Sunday, 11 May 1997

Freedom to speak his own mind

Edition 1SUN 11 MAY 1997, Page 133
Freedom to speak his own mind
A PARTY leader who deliberately turns his back on ministerial office is an unusual politician -and Ron Boswell is just that.
Although the National Party leader in the Upper House, Senator Boswell is not the minister for anything. He has chosen the greater independence of not being restricted by the concept of collective Cabinet responsibility to the perks and pay of high office.
When he speaks, Senator Boswell wants to be able to speak his own mind -and he's not reticent about doing just that.
Not that the senior Queensland senator is some oddball rebel. His freedom of speech is exercised with restraint and normally he is as reliable a vote as the Coalition Government can get.
Senator Boswell is as good a conservative as they come, but occasionally he feels the need to fire a verbal broadside at his colleagues who have chosen the conventional route to political influence by joining the ministry.
One of those occasions was in the past week, when it became apparent that National Party federal president Don McDonald and Prime Minister John Howard had a different version of what had been agreed in talks between them over planned landrights legislation.
Mr McDonald thought there would be changes to Mr Howard's 10-point plan that would clearly extinguish native title on pastoral leases.
Mr Howard said Mr McDonald was "absolutely wrong" in believing he had agreed to make any major changes to the plan.
According to Senator Boswell, it doesn't help anybody to have the organisational leader of the National Party at loggerheads with the PM.
The Prime Minister, he said, should be able to "come out with the notes that were taken" at the meeting.
It was a scarcely disguised way of suggesting that perhaps the PM wasn't telling the truth, and Mr Howard naturally took offence.
As far as Mr Howard is concerned, "I don't hear (National Party leader Tim) Fischer saying that, and as far as I'm concerned, Mr Fischer is the National Party."
Which is a very interesting assumption by the PM that will be tested in the coming months as the landrights legislation wends its way through Parliament.
Mr Fischer might be the National Party leader in the House of Representatives, but because he is Deputy PM he is bound to support Cabinet decisions whatever his own views.
When it comes to the crunch in the National Party room, there's no guarantee that Mr Fischer, rather than Senator Boswell, will have the numbers.