Tony Crook Media Conference. August 23
Posted on Monday, 23 August 2010
Author: Tony Crook
Published on: 23-August-2010
E and OE
Crook: I’d like to make an opening statement and then I’m happy to take questions.
In view of the numbers that are available from the Australian Electorate Commission, it has become clear that I will be the next Member for O’Connor.
Counting hasn’t been completed but we are confident that the result will not change.
To this end, I acknowledge those candidates that ran in O’Connor, in particular, Wilson Tuckey and Ian Bishop.
Mr Tuckey represented the people of the electorate for over 30 years and this is a substantial contribution to public life. I wish him and his family the best.
The Nationals in Western Australia campaigned on a better deal for regional Western Australians.
I gave my word that if I was in a position to do so I would negotiate an outcome that would deliver matching funding for the successful State Royalties for Regions program.
If the numbers fall in the final wash up, that I hold the balance of power, I will be using my position to deliver on this commitment.
I campaigned as a representative of the Western Australian Nationals.
I clearly stated throughout the campaign that I intended to be an independent representative for O’Connor.
No-one should be surprised that a National from Western Australia has taken this position.
I campaigned on no mining tax and matching funds for Royalties for Regions.
I will not be drawn into a bidding war on specific policies – my campaign platform was clear – we need a mechanism for delivering funding into regional Australia, no matter who is in power.
Western Australia has been used as a money pit to underwrite election promises by both major parties
We don’t need a new tax, but we do need a fair distribution of funding.
We can re-prioritise expenditure to ensure regional Australia gets a fairer deal.
We’ve done it at a State level in a responsible manner and I believe this is possible at a State level.
I look forward to discussions with the key stakeholders over the coming week.
I will negotiate in good faith on the policies I have been elected on – no mining tax and a matching funding for Royalties for Regions.
Journalist: Have you had any discussions at this stage with Tony Abbot or Julia Gillard.
Crook: Yes I’ve had a phone call from Tony Abbott. It was a congratulatory phone call at this stage, we both acknowledged Mr Tuckey’s contribution to public life. We discussed the current situation and obviously there will be more discussions going forward.
Journalist: Have you set another meeting?
Crook: We haven’t set anything yet, but he has my phone number and I now have his.
Journalist: Julia Gillard has ruled out not honouring her mining tax, is that a stumbling block that will now stop you from discussions with Julia Gillard.
Crook: That is a major stumbling block, yes.
Journalist: So that means that you really have to go with Tony Abbott.
Crook: The policy is we want to match Royalties for Regions, that’s what we’re moving forward with. We don’t want a mining tax, that’s unfortunate that we’ve got to that point but it’s probably, very likely we won’t be talking to Ms Gillard.
Journalist: If she offered you the Royalties for Regions deal that you want, but still had the mining tax that still wouldn’t be good enough?
Crook: No definitely not.
Journalist: A lot of your preferences have come from the Labor Party and the Greens, do you feel any sort of obligation to them at all?
Crook: No, I think right through the campaign we stated clearly what we wanted; it’s interesting Liberal and Labor focused primarily on our campaign and not theirs. The Royalties for Regions program has been a wonderful program in Western Australia, we need to ensure that we can get matched funding Federally, dollar for dollar so we can continue to grow, not only this State but the nation.
Journalist: So you have pretty much said don’t worry Ms Gillard, if you’re not going to budge on the mining tax, which she’s not going to, there’s no point talking to us, so we can come out of today thinking Mr Abbott is assured of your support.
Crook: No he’s not, I’ve clearly stated I’m a WA National, I can sit on the cross-benches quite comfortably.
Journalist: In terms of forming a minority government?
Crook: There are other mechanisms we can (inaudible) form government around our policies.
Journalist: So is your message to Mr Abbott that your support to form a minority Government isn’t guaranteed, unless he agrees to match Royalties for Regions.
Crook: We have stated right throughout the campaign that we want Federal funding to match RfR and we want no mining tax.
