs Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott who held the balance of power in the last term of government.
But ahead of the 2013 election, he moved into the Nationals’ federal party room before deciding not to re-contest O’Connor, also due to family reasons.
However, Mr Crook recently indicated he was interested in running at the next federal election to try and topple Mr Wilson - a mission that would likely be boosted by Mr Grylls also running in Durack.
Ms Price has declined to comment on Mr Grylls' potential campaign in Durack but Mr Wilson issued a stern challenge for the WA Nationals to declare their support for the federal Coalition now, rather than split post-election, under Mr Joyce.
Mr Wilson said the federal National Party’s deputy leader had to clear the air, after he recently visited WA to court Mr Grylls for a tilt at federal politics.
“If the WA Nationals are going to contest against myself and Melissa Price we need to know the terms of engagement,” he said.
“Brendon Grylls has made it very clear he sees the WA Nationals running as independents - independent of the Coalition - and he’ll only do that if Barnaby Joyce is on board and taking the Nationals out of the Coalition.
“This is assuming of course that Warren Truss retires and that Barnaby Joyce is the next leader.
“There are a fair few assumptions there but that seems to be the way the Nationals see it developing.
“But as WA Liberal members, Melissa and I need to know the terms of engagement.
“If Barnaby Joyce intends to do that he probably needs to do the right thing and stand aside as a minister in this particular term of government, rather than giving a nod and a wink to the WA Nationals and all the encouragement in the world.
“He needs to come out with a firm position - is he on board with the Brendon Gryll’s plan or is he committed to the Coalition post the next election?”
'Tooth and nail' fight for seats
Mr Wilson said he and Ms Price had delivered for their electorates within the Abbott government in key areas including free trade agreements, live exports, deregulation of port access for CBH, significant changes to Farm Management Deposits and other tax measures delivered in this year’s federal budget.
He said they’d also changed the government’s focus during rollout of the NBN to favour regional areas over metropolitan areas and also delivered on the “hugely successful mobile phone blackspot program”.
Mr Wilson said Mr Crook was more than entitled to nominate for another tilt at federal politics but he had to say whether he backed the Coalition or a “break-away” national group in Canberra.
“(Tony Crook) has had one go around and decided at that point he wasn’t happy but seems to have changed his mind now and that’s his prerogative,” he said.
“But both Melissa and I will be fighting tooth and nail to retain our seats and we will be judged on our work rates and record.
“I welcome the competition but we also want to know what the rules of engagement are.
“Are the WA Nationals running on one platform, while the federal Nationals are running on a completely different platform - a Coalition versus some sort of independent break-away national group in Canberra?
“We do have a federal Coalition and that’s the environment that Melissa and I have operated in and if that’s about to change we need to know.”