Don't count me among Coalition, says Nat
Peter KerAugust 26, 2010
SEPARATIST National Party MP Tony Crook has said that despite his political affiliation his seat should not be numbered among Coalition seats - on the same day he rebuffed new advances from Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott.
Mr Crook held phone conversations with both leaders yesterday before travelling to a farming expo in the rural West Australian town of Dowerin.
Despite Ms Gillard's attempts to highlight infrastructure spending that would occur in WA under a new mining tax, and Mr Abbott's plea for Mr Crook to consider his conservative roots, neither leader could lure the man from Kalgoorlie closer to a deal.
Mr Crook belongs to the National Party but is vowing to sit independently on the federal crossbenches until either party meets his demands for extra funding in rural WA and the scrapping of the proposed mining tax.
Ms Gillard's phone call to Mr Crook yesterday came just 48 hours after he said a deal with Labor appeared highly unlikely because of differences over the tax.
Labor has vowed to attach a $2 billion infrastructure fund for WA to the introduction of the mining tax, and Mr Crook said Ms Gillard had ''offered some defence about the infrastructure they have delivered to WA'' in yesterday's phone call.
He said the conversation was very cordial, but he had responded by telling Ms Gillard that the promised amount of money was so small it amounted to little more than ''a poke in the eye''.
Mr Crook has said there is greater potential for a deal with Mr Abbott, but was giving no ground to the Opposition Leader in yesterday's talks.
''He urged me to consider my position and said to consider that I am a member of the Nationals. But I highlighted to him that although we are a federated body, the WA Nationals are an autonomous political organisation,'' he said.
Mr Abbott's opposition to the mining tax means he would only have to meet Mr Crook's funding requests - about $900 million for rural Western Australia each year - to satisfy the separatist National MP.
But Mr Crook said Mr Abbott did not indicate in yesterday's phone call whether such funding for the west would be possible under a Coalition government.
''He never offered a comment around the numbers but he was aware of the ''royalties for regions'' policy and I think he took that discussion on notice,'' he said.
''There is certainly scope to talk to Mr Abbott again, but I don't think we left them in any doubt about our position, and that is we are prepared to sit on the crossbenches if that is what it takes to deliver a better deal for WA.''
Mr Crook said he had been disappointed by media coverage of the hung parliament, which has included his seat of O'Connor in the number of ''seats won'' by Mr Abbott's Coalition.
''In every news report and press report we see, my number is being allocated in with the Coalition and it shouldn't be,'' he said.
Mr Crook said that just because he had declared a deal with Labor to be unlikely, it did not mean a deal with the Coalition was likely.
''There is a third position and that is the crossbenches, and both Ms Gillard and Mr Abbott know that,'' he said.
Mr Crook's separation from the Coalition puts him at odds with Nationals MPs from the eastern states, who have formed a united coalition with Mr Abbott's Liberals.
Mr Crook said the federal Nationals were giving up a rare opportunity to play kingmaker by accepting their junior role in the Coalition.
''Just imagine the influence they could be having on balance-of-power discussions now if they were a stand-alone political party.''
He opted to attend the farm expo rather than travel to Canberra, where fellow crossbenchers were meeting for talks.
He said he had still not decided when he would go to Canberra, and indicated he would prefer to wait until the winners of all seats were known. His choice of Dowerin won support from WA Liberal Premier Colin Barnett, who said it was a good thing Mr Crook was attending the expo.