The Victorian Liberal Party’s policy assembly meets tonight to consider
the membership application of one Julian McGauran, a former member,
more recently a National Party member, and more recently still a
catalyst for intra-Coalition warfare in Canberra.

But in Victoria, warfare between Liberals and Nationals is the rule,
not the exception. For more than 40 years, after a Coalition government
broke down in 1948, the two parties acted separately; the Liberals
renamed themselves the “Liberal and Country Party” and governed in
their own right for 27 years (1955-82). The Coalition that finally
reformed in 1990 was due to the twin factors of an unusually compliant
National Party leader in Pat McNamara, and the fact that the Liberals
had been out of office for long enough to get desperate. It was no
surprise when the Nationals walked out after the 1999 election.

So there is not the slightest doubt that McGauran’s membership will be
approved this evening. Although it has been said (eg last week by Paul Austin
that it will add to factional tension within the Liberal Party, in fact
the ruling Kroger-Costello group within the party has traditionally
been more pro-Coalition. Under Peter Ryan’s leadership, however, the
National Party has been so hostile to the Liberals that it has
alienated even strong Coalitionists.

And apart from the occasional ravings of Jeff Kennett, there is no
evidence that the anti-Krogerites plan to reinvent themselves as
pro-Coalition, although no doubt some of them will enjoy embarrassing
their rivals this evening. Accepting McGauran is a no-brainer, since
the last thing any political party wants to do is deter people from
defecting to it.

The idea that there is something dishonourable about trying to convert
members from other parties is nonsensical. And of course, as
Wednesday’s Ozpointed out,
it is quite at variance with the practice of the National Party over
the years: recall 1983, when Joh Bjelke-Petersen was able to govern
Queensland in his own right by winning over two defectors from the
Liberal Party.

But hypocrisy on the subject is not confined to the Coalition parties. Kim Beazley bought into the affair
earlier in the week, describing the Nationals as “history” and their
strategy meeting as “a total waste of space.” So will he stop giving
them preferences? Last time Beazley was opposition leader, in 2001,
Labor preferences went to the Nationals in Farrer, almost winning them
the seat despite the fact they were 14% behind the Liberals on primary
votes.

Peter Fray

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