WEST Australian Liberal backbencher Mal Washer has condemned the ''agrarian socialists'' in the Nationals for making life difficult for the Liberals on the controversial issue of wheat deregulation.
As the Coalition deals with its internal fracture over the government's bill to complete deregulation of the export industry, due to be debated this week, Dr Washer said: ''I would have thought the Liberal Party would have supported more deregulation. But we are dealing with agrarian socialists''.
He hoped for a compromise before there was a vote on the bill. Most wheat farmers in WA wanted deregulation, he said.
The Coalition is committed to opposing the bill, saying there should be a transition to deregulation, but WA Liberals are unhappy about this. If the bill passes the lower house, WA Liberal senator Dean Smith said he would cross the floor to support it in the Senate.
But the Nationals are split too. WA National Tony Crook said he, too, would cross the floor to support it. The eastern states' Liberals are also divided - New South Wales Liberal Alby Schultz plans to abstain.
Dr Washer said he would consider crossing the floor only if there was a majority in both houses in favour of the bill. Its fate will depend on the crossbenchers in the lower house, who have different positions.
Former Liberal MP Wilson Tuckey, who lost his seat to Mr Crook in 2010, yesterday called for Tony Abbott to give Liberals a free vote. A strong backer of deregulation when he was in Parliament, Mr Tuckey said: ''In political terms, do you feed a boil, or do you lance it?''
WA Liberal senator Alan Eggleston called for a compromise - federal deregulation but state control for those who wanted regulation.