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Tuesday, 24 August 2010 15:08

Abbott cuts Nationals out of broadband role


Tony Abbott has consigned the party of regional Australia - The Nationals - to the sidelines for the Coalition's negotiations with three rural independent MPs on forming Government, effectively cutting them out of any discussion on broadband in the bush.

Mr Abbott said the Coalition's $6.3 billion broadband plan had always been developed with regional Australia in mind but conceded that little of the funding would reach the bush in the first term of an Abbott Government.

He said yesterday that the Coalition was prepared to be "pragmatic" about its broadband policy in its negotiation - which has been taken to mean there may be some deal sweeteners thrown in.

The three independents, Tony Windsor from New England, Bob Katter from Kennedy in North Queensland and Rob Oakeshott from the Lyne on the mid North Coast of New South Wales have been thrust into the unlikely role of King-makers as a result of the hung Parliament.

The three are in Canberra for meetings this week with Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Mr Abbott.

"On the subject of broadband, our policy is very much designed to deliver a better broadband service to the regions," Mr Abbott told a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra.

"We have put $6.3 billion aside in our election commitments to try to ensure that we have better broadband services delivered to the regions. So I am confident that there is more than enough capacity in our broadband policy to deliver the kind of improved services (that regional Australia needs)," he said.

Mr Abbott said he would personally conduct the discussions with the three independents - all ex-Nationals - assisted by shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey and Finance spokesman Andrew Robb, and that he expected broadband would feature as an issue.

The Nationals had been strong campaigners for improved telecommunications services in the bush, arguing while in Government for the structural separation of Telstra and for the construction of a national fibre network - but went silent on the issue when Tony Abbott was elected leader last year.

He acknowledged the "bad blood" that existed between the Nationals and the independent MPs, but said the Coalition boasted better representation for regional Australia than Labor. He expects that if he successfully concludes a negotiation that the Coalition partners will back him.

Regardless of broadband and the Nationals predicament, Mr Abbott said the primary goal of negotiations on both sides should be stability in Government.

"I understand that over the years there has been a bit of bad blood between (the Nationals and the rural independents) but the fact is that we all want to see a stable, effective and competent Government emerge from this election. The last thing that Australia wants is a swift return to the polls or a period of unstable Government," Mr Abbott said.

"I am confident that adults and patriots are more than capable of getting a satisfactory outcome."

He said the Shadow Cabinet boasted six shadow ministers who live in regional areas, whereas Julia Gillard's had none.

"I want make it absolutely crystal clear that if people want a better deal emerging for regional Australia from government, the only people who can form such a government are the Coalition," Mr Abbott said.

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