Nats cool on Lib’s unity bid

Warren HatelyAugusta Margaret River Times
Liberal South West MLC Steve Thomas.
Camera IconLiberal South West MLC Steve Thomas.

Margaret River-based MLC Steve Thomas wants to bring the Liberals’ de facto coalition partners together to tackle regional development and make better use of the Royalties for Regions program but Nationals leader Mia Davies is having none of it.

Dr Thomas was handed the new regional development and agriculture portfolios this week in a shake-up of the Liberals’ front bench designed to prepare for next year’s State election.

The new position — and Dr Thomas’ strong criticism of Labor counterpart Alannah MacTiernan — immediately triggered a stoush between the veteran politicians.

And Ms Davies also rebuffed the olive branch due to mistrust of the two major parties. Dr Thomas said he wanted to demonstrate a “stark difference” in the management of agriculture and development in the regions.

“The current minister ... has a track record of undermining them,” he said.

“Alannah MacTiernan is ostensibly the Minister for Agriculture, but has demonstrated herself to be opposed to live export, GM crops, glyphosate and intensive animal production.

“She has empowered animal rights activists who invade farms and threaten farmers and their families by linking farm trespass laws with her animal rights agenda — in doing so, justifying their actions.”

Dr Thomas was also critical of Ms MacTiernan last month amid news Upper House member Adele Farina lost out in Labor’s latest preselection battle to give Ms MacTiernan a chance to swap seats and be nominally based in Albany.

Ms MacTiernan lost no time firing back this week, encouraging Dr Thomas “to continue on the path of honesty”.

“Back in 2018, Steve apologised to the South West for the Liberals’ and Nationals’ mismanagement of the Royalties for Regions fund and the economic position his party left behind,” she said.

The Liberals had a “disgraceful track record” in agriculture and slashed 40 per cent of jobs at the Department of Agriculture, Ms MacTiernan said.

The cuts “destabilised” the department and undermined research and development for global markets, she said. “We have spent the last three years cleaning up the mess the Liberals and Nationals left in agriculture,” the minister said.

Dr Thomas also said the regional development portfolio “needed a reboot”.

He believed regional development commissions had become extensions of the minister’s office under Labor and the lucrative Royalties for Regions was increasingly used to fund election promises rather than new services.

Dr Thomas wanted a “mature dialogue” with the Nationals to focus their joint attack on the Government “instead of each other”.

Nationals leader Mia Davies made it clear a truce was unlikely — and she reiterated her party’s claim as the architects of Royalties for Regions.

“Neither of the major parties can be trusted with setting a strong regional development agenda or managing Royalties for Regions,” she told the Times.

“Over the last three years the Labor Government has decimated the program, hiving off more than $1.8 billion to fund Perth election commitments and underwrite normal government services.”

Ms Davies said “restoring the integrity” of the scheme was the Nationals’ main focus to deliver a “fair share of the State’s wealth back to the regions that help create it”.

Ms MacTiernan defended using the scheme to back election commitments as in the best interest of West Australians.

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