OPINION: If Rio and BHP thought their political troubles ended when Brendon Grylls lost his seat at the recent election, they had better think again.
The Nationals WA will continue to demand that mining giants BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto pay more to mine iron ore, despite the ferocious campaign the miners waged against the proposal in the lead up to the March state election.
The campaign led to the defeat of (then) Nationals leader Brendon Grylls in his seat of Pilbara, however, new leader Mia Davies says there will be no backing down.
“I don’t much like bullies,” Ms Davies told Business News.
“And I’m not convinced that anyone has put an argument … as to why we would walk away from our belief that they should be paying their fair share.”
The Nationals wanted the levy paid by the miners to be increased from 25 cents a tonne to $5/t, in addition to royalty payments.
She said mums and dads, pensioners and small business would now be asked to pay more in fees and charges to boost government revenue while the miners, which had enjoyed enormous support from the state, hoped their payments would be unchanged.
Premier Mark McGowan recently commended Rio Tinto for a new local procurement program designed to assist local businesses tender for work. Meanwhile, BHP has dropped the name ‘Billiton’ from its title, aiming to more closely identify with the company’s origins in Broken Hill, NSW.
“There are real and tangible ways to demonstrate a commitment to WA. Spin and advertising won’t cut it.”
She said the state’s financial problems were still the number one issue, and doubted whether the new government had the right policies to deal with it.
Ms Davies, whose father, Dexter Davies, is a former MLC and state president of the Nationals, is the first woman to lead the party in Australia. After serving one term in the upper house, she won the seat of Central Wheatbelt in the Legislative Assembly in 2013.
Later that year she defeated the then member for Kalgoorlie, Wendy Duncan, for the party’s deputy leadership and was awarded the water and forestry portfolios. She added sport and recreation to her responsibilities after Terry Waldron announced he would not be seeking another term.
Although Ms Davies increased her vote in the Central Wheatbelt in March, her party went backwards, losing the two lower house mining seats of Kalgoorlie (which Ms Duncan did not recontest) and Pilbara in tight finishes. It also lost one seat in the Legislative Council.
These results mean her early tasks will include identifying why the Nationals lost support (although not as markedly as its governing ally, the Liberal Party), and rebuilding the party’s standing in the farming and mining regions.
Ms Davies is suspicious of Labor’s motives to redirect more money from the Royalties for Regions fund into such activities as road construction, which would normally be funded by consolidated revenue.
The Royalties for Regions policy, which provides for 25 per cent of revenue from royalties to be spent in regional areas, was a big vote winner for the Nationals in the 2008 and 2013 elections.
“They (Labor) are entitled to pursue programs that they campaigned on and think are important, but we will be holding them to account to make sure that money is actually spent in the regions where it is meant to be,” Ms Davies said.
The Nationals polled 59,776 votes in the three country regions they contested in the upper house. That compares with 31,924 for the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party, which is pursuing a similar constituency. Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party gained 110,480 votes state wide, and the Greens received 116,041 votes.
Ms Davies believes that, in the end, the Liberal and Labor parties had more to fear from One Nation, which didn’t contest the 2013 election, than the Nationals.
“The way that you keep One Nation at bay is to continue to do the right thing by regional WA – turn up, be a strong independent voice in the parliament, and make sure that people know that you have their back,” she said.
Time will tell.