Christian Kerr writes:

A Queensland Liberal/Nationals merger “would serve the interests of neither party in Canberra, and potentially would unravel Coalition arrangements that give the Nationals a very good deal, including the deputy prime ministership,” Michelle Grattan writes today. “At the federal level, it would be the practical end of the Nationals’ separate identity.”

Identity is the key to the response to merger proposals from John Howard and Mark Vaile. Unlike in Queensland, voters in federal elections have to allocate preferences. That means protest votes don’t necessarily go astray. Having two separate political brands out there can boost the Howard Government’s vote.

A premature conservative merger immediately creates the risk of a protest party appearing – a protest party that could never fit under the Coalition umbrella. As Kim Beazley told Caucus this morning, it could even provide a boost to the ALP in the Queensland backblock.

But most concerning of all, it threatens the Howard Government’s greatest success – speaking with one voice. The lesson the Prime Minister has learned from the Fraser government and his own run-ins with the Queensland Nats in the eighties is the importance of speaking with one voice. John Howard and his ministers keep a tight lid on the federal party and their departments, while the weakness of the conservative parties in the states has only reinforced Canberra’s pre-eminence in debate. Suddenly, there’s a threat to that position – and that’s a threat to John Howard and his Government.

“It’s been a long-standing article of faith at this site that Queensland state politics will be dominated by Labor until the Liberals elbow the Nationals aside and assume their rightful place as the senior coalition partner,” William Bowe writes in an excellent analysis at The Poll Bludger. “But given the Nationals’ use of their institutional dominance to defend the status quo, it was hard to see how this was supposed to happen…The Nationals’ seniority in the Queensland Coalition is a legacy of circumstances that have ceased to apply…”

Meanwhile a coalition watcher writes:

So, what do ya reckon they should call the amalgamated mob in Queensland?

Liberal Nats?
National Liberals?
LibNats/NatLibs?
Lationals?
Libernats?
Libernationals?
Irrationals?

Peter Fray

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