Letters to the editor | December 8, 2017

National Party provides a voice for our region 

I REFER to Robert Byrne's letter (Titled: Help for our farmers, Wimmera Mail-Times, Friday, December 1) and acknowledge the frustration he feels with the heartbreaking climatic conditions experienced so late in what appeared to be such a good season.

Having played cricket against Rob for some years, I know him as a very genuine fellow, industrious and a fair player.

I must, however, point out that these calamities are not caused by governments and where The Nationals have been involved in state and federal governments, they have responded sympathetically and positively to events such as drought, flood, fire and other disasters.

Rather than just making noise, as Rob suggests, I am sure Emma Kealy will be bringing this sad event to the attention of the state media, state government and to the relevant state ministers responsible for allocating assistance to those on the land who have suffered such a loss within a hair's breadth of harvest.

I suggest this is what a good Member of Parliament in opposition should be doing - making sure the facts are well known and urging those in a position of power to take remedial action.

Rob refers to The Nationals as being the tail of the Liberal dog, which can easily be refuted when political pundits around the country have stated for decades how well The Nationals punch above their weight.

One example of this applies to federal issues when Peter Costello was Federal Treasurer and wanted to do away with the rebate on diesel fuel for off-road diesel consumption. Although The Nationals' numbers in the Coalition were many fewer than the Liberals, they were able to argue the case for retaining the rebate and won the day.

The establishment of farm management deposits was also a National Party policy that was argued and won on behalf of farmers and remains a valuable tool whereby farmers can draw against their credit in difficult times.

During the time Hugh Delahunty was Member for Lowan, one of The Nationals’ great successes was the Roads and Bridges program, whereby money was allocated to every local government area in the state for improvements - specifically for their roads and bridges. Unfortunately this was withdrawn when Labor came to power at the last state election.

Although not specifically for farmers, but for the whole community including farmers, was the success of Hugh in getting the funding for both the new Horsham Special School and Horsham College after years of lobbying from many quarters.

During the time Bill McGrath was our member, and more importantly, while he was a Minister and member of Cabinet, he was successful in pursuing a number of issues, such as the extension of natural gas through Ararat and Stawell to Horsham which was a real boon for the Wimmera. Bill worked hard on this project and was rewarded with the Coalition Government seeing the gas line come to fruition.

After many years of hard work by the community and little positive action, Bill was able to win the confidence of the Victorian Health Minister Marie Tehan and suggest to her it was time for the funds to be made available for the building of the new Wimmera Base Hospital. About one month later, Ms Tehan phoned Bill and told him she was about to make the announcement. This was a direct consequence of both being ministers and occupying seats at the Cabinet table. Bill was also responsible for overseeing the abolition of stamp duty on succession transfers of farming land which has been of major assistance to many farming families.

During the firearms debate in the days of Prime Minister John Howard, Bill McGrath attended the final meeting of state police and emergency services ministers with Federal Ministers in Canberra, which was likely to result in a very poor result for farmers. When Mr Howard was requested to join the meeting himself late in the day, Bill, as a practical farmer, was able to convince the Prime Minister of the absolute necessity of firearms to a farmer and cited the instance of destroying livestock in times of severe drought and after being burnt in a bushfire. The Feds relented and the states won this reprieve for farmers. I regret that very few give credit to Bill McGrath for his first-hand and practical knowledge and first-class representation for the people of his electorate.

Being in opposition, Emma Kealy does not have the advantage of being part of the government of the day, however, her tenacious attacks on the government and Premier Daniel Andrews - in particular over the CFA debacle - is testament to her ability to highlight the views and needs of the Lowan electorate to those who would choose to harm this highly valued volunteer organisation.

The above achievements are examples of what MPs can initiate and achieve - however they are only a part of the responsibility of a political representative.

All the above members have spent considerable time caring for the needs of individuals, families and small groups who need assistance in many ways on a daily basis.

Emma Kealy has shown great ability as the Member for Lowan and has been elevated to the Shadow Ministry, holding four portfolios - being Shadow Minister for Senior Victorians, for Country Health, for Women and for Mental Health.

If there is a change of state government in November 2018, it is most likely that Emma will be in the State Cabinet and this is from where a member of parliament can be of greatest value to their constituents.

In conclusion, I hope that on reflection Rob might give credit to those National Party members who have delivered for farmers and the electorates they represent both in good times and bad.

Bill Ower, Vectis​