Martin Hirst

Crikey’s sources are not willing to go on
the record at this stage, but it is clear that Nationals senator Ron Boswell’s position could be
in jeopardy, despite him being the preferred candidate of the Nats’
coalition partners.

It seems that last year Boz was quietly
canvassing the possibility of retiring, but was convinced to stand again.

Boswell is facing a challenge from the
relatively unknown former Nationals’ press secretary and career soldier James
Baker. Other players are yet to formally announce their intentions, but senior
party members realise that Ron Boswell is not a certainty to get up.

The only thing that might save Boswell, say
well-connected insiders, is the strong loyalty factor. Boz has been in the
Senate for 22 years, but some party officials believe that in only six months
the newcomer, Barnaby Joyce, has a higher recognition factor among Queensland voters.

Boswell’s fate may have been sealed by the
decision of former Queensland Premier, Rob Borbidge, to pull out of the race.
Borbidge was widely seen as a possible compromise candidate who could have
pulled votes from Baker, allowing Boz to get over the line.

At the heart of the matter is an
ideological battle inside the Queensland Nationals about the value and future
of the coalition. Some Queensland Nationals are upset that the party has not stood up for the state’s
rights in Canberra.

Crikey has been told that while Baker is a
“mate” of Barnaby Joyce and shares his “Queensland first”
views, he’s not out to wreck the coalition. Last year, in an interview with The Australian‘s Dennis Shanahan, Baker
put on the record his opposition to the full-scale sale of Telstra. So he’s
certainly nailed his colours to the Nationals’ factional mast.

Boswell is campaigning on the argument that
he is the only one who can hold the coalition together, but in Queensland it is
likely that the Libs and the Nats will once again fight for the last Senate
spot that’s up for grabs.

As one anti-Boswell insider told Crikey: “If
the Liberals like Ron so much, why don’t the put him number two on a joint
ticket?” The simple fact is that this would mean they’d lose a precious Senate

We can expect an escalating war of words in
the coming weeks as the preselection battle gets closer. At the moment it’s
scheduled for March, but there is some rumbling in the party that perhaps it
should be delayed.

Any number-cruncher worth their salt can
tell you that the Nationals are losing ground in Queensland and
around the country. Their relative strength in the current Parliament is still a lot
weaker than it was a couple of generations ago.

Is it time for a generational change in the
Nats? That’s the view of some leaders, including the Queensland deputy
Jeff Seeney. Others think it’s a question of having a more dynamic presence in
the Senate. Perhaps even another Barnaby Joyce.

The dogs are barking. Are they baying loud
enough to bring Senator Boswell down?