COLOURFUL farming identity Bill Crabtree is entering the political fray and will run against high-profile MLA Mia Davies in the State election in March.
He was endorsed by the local Liberal Party branch last weekend to contest the Central Wheatbelt seat, held by Ms Davies, representing The Nationals WA.
In preparation for the battle Mr Crabtree stepped down as Northam Liberal Party president at its annual general meeting last Wednesday, handing the reigns to Maria Girak.
He has been affectionately known as No-Till-Bill for his leadership and advocacy of no-tillage farming in Australia before stepping down from the WA No Tillage Farmers Association in 2002 to become a private consultant.
In recent years Mr Crabtree has been instrumental in rebuilding the Northam Liberal Party branch.
The 56-year-old said his main focus was on boosting the economy in the upcoming election.
“Towns are dying and I don’t think Royalties for Regions is necessarily the answer,” Mr Crabtree said.
“I think we have to look at the economic foundations and make those foundations strong and provide an inspirational future plan for each town.”
He said agriculture was a main source of profitability within the community and he wanted to protect it.
Mr Crabtree said after 15 dry years in the Wheatbelt, this season looked good, but had been hit by frost.
“If we could have frost-tolerant, drought-tolerant, herbicide-tolerant wheat, that would really inject a lot of money into the community,’’ he said.
“I estimate we have lost $800 million in the frost situation we have just had, that didn’t have to happen.
“I would argue there are techniques that can stop that.”
Mr Crabtree has been a big supporter of genetically modified (GM) farming, writing the Liberal Party policy document on GM crops in 2006.
“I have been a champion for new technology and genetically modified crops,” he said.
“Seventy per cent of medicines we take are genetically modified, and that is a good thing because they don’t have any impurities.
“It is the same with GM in crops, they don’t have as many chemicals.
“It’s better for the environment, better for farmers – and companies also make a bit of money out of it because it’s good, smart and safe technology.”
He will also focus on supporting the progress of the new Northam hospital, managing social issues including the ice epidemic and investing in safe country roads and an efficient port.
Mr Crabtree said the Liberal Party was more closely aligned with his political views.
“I looked at the different parties’ platforms and thought the Liberal government works for me,” he said.
“I believe in a Liberal view of the world which is that people should be rewarded for their businesses and businesses should stand on their own feet.
“I don’t like the mentality of putting your hand out for handouts.
“I believe in inspiring, encouraging and promoting new businesses and ideas.”
Mr Crabtree conceded he also liked the Nationals having lived in the country most of his life, until his childrens’ education saw him relocate to Perth.
The Liberal candidate favours a collaborative leadership style.
“I am famous as No-Till Bill but I didn’t invent the idea – I listen to people,” he explained.
“With the GM issue, we sat around and talked about solutions and we are making progress on that one.
“I have been a leader from a young age and I have tried to lead enthusiastically and positively and proactively on issues.”
Mr Crabtree said his election performance would come down to how well he communicated with voters.
“I see Mia as very likable and a lovely person but I don’t see her necessarily strongly advocating for important changes required in the Wheatbelt,” he said.
“At the age of 56, I would be really happy if I get elected and stand for something I really believe in.
“I am going to make myself available to the Wheatbelt and if this is the time great, if it’s not that’s fine.”
In response Ms Davies said the election would be an important one for regional votes, especially after the 2015 electoral boundary review meant less country seats in State Parliament.
“I am proud of The Nationals WA’s role in putting country people first, for creating Royalties for Regions and for making sure we get a fair share of funding,” she said.
“We have a strong track record for delivering and we’ve proven we aren’t afraid of a fight when it means our communities will be better off.
“Every candidate should be asked how their party plans to fund election commitments and grow the State if they are elected.
“If they don’t have a plan to create a new revenue stream then they are condemning the State to a post-mining slump we can’t get out of.”
The Nationals are proposing to raise a fee that already exists in the out-dated BHP and Rio Tinto State agreements, that hasn’t been increased since it was set in the 1960s.
“We do this not because we like increased taxes, but because we think it’s fair for these two companies to pay their share,” Ms Davies said.
“They have had almost a 50 per cent return on capital for the past 10 years and will make almost $20 billion in cash profit this year alone.
“No other household, small business or individual is still paying charges set in the 60s at the same rate, and it’s not fair to ask them to foot the bill to keep our State growing.’’
Ms Davies said the National Party election focus was funding and improving education and health services.
“The key issues that would improve outcomes for businesses and households in the electorate are improved access to fast and reliable internet, good health and aged care services, and opportunity for a quality education close to home,” she said.
She was determined to make sure local women could deliver their babies in Northam again and be a strong advocate for saving the AvonLink as a vital public transport link.