PINGLELLY grain farmer and CBH Board director John Hassell is aiming to take on WA Liberal MP Rick Wilson for the sparse rural farming and mining seat of O’Connor pledging to be an independent WA National in federal parliament.
Mr Hassell confirmed he has nominated for the pre-selection battle to take place when the WA Nationals’ State Council meets on Sunday to decide upper and lower house candidates for the federal election, due to be held on July 2.
Mr Hassell was elected to the CBH Board in 2009 and lives in East Pingelly on a sheep and grain farming operation with his wife and three children and also has a contract spraying business.
Preceding his election to the CBH Board, he was an active member of the WAFarmers executive and grains council.
In contrast to Mr Wilson’s more liberalised views, the budding political candidate backed CBH remaining a co-operative and argued strongly for retention of the AWB single desk monopoly, before the statutory system was deregulated by federal Labor in 2008.
Mr Wilson won the seat at the 2013 election when Tony Crook resigned after one term, having sat on the crossbenches during the hung parliament.
More than anything else, Mr Hassell said he was running for pre-selection with his eye on the bigger prize of trying to reclaim the seat back from the Liberals, for the WA Nationals.
And if he was to win O’Connor, he said he’d continue in the same vein as the trend set by Mr Crook, to be an independent National member, in Canberra.
“I think you have more chance of being heard if you stand out from the crowd,” he said.
“It’s pretty evident from past actions of people who are in the major parties that they can’t go outside of their major party policies and stand up for the electorate.
“Federal politicians who are part of a major political party are inextricably tied to their parties and are not able to stand up for their individual electorates and we’ve seen people come unstuck because of it.
“But I’m prepared, if it’s in the best interests of my electorate and my State, to cross the floor.”
Mr Hassell said one issue he’d be prepared to cross the floor on and vote against federal coalition colleagues was increasing WA’s share of the GST.
He cited concerns with how the GST distribution is determined that he also wants remedied.
“I’d like to go for a 75 per cent minimum but also have the royalties removed from the equation all together,” he said.
Mr Hassell said he was also previously a member of the WA Nationals State Executive but stood aside when his role on CBH board conflicted with political issues around the controversial Tier Three grain on rail debate.
He said he would need approval to regain his membership of the WA Nationals party tomorrow ahead of Sunday’s meeting, having let it lapse when he decided to step down from the executive.
It’s understood the 53 year old Pingelly farmer will face former Kalgoorlie police officer and WA National’s staffer Charles Smith at the pre-selection vote.
Mr Hassell said having served on the board of CBH, and at WAFarmers, he’d gained great experience of the farming industry and politics, especially dealing with government relations and regulations.
He said he also had a good understanding of mining and had worked in the industry and experienced the impacts of Fly-in Fly-out workforces, on regional communities.
“I’m also keen on interest rate policy,” he said.
“It worries me that our interest rates are set purely on inflation in Australia which is pushing money into Australia and that pushes the dollar up which has an impact on mining and agriculture.”
Mr Hassell said if he won pre-selection and then was successful in taking O’Connor back for the Nationals, he would need to stand down from his CBH post.
“I’d be disappointed about that because CBH has been my heart and soul for the last seven years,” he said.
Mr Hassell said he would not be afraid to debate Mr Wilson during any potential election campaign on the merits of wheat export single desk or CBH corporatisation “but I’m not going to hang my hat on it”.
Mr Wilson said he wished Mr Hassell all the best with his future political endeavours.
“It’s an open democracy and anyone can put their hand up,” he said.
“I’ve known John for a long time and he’s thoroughly decent bloke and I wish him all the best.”