“He’s not pretty, but he’s pretty effective.” The slogan was enough to save Ron Boswell from a Pauline Hanson assault back in 2001. Now the Nationals’ Senate leader faces another populist threat, this time from within his own ranks.
The Queenslander announced on the weekend that he would put his name forward for another six-year Senate term, despite moves to dump him down the ticket. Things haven’t gone all to plan. On Sunday, the Queensland Nationals’ deputy leader Jeff Seeney said Boswell should have bowed out.
“It would have been the right time for Ron Boswell to retire gracefully and allow the next generation of senators to take their place,” he told journalists – adding that there was enormous support for the style of Senator Barnaby Joyce, who has twice crossed the floor. “With the emergence of Barnaby and his perceived success, I don’t think there’s much doubt that Ron’s days are numbered,” Seeney said.
Success, for the Queensland Nats, is obviously in the eye of the beholder.
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Boswell, as the Nationals Senate leader, should have a frontbench job. He’s shunned it. Even back in 1996 he was aware of the balancing act he faced as a Queensland National and the extra constraints cabinet solidarity would impose. He’s stayed on the backbench.
Yet Seeney says Boswell “doesn’t stand up for Queensland and he doesn’t differentiate the Nationals.” According to Seeney, Boswell says his real successes happen behind closed doors in negotiations with the Liberals. He claims that in reality, Queensland party members are disappointed by “poor compromises” and feel Senator Boswell is often stood over.
There’s not much fine nuance in these comments from Seeney: “I stress there’s no malice in this from me or anyone else, but I think that people would much rather that he retire gracefully.”
Boswell’s been out defending his record since then – and received the backing of his federal leader, Mark Vaile, and a myriad of Queensland Libs. But that might be the problem.
Boswell says he’s won concessions by staying out of Cabinet. The Barnyard boys would argue that their lad has won concessions by only just staying in the Government.
The Nats will choose their Senate ticket next February. Former journalist and staffer to Tim Fischer and John Anderson and Barnyard boy James Baker is breathing down his neck – pitched as the new-style Senator that Seeney is talking about.
If Queenslanders always seem to have problems deciding if they’re part of the country, it’s nothing compared with debate their Nationals are facing about whether to remain part of its government – or become crossbenchers.