Journalist: When do you think you’ll be in a position to negotiate further with both parties?
Crook: At this stage it’s still in limbo, the election outcome is still not certain so really the set of the Parliament is not know yet, so there’s a bit more to go on that.
Journalist: Are you planning on contacting Ms Gillard at all in the next few days.
Crook: I wasn’t planning to, no. My phone number is on the website, I’ve been getting thousands of phone calls right throughout the campaign. So I don’t think there’s any doubt about my availability.
Journalist: What about other policies, like communications policy, where do you stand on competition policy and supermarkets, do they have too much dominance?
Crook: I don’t think that’s the issue today. The issue, as I just said in my statement, is we don’t need to be pushed into a bidding war, our policy has been clear throughout the campaign; we want RfR matched dollar for dollar, so we can grow the state and grow the nation. And we don’t want a mining tax.
Journalist: Don’t you need to lay out your broader framework?
Crook: That can come in the fullness of time, it’s about forming government now and we have key issues we’d like to see followed up on.
Journalist: You would support neither Liberals nor Labor if they don’t give you what you want?
Crook: We have indicated from day one of the campaign that I proudly go to
Canberra, if elected, as an independent member of the WA Nationals. And why wouldn’t I, it’s been clearly acknowledged that the WA Nationals do things differently, but they also do things pretty successfully. I’ve said I’m more than happy to sit outside the party room, I’m more than happy to sit outside the coalition if that’s what it takes as an independent member for O’Connor.
Journalist: Shouldn’t you be initiating the bidding war, so you can go to one side and ask how much are you going to give me, and go to the other side and ask can you match this. That’s what happened here.
Crook: Well, the mining tax is still on the table.
Journalist: So that rules out Julia Gillard altogether?
Crook: It would appear to at this stage. Yes.
Journalist: And so with Tony Abbott you are only really willing to give him your support if he offers you these things?
Crook: I’ll go back to what I said before. We’ve said right through this campaign we wanted Federal funding matching for Royalties for Regions.
Journalist: And is that your final offer?
Crook: What you have to remember is that it is not a big ask. We’re talking about $860 million out of the State that actually is the powerhouse of this nation. If we can prop up more infrastructure in this state. We’ve got to be in a position to ensure the golden goose keeps laying the golden eggs, because if the nest goes cold we’re in trouble. We all know that if regional Australia prospers, Australia prospers, and that’s got to be a key message.
Journalist: Your chief donor, Clive Palmer, has urged you to stand by the
Coalition. Do you feel a sense of obligation to him?
Crook: Not at all. There are no strings at all attached to Clive Palmers pledge to the National Party.
Journalist: He did pay for your campaign essentially?
Crook: There were no strings attached to that pledge. He is a proud representative of the National Party, and he knows that we do things differently in WA. He’s clearly acknowledged Brendon Grylls, Colin Holt and Wendy Duncan and the whole National Party team on the job that they have done, so I don’t think there is a real issue with Mr Palmer.
Journalist: What about broadband in your electorate. Is it a major issue? Do you like the Labor policy on broadband?
Crook: I have stated through the campaign that broadband is fantastic, provided that O’Connor is not part of the percentage that misses out.
Journalist: If the Coalition does rely on you to form a minority government, and they are not willing to agree to Royalties for Regions, what happens?
Crook: Well we need to sit down and talk a bit more. We’re talking about forming government here, so there is a lot of talking to do in the next week.
Journalist: Realistically, you’re not going to sit there for another month and go…
Crook: Of course not. I can see myself being in Canberra within the next couple of days, and talking to numerous people. I’ll talk with the National Party. I’ve had phone-calls with Warren Truss and Barnaby Joyce about our decision. The Federal Nationals know we do things differently over here. They have acknowledged that at Press Club prior to the election. Warren Truss acknowledged that we do things differently. He also acknowledged that we’ve been remarkably successful, so I think there’s a message there.
