More bad news today for the Victorian National Party, with a report in The Age that the ALP is considering giving its preferences to the Liberals ahead of the Nationals at this year’s state election.

The ALP has usually directed preferences so as to maximise disruption
among its opponents. At the last election, in 2002, it decided at the
last moment to direct them to the Nationals across the board. Now, as
Paul Austin reports, some ALP officials “are arguing that Labor should
exploit the situation and try to ‘finish off’ the Nationals, because
ALP electioneering would be made simpler if the party was fighting one
enemy.”

Of the Nationals’ seven seats in the lower house, two (Shepparton and
Rodney) would have gone to the Liberals last time if ALP preferences
had gone the other way, while a third, Lowan, would have been very
close. Austin also mentions Swan Hill as a likely loss; the Liberals
ran third there last time, but if they could manage a reasonable swing
against the ALP then they would win with Labor preferences. There is
also a small possibility that ALP preferences could decide one or more
upper house contests.

Relations between the non-Labor parties have become so bad that Labor
will be tempted to again preference the Nationals in order to keep them
alive. The Liberals have so far shown no sign of bidding for Labor
support, but unlike the Nationals they do now have something serious to
offer in return: they could preference Labor ahead of the Greens in
some inner city seats, shoring up some vulnerable Labor MPs.

The National Party, on the other hand, still can’t quite get out of the
habit of relying on charity from the Liberals. Victorian leader Peter
Ryan flaunts his independence, but Queensland Nationals president Bruce
Scott, as reported yesterday,
“has challenged the Victorian Liberals to show they did not lure
defector Julian McGauran by agreeing to give the Nationals second place
on next year’s joint Senate ticket.”

But the whole argument against McGauran’s defection has been that
Victorian voters in 2004 somehow “chose” the National Party to
represent them. So why not give them the chance to correct things by
running a separate Nationals ticket next year?

Peter Fray

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