ONE of Canberra’s strongest agricultural voices and staunch rural advocate Nola Marino has overcome a major fight for political survival.
Ms Marino is a co-convenor and instigator of the Parliamentary Friends of Primary Producers and the Chief Government Whip.
However, the charismatic WA Liberal MP was caught-up in a bitter internal fight to retain her south-west seat of Forrest by a challenger linked to her predecessor and prominent local businessman Geoff Prosser.
Ms Marino first won the safe Liberal seat at the 2007 federal election where she replaced Perth-born Liberal power-broker Mr Prosser who had held it for 20 years.
But the former MP backed Bunbury Liberal branch president Ben Small in a pre-selection contest held on Monday night against the sitting member.
Reports of the Forrest pre-selection fight said Mr Small attended school with Mr Prosser’s son and has worked in commercial shipping and as a property developer.
However, Ms Marino won the vote comprehensively 51 to 16 to avoid a potential protest to be considered by the party’s State Council when it meets this weekend to ratify pre-selections.
Ms Marino’s conflict mirrored that of another WA Liberal Tangney MP Dennis Jensen who was toppled by pre-selectors at a meeting in Perth at the weekend, following a well-publicised challenge by former State director Ben Morton.
Ms Marino was born and bred in the local region where she has run a small business and lives on a family dairy farm.
She turned 62 last month but is regarded as an energetic local member and one of the most forthright supporters of Australian farming; underlined by her role co-convening the Parliamentary Friends of Primary Producers.
Ahead of the vote, Ms Marino was supported by a reference letter from Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull who described his Liberal colleague as an integral member of the party’s Canberra team and “vital conduit between the parliamentary party and the ministry”.
Last year, she organised an Australian Parliament Farmers’ Market event at Parliament House in Canberra with the National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) and the Parliamentary Friends of Primary Producers co-convenor Joel Fitzgibbon.
At the time, the WA Liberal MP said the inaugural event helped to educate parliamentarians about food production and would grow to become bigger, in future years.
“We want to make sure that the members of parliament understand the connection between who grows their food and the food that they’re eating,” she said.
Ms Marino was unable to comment due to Liberal party rules preventing candidates talking to media ahead of preselection contests or until after State Council ratification.
But NFF President Brent Finlay said he was a strong supporter of Ms Marino and while he understood pre-selections were part of the democratic process, it would be a pity if she lost the pre-selection contest.
“Nola did a fantastic job last year when the farmers came to Parliament House in Canberra,” he said.
“She really drove that initiative and worked closely with the NFF and Joel Fitzgibbon to pull it all together and it’s something that will be ongoing.
“It’s typical of the work that Nola does because she’s passionate about the farm sector about and rural and regional Australia.
“In my chats with Nola she comes across as strong as anyone in the federal government, in supporting farmers and rural and regional Australians.”
Ms Marino was instrumental in establishing the multi-party Parliamentary Friends of Primary Producers to increase knowledge and awareness amongst members about core policy issues concerning farming and regional Australia, like animal welfare and live exports.
Leading into the vote, Mr Prosser backed Mr Small in a letter to Forrest pre-selectors saying he could one day become a senior government minister and achieve even higher office.
According to ABC, Mr Prosser’s letter said consideration was needed of the “political importance for the renewal and rejuvenation of our parliamentary representation”.
“As a division we also need to ensure we select the most talented and motivated candidates, because I have seen first hand that electorates benefit when compelling members put forward a stronger case than their colleagues,” he was quoted as saying.
Mr Prosser is a former President of the WA Liberal Party and was appointed Small Business and Consumer Affairs in the Howard government of 1996 but resigned the following year due to a conflict of interest with his extensive private business dealings.