Journalist: You have a background in health. What about Labor’s national health package. What’s your view on that?
Crook: Once again, they are policy issues that we can talk about later. We are talking about forming government within this next week. We’re talking about a Royalties for Regions program that can be matched dollar for dollar that can sustain WA and sustain Australia. We don’t want a new mining tax. I live in Kalgoorlie, so you can imagine the reception I got in Kalgoorlie. To win all my booths in Kalgoorlie in my own right was not only a proud moment for me, but it also said something about what they’re thinking, and that’s clearly a message. There are really only two issues on the table at this stage. That’s our Royalties for Regions program and the fact that we do not want a mining tax.
Journalist: Tony you can only really negotiate with the conservative side, because you have said that you won’t talk to Gillard as long as there is a mining tax on the table.
Crook: That’s unfortunate, because it would have been nice to negotiate with both sides of politics. The case is the mining tax is still on the table. I campaigned strongly that we don’t need a new mining tax.
Journalist: So you can only negotiate with the conservative side?
Crook: We can talk strongly with the conservative side about getting into a position where we can deliver on my policy of matching Royalties for Regions, and obviously no mining tax.
Journalist: So the conservative side is the only one you will gain off?
Crook: Yes. That’s correct.
Journalist: You can’t seriously think Labor will drop a policy, a tax that is going to earn them over $10 billion because you’re saying you don’t want it. It seems a big ask.
Crook: In that case I’m sorry.
Journalist: Isn’t this the time, you have the most leverage right now, to be laying out all the priorities you want, more spending on education and health in your electorate?
Crook: Look that will come in time. If I’m sitting on the cross-benches and we have a really tight parliament there is going to be ample opportunity to secure things like regional health and education, all those things that we talked about during the campaign. The key message is going to be we want Royalties for Regions matched dollar for dollar and we don’t want a mining tax. It’s unfortunate that Ms Gillard said the mining tax is still on the table, and as you suggest that sort of narrows the field considerably, but that’s the way it is. We’re sitting on the cross-benches now and there will be ample opportunity to discuss policy.
Journalist: Do you feel any obligation to those Labor voters that actually put you ahead of Mr Tuckey?
Crook: I have an obligation to all of the electorate of O’Connor.
Journalist: But it was Labor preferences that got you elected.
Crook: Labor and Greens preferences have elected other people too. As I said, if we can deliver this policy, then the Labor’s and the Green’s and the Liberal’s and the Independents’ and anybody else that was in this campaign will receive great benefit from Federal matching of Royalties for Regions funding. There is no doubt about that.
Journalist: These people also feel a little mislead about how truly independent you were. You won’t even talk to Ms Gillard, and these are people who voted for you, based on your promise to be truly independent and court both sides.
Crook: I have stated right through the campaign and I have stated today in my opening statement that I will be an independent for O’Connor, representing The Nationals WA. I don’t see there is an issue there. We have a clear position that we want to take forward. We want our program put in place. All of WA will benefit from it. You all know here how successful Royalties for Regions has been. It has been a fantastic program. It has been embraced by regional Western Australians, development commissions (inaudible), the local government fund, the aged pensioner fuel card, community groups. When we were in Kalgoorlie last week, a woman came up and wanted a photo with Brendon because she got some money for a toy library. It would never have happened otherwise. If we can match that money we can develop a greater program, we can look at bigger picture projects. We can look at the Albany to Bunbury gas pipeline, just as they have done in the Ord River. We have a fantastic program started there which is a joint arrangement between Royalties for Regions and the Federal Government. There is clearly a mechanism to do it; it just needs the will to do it.
Journalist: Can you concede that if they match the $850 million in WA that the Federal Government will have to do the same in other States, and that’s basically going to cost billions and billions, or is that something you don’t have to worry about?
