DEPUTY Liberal leader Julie Bishop has hit back at accusations she is being disloyal to Western Australia by supporting the delay of full deregulation of the nation's $6 billion wheat export industry.
Ms Bishop insisted she had home town support for transitionary measures she believed the federal government was incapable of delivering.
"I'm a Liberal. We support deregulation but we want to do it in a way that sustains the industry," Ms Bishop told The Australian Financial Review from Perth on Monday. "I have no faith that [Agriculture Minister] Joe Ludwig will do it in a way that supports WA grain growers."
Complete deregulation of the wheat industry, which was recommended by the Productivity Commission in 2010, has ignited deep tensions within the federal Coalition.
It wants to defer any changes until after the next election, at the insistence of east-coast Nationals, who oppose deregulation.
Ms Bishop and West Australian senator Mathias Cormann have urged their WA colleagues to maintain a unified front and support Opposition Leader Tony Abbott. The pair drew a rebuke from senior party official Gordon Thomson, who questioned their loyalty to WA and said neither had "political nous or commonsense" on the issue, in a letter to party members last week.
Leader of the House Anthony Albanese said the government expected to put its Wheat Export Marketing Amendment Bill 2012 to a vote "between now and the end of the year".
"It really will be really interesting to see whether it is the case that [Nationals senator] Barnaby Joyce is writing the Coalition's economic policy," Mr Albanese said on Monday.
"So, Julie Bishop and other people in the west will have to decide whether they're actually prepared to do what they said they would do and back this reform."
Ms Bishop rejected suggestions she had done a backflip on her 2008 decision to support the industry's deregulation, which shifted to transitionary arrangements, including the formation of licensing body Wheat Exports Australia, which was supposed to be dissolved by the end of the year.
Some farmer groups are worried the nation's grain port and storage operators will be left with unfettered powers, while the bulk handlers argue regulation increases costs that are passed on to growers.
Ms Bishop said the government had not addressed the issues of full deregulation, including port access arrangements and wheat quality controls.
Liberal senators Alan Eggleston and Dean Smith are likely to cross the floor on the issue, while WA Nationals MP Tony Crook said he would back Labor's bill.
"I'm speaking on a daily basis with WA wheat growers," Ms Bishop said.
"Some are in Tony Crook's electorate. If he thinks Labor will look after his electorate he should talk to the growers who have contacted me."