A qualitative survey conducted for the Queensland Liberal Party in 2004 is not pretty reading. When asked: If the Liberal and National Parties merged to form a single Party and became the State Government, would they do a better or worse job than the current State Government? 57 per cent of Queenslanders answered ‘worse.’ Only 21 per cent thought they would do a better job.
When asked why they opposed a merger, participants said things like:
‘Two losers don’t make one winner.’
‘You get the worst of both Parties. Incompetent rednecks. Who’d vote for that?’
‘Springborg and Quinn couldn’t galvanise a roofing nail, let alone two political Parties.’
‘The merger exists. It’s called the Coalition. Make that work for starters.’
All the gruesome details are here at Graham Young’s excellent Ambit Gambit blog.
So why are the Liberals and Nationals contemplating this? Is it really a reverse-takeover by the Queensland Liberals of their stronger State coalition partner? Or is it as one cheeky observer has suggested an audacious and cynical attempt by the leaders of the Queensland Nationals to jump ship from their dying Party and take over the Liberals?
Being from Melbourne, my grip on Queensland politics is as loose as any observer south of the Brisbane Line, but let me make a few observations.
It seems the problem isn’t an organisational one (which Party organisation should hold the whip hand, or whether they should operate separately), it’s a political one. And the greatest political problem for the Nationals is John Howard.
An astute Nationals insider put it this way: ‘Howard appeals so well to the bush and to large portions of the cities that the Nationals have been squeezed.’ Fortunately for the Federal Leader of the Nationals, Mark Vaile, Howard has decided that putting the kybosh on the merger is better politics than welcoming something he has helped bring about. Such are the weird dynamics surrounding the Nats-Libs relationship.
And as long as Howard’s at Kirribilli, it’s unlikely to change. But as our canny National observes: ‘It’s a whole new ball game with Costello in charge. Can you imagine the Nats, State or Federal, wanting to cosy up to him?’
Well, can you?
Monday night’s Federal parliamentary National Party meeting was a fraught affair. And the target of the angst was Bruce Scott, the Queensland MP and President of the Queensland Nationals, who didn’t think it necessary to tell his parliamentary leader, Vaile, that he was effectively negotiating to wind up the Party in Queensland.
‘Every other person in the room really gave it to poor old Bruce, who at least had the good grace to turn up,’ said an observer. ‘What Bruce hasn’t realised is that this merger, of course, would create a new One Nation-style force.’
Taken from The Courier Mail
This new force might be a Party or possibly a grouping of independents. Quite an oversight for an experienced MP. As National Party Senator Ron Boswell said after the meeting: ‘Everyone is supporting Mark and Mark’s position. Everyone. Well, nearly everyone.’
So, who is taking over whom, here? Both Parties seem to think that through this process they will take over the other one; the Queensland Liberals feel they’ve got the Nationals’ measure but the Nats still have the numbers in State Parliament. They are using the theme of ‘unity,’ but the reality is both Parties think they can cannibalise the other.
When the news broke, John Howard’s office was quick to brief the Press Gallery that the PM had known all about the plot for a fortnight unlike his Deputy, Vaile, who was made to look like a dill when the plan was dumped on him by his Queensland colleagues on the weekend.
But the PM’s media management skills weren’t enough to drown out the swift and panicky reaction to the Pineapple Party Plot that followed in Canberra. Barnaby Joyce was quick to overstate the case:
I believe very strongly that you need a third conservative force to extract a deal from the Government when you don’t have the numbers.
So, Barnaby, that would be the Nats, the Libs, and errrr? Or as turncoat Liberal Julian McGauran tactfully said of his former colleague on Monday: ‘Egg on your face, Barnaby.’
Howard was quick to sniff the breeze and he didn’t like the odour emanating from the north. Given his history with the Queensland political lunatic fringe, that’s hardly surprising. The ‘Joh for PM’ push may be nearly 20 years old, but Howard will never forget how it crushed his prime ministerial aspirations for a decade.
Queensland Liberal Senator George Brandis blamed the ‘Joh for PM’ plotters and declared the issue ‘should be taken off the table fast before it causes any more damage to the Federal Coalition.’
Should it? One thing the merger plot does is draw attention to the slow death of the Nationals. While Liberals like Brandis might prefer the once-mighty voice of the bush to die a quiet death, senior Nationals figures like former leader Doug Anthony are championing the merger as the only way to protect the Party’s legacy and ensure a future.
Thirty years ago the Party had 23 Federal MPs today it has 12. The solution may not be to merge, but it sure isn’t steady as she goes.
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