Crook: I would suggest to you that is already happening in Eastern Australia. When they have announced major infrastructure projects and they can announce a $2.7 billion railway line between Epping and Parramatta in a heartbeat during the election campaign. Well we want a third of that for one year. The money is there, it’s all about allocation. The Nationals WA have proved that they are not going to break the budget. The triple-credit rating is still pretty handy in WA, and I don’t see this wonderful city of Perth being at any great loss with the legacy of the Royalties for Regions program, in fact it has benefited from it.
Journalist: Are you discussing with the other independents?
Crook: I have had one phone-call from Bob Katter’s office, but I have no spoken to anyone else, and I haven’t returned his call.
Journalist: Is that an option though, for you to join with them?
Crook: As I said, we haven’t had that discussion yet, and until there is a discussion there is really nothing to say.
Journalist: Could you envisage repairing the relationship between the WA Nationals and the Federal Nationals ie sitting in the Coalition room?
Crook: I don’t think there is anything to repair. They acknowledge that we do things differently. Warren Truss said that in a press conference. Western Australia do things differently and they have been successful at it. I don’t think there is anything to repair. I joined a teleconference yesterday and they congratulated me on a fantastic win. I stated my position to them again yesterday. They have known from day one of the campaign our position in Western Australia, and they acknowledged that.
Journalist: Are you concerned about the backlash at all from other constituents and the Party itself if you don’t help them form government?
Crook: Not at all. I stand before you proudly as a member of The Nationals WA and I am quite happy to argue that case. As I said before the Royalties for Regions program has been embraced by regional Western Australians. We’re looking to foster that and take it further. I don’t expect any backlash.
Journalist: What if you were offered some money for Royalties for Regions, but not as much as you want?
Crook: As I have said, I would like them to match it dollar for dollar. Some funding is not matching it dollar for dollar.
Journalist: Brendon, as the leader of the Parliamentary Nationals in WA, what does this victory mean for the Party?
Grylls: This is a really important week for WA. For years we have watched Federal elections come and go. Promises like Tony Crook talked about, a new multi-billion dollar railway in the suburbs of Sydney promised on the back of an envelope, and they have been getting built. They have been getting built because all of the people live in the Eastern States. Western Australia is what the economy is built on. We now have a unique, probably 1-in-100 year opportunity to drive investment into Western Australia. We seek to do the best job we can to ensure that happens. We’ve campaigned on that since 2006 that we need to find a better way to support the non-populous areas of regional Western Australia, and now, in the Federal campaign, the non-populous areas of Australia. The voters have sent us to Canberra which is fantastic, and now we take the opportunity in what looks like being a hung parliament to see if we can put some very strong focus back on Western Australia. I’ll make the point, the only election promise I can recall for the seats of O’Connor and Durack in this election campaign was a GP Super Clinic in Karratha. That’s the only promise that I recall. If you look at the promises made by the two major parties in the Eastern States they number in the billions of dollars. We are simply asking for a fair share to come back to Western Australia so that we can continue to drive the Australian economy. That is not too much to ask and we will be asking it without fear or favour.
Journalist: Aren’t railways being built in the Eastern States because that’s where all the people live. I mean, isn’t that the point, or not?
Grylls: Well it’s not the point of the people of O’Connor, and it’s not the point of the people of Durack or the people of Forrest or the people of Pearce, that believe that the Federal Government will actually look after them one day. If we’ve gotten to the stage where the only way you get an infrastructure project or a service delivery is where the major population centres are, then everyone from Western Australia should pack up and move to the Eastern States. I don’t think anyone is advocating that and we certainly don’t advocate that. Tony Crook made the very strong point that the two major political parties said before the State election, Royalties for Regions couldn’t be done, it would bankrupt the State, it would be impossible to have a stable government. What have we shown, since we formed government in 2008: Stable government, good investment in regional Western Australia, renewed enthusiasm from the regions to deliver an outcome. Here we are today, a historic opportunity to deliver that for Western Australia with a unique situation in the Federal parliament. Western Australians will look very dimly on the Nationals in Western Australia if we don’t seek every opportunity to make sure that we take advantage of that unique situation, where maybe all of the politicians and all of the voters in the Eastern States don’t have all the power just at this moment.
