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Nationals meet for federal conference

The Nationals are being urged to privatise broadcaster SBS and block the signing of the Trans-Pacific Partnership if it doesn’t boost the sugar trade.


The two motions will go before this weekend’s Nationals federal conference in Canberra, which will be addressed by Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss on Saturday.

The conference is expected to endorse former MP Larry Anthony as its new national president.

Among the 43 motions proposed for debate, the Young Nationals have called for the privatisation of SBS.

As Trade Minister Andrew Robb steps up efforts to conclude the TPP, the party’s Kennedy branch wants the coalition government partner to block the trade deal “if it does not include improved market access for Australian sugar”.

The battle between mining and gas development and agricultural interests will also get an airing.

The South Australian branch will call on federal MPs to “actively prosecute the ongoing development of highly productive agricultural land in recognition that the long term interest of the nation is in the development of agriculture and not in the short term gains that can be achieved with other land uses”.

The NSW branch wants responsibilities for water to be transferred from the federal environment department to Nationals deputy leader Barnaby Joyce’s agriculture department.

Outgoing party president Christine Ferguson says it will be an important conference where policy will be debated for the party to take to the next federal election, likely to be held in late 2016.

“This will be a tough campaign, but we will field first class candidates and, most importantly, we have a tireless grass roots membership who will execute an extensive ground campaign,” she said.

Party director Scott Mitchell said the election would be a “massive test” for the Nationals.

Party treasurer John Sharp expected the coalition would be outspent at the next election by at least two to one, when Labor’s spending was added to that of the Greens, unions and activist group GetUp.

Mr Sharp said donors were less forthcoming than ever before because of “increasing bad publicity about political donations”.

“We need to maximise our resources by working closely together, harder and by being smarter with what assets we have,” he said in his report.

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