Brisbane correspondent Martin Hirst writes:

Malcolm Mackerras made a couple of brave predictions in his
response to my piece about the Nationals’ looming preselection battle
in Queensland (yesterday, item 22). I guess we can be generous and say
he stuck his neck out before Senator McGauran’s defection to the Libs.

McGauran’s defection is likely to get up the noses of traditionalist
Queensland Nationals – they’re particularly p*ssed off about his claim
that there’s nothing separating the Nats and the Libs in Victoria.

That’s clearly not the case in Queensland where the sale of Telstra is
the big ticket item that clearly differentiates the coalition partners.
To this we can add hand-outs to the sugar industry and a host of other
issues. Further, local Nats sources are telling me that some of
the blame for the lack of differentiation clearly rests with leader
Mark Vaile and with Boswell, the Nats’ leader in the Senate.

MacKerras’s first assertion – that I’m a sucker for Liberal propaganda –
would make anyone who knows me shriek with laughter. I’m certainly not
a captive of their spin machine, but as a keen student of politics I do
know that they would hate to lose Ron Boswell’s vote in the Senate.

Howard knows that Boswell’s vote is locked-in; he could not be so
sanguine about the loyalty of James Baker, an avowed defender of state
interests ahead of the coalition. They’d therefore have every reason to
be worried if another “Queensland-first” National knocked Boz off in
the preselection stoush due to take place over the next couple of
months.

Which brings us to Mackerras’s second brave prediction: that Boz will
win the preselection. I haven’t done the numbers and don’t know how the
Nationals’ selection committee is likely to vote, but given the
fractious state of the coalition in Queensland and the support that
Barnaby Joyce enjoys from the party’s rank and file, I stick by my
prediction that it will be a highly contested vote and that Baker could
get up.

Which brings us finally to the main game: Are the Nationals going
backwards in Queensland? The figures available from the Australian
Electoral Commission seem to indicate they are.

At the 1996 election for the House of Reps, the Queensland Nationals
won six seats with 15.92% of first preference votes. At the 2004
election the Nats got four seats and only won 9.7% of first preference
votes.

The first preference vote drop in the Senate tells the same story:

In the 1996 Senate election in Queensland the Nationals collected
288,199 or 14.98% of first preference votes. By 2004 they got 149,719
first preference votes (a drop of nearly 140,000 votes) for only 6.61%.

That is backwards in anyone’s language.

But if that’s not enough, take a look at these figures from Adam Carr’s website.

These numbers clearly show that the trend for National Party votes in
Queensland is down, down, down. They’ve been dropping steadily since at
least 1987 when Flo Bjelke-Petersen won just over 28% of first
preferences:

198728.4% (Flo Bjelke-Petersen)
199013.5% (Ron Boswell)
199314.5% (Bill O’Chee)
199614.9% (Ron Boswell)
19989.5% (Bill O’Chee – lost his seat)
20019.1% (Ron Boswell)
20047.8% (Barnaby Joyce)

In 2001, Ron Boswell only won on preferences, Pauline Hanson got 10% of first preferences and nearly unseated him.

Mackerras also suggests that Howard would campaign for Boswell if he
was on a joint ticket in the third spot, but the Liberals’ own campaign
strategy in 2004 was to try to knock off the last National on the
ticket – the fractious and independently-minded Barnaby Joyce.

The Liberal strategy in 2004, as articulated by George Brandis at the
Queensland Liberals’ 2004 conference, was to gain three seats for the
Liberals by “eliminating Barnaby Joyce.”

The Liberal Party plan was to gain an extra seat at the expense of the
Nationals. Putting Boz on a joint ticket at number two would mean a
Liberal Senator (probably Santo Santoro – presuming Ian MacDonald
stands again) would be relegated to the lottery position of number
three. Here’s a prediction for you Malcolm, that ain’t gonna happen
buddy.

Mackerras may be right when he says that the Queensland Liberals are
“pig-headed,” but they’re not stupid and their loyalty is to a Prime
Minister who’s carried all before him. The Liberals (and Howard) will
campaign in 2007, like they did in 2004, to get three Liberals over the
line. Howard may well throw Boz a few crumbs and say a couple of nice
things about him, but he’s not going to be too upset if three Libs get
the conservative Senate seats in Queensland. The trends predict that a
drop in the Nats’ first preference votes in the Senate next time will
favour the Libs; why would they do anything to reverse this?

Peter Fray

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