Journalist: Will you be taking a personal role in the negotiations that Tony Crook might have with Tony Abbott or with Julia Gillard if that ever eventuates?
Grylls: Well Tony Crook is an outstanding individual, an outstanding leader, and now finds himself in a very, very unique situation. I’ve found myself in this situation before and certainly for me it was one of the most remarkable times in my life. I wish I was Tony Crook, but I’m not. He’s the member for O’Connor and he will be taking the lead. Of course he will have my support and the support of The Nationals WA, but most importantly, Tony Crook today has the support of every single West Australian to deliver a positive outcome for Western Australia. It’s a huge weight on the shoulders of a new member. Can I tell West Australian’s he’s up to it? We’re up to the task. We will seek to get the best opportunity to deliver an outcome for you, and if we deliver the best that we possibly can, well that should be a good thing for WA.
Journalist: Could the WA Nationals have a member in an alliance with Labor federally and the conservatives on a State basis?
Grylls: Well the West Australian Nationals can do whatever we see will deliver the best benefit for regional Western Australia. Can I just say that we’ve made the point very clearly. We had two key policy items that we campaigned on this election – that Western Australia did not need a new mining tax, and that we wanted to match Royalties for Regions dollar for dollar. If the Federal Labor Party insists that a mining tax is going to be part of their negotiations with us, then there is no point talking.
Journalist: But if they drop the mining tax?
Grylls: If they drop the mining tax then we will be very happy to commence discussions with them.
Journalist: You have already ruled out Julia Gillard pretty much, but is there a chance that you won’t help Tony Abbott form a minority government?
Grylls: It looks like being a very tight parliament. If government can be formed without Tony Crook’s vote being needed well I’m sure they may take that opportunity. It looks like it is going to be a very tight run. We won’t know until the rest of the week how those votes will fall. Tony Crook has been elected to the parliament of Australia with a very clear mandate, to deliver matching Commonwealth dollars for the Royalties for Regions program. I think everyone expects him to do just that to the best of his ability.
Journalist: All of the counting that has been done, all of the commentary is talking about Labor seats 73 or Liberal National seats 73, they all include Tony in the Liberal National count. Are they doing the wrong thing there?
Journalist: So they should be doing a separate column?
Grylls: The West Australian Nationals are clearly independent. We do not see ourselves as in the tent of the Federal Nationals until the Federal Nationals support our Royalties for Regions policy, which they haven’t done yet, and we’re certainly not in the tent of the Federal Coalition, who also do not support the Royalties for Regions plan.
Journalist: So he should be in the independents column?
Grylls: We should definitely be in the independents’ column.
Journalist: Would you move into the tent if the National Party did agree to the Royalties for Regions program Federally?
Grylls: We look forward to them being very interested in doing just that.
Journalist: Warren Truss, when it was announced, basically said (inaudible) so is that the same response you would expect to get this time?
Grylls: As I said, we are from Western Australia. As Pete Kerr rightly pointed out, all the people live in the Eastern States, all the politicians are from the Eastern States, them thinking about funding major infrastructure programs in Western Australia always comes up against this problem that our people in the East, who we were elected by, don’t want us to do that. That is why this is a once in maybe a 100 year opportunity where maybe for just a small window of time, the way the numbers fall, means that Western Australia with only 15 MHRs out of a parliament of 150 have some real clout.
Journalist: I’m having trouble grasping how you could support neither side. All of the independents and the Greens seem to be saying we will decide which side we will support, but you’re saying that you could support neither Tony Abbott or Julia Gillard and just sit there, sustaining I guess from any support.
Grylls: The Federal Parliament will be formed in coming weeks. Tony Crook will take his seat in the Federal Parliament. We would like to be a participant in stable government, but Tony Crook has a mandate to deliver better infrastructure spending for regional Western Australia and he needs to be able to prosecute that mandate which he will do.
Journalist: Who would he give supply to. If both Party’s say no deal to the
Royalties for Regions and he must back one party for supply, who would that be?
Grylls: Well that would be a question to ask him when we get to that stage.
Journalist: It’s kind of important now though isn’t it. The country is basically trying to form a stable government and you’re saying we should just trust you on that?
Grylls: Well if it is important then supporting Tony Crook’s major policy objective, which is matching Royalties for Regions dollars, would also seem to be very important, and we hope that it is.
Journalist: Are you honestly saying that if he doesn’t get that then you would not assist Tony Abbott in forming a Coalition government?
Grylls: We are saying that we have a very clear mandate for our policy in Western Australia and we seek to prosecute that mandate over the coming weeks before we form government. We will be out here having press conferences with you every day until that happens, and making that exact argument. Tony I’m sure will be having conversations with all the stakeholders, all the independents, as well as the Party leaders, and that will be a good thing.
Journalist: So if he needs Tony’s support and he doesn’t give him as much money as he wants – you’re not going to negotiate with Julia Gillard, she’s not going to give up the mining tax. What are you going to do? Are you ruling out supporting Tony Abbott if he doesn’t give you that?
Grylls: We have a lot of negotiations to go. We believe, as I said, if multi-billion dollar commitments can be made to an Epping railway line in the middle of the election campaign, the entire Royalties for Regions program over the course of this government is less, is less, than that commitment that was made in the middle of the election campaign. We think that all Western Australians should get behind us to deliver that outcome.
Journalist: (inaudible) Have you got a figure?
Grylls: In Western Australia we have already done this once. We had a national partnership agreement with the Commonwealth Government to deliver the Ord project. The Commonwealth Government put $195 million on the table, the State Government put $220 million on the table, and we came together, formed a joint committee of the two parliaments, and delivered that project. We see opportunities to do that in the Pilbara with our Pilbara cities initiative, we see opportunities with all of our big infrastructure projects to do just that, and that’s how we believe the Commonwealth Parliament can commit to support Western Australia.
Journalist: But you’ve got to have a figure?
Grylls: The Royalties for Regions budget is clear this year of $896 million this year and that carries out in the forward estimates. We are in the very early stages of negotiation and our policy is clear and we will look to get the best outcome we can over the coming week.
Journalist: But the figure is $850 million is that right?
Grylls: The policy is matching the 25 per cent of the Royalties flow to regional Western Australia through the Royalties for Regions program. Pete Kerr has done his homework he is exactly right, the figure this year was $817 million, but we’re not going to scruple over a million dollars here and a million dollars there. We want a commitment from the Commonwealth to look at our big infrastructure projects and offer to support the State Government, given that the State Government has already got a dollar on the table.
Journalist: But this is an important point because Federal royalties are different, they are taken on petroleum…
Grylls: Can I just stop you there. This is not about quarantining a portion of Federal royalties. The Federal Government has multiple income streams, from income tax, from all of their taxation streams. That’s how they fund infrastructure Australia. We’re not asking them to pick a specific area for that money to come from, we’re just asking them to re-focus on infrastructure projects in WA.
Journalist: So it’s not 25% of the Petroleum Resource Rent Tax, it’s just whatever the WA Royalties for Regions…
Grylls: It’s asking them, that rather than continuing to support the big ticket infrastructure projects in the Eastern States, where as you say, all the people live, that they might actually focus through infrastructure Australia and through national partnership agreements that they might actually focus on Western Australia for a change.
Journalist: Have you spoken to Tony Abbot yourself about this?
Journalist: Have you spoken to Warren Truss about this?
Grylls: I have had a conversation with Warren Truss.
Journalist: Did he seem more open about it than last time?
Grylls: I think they are looking at how they can re-prioritise their election commitments to maybe look after Western Australia.
Journalist: So did he indicate that he may give you some support?
Grylls: No I have had no indication of support yet. Thanks everyone.