Lor’ bless ‘em. The agrarian socialist party might actually do one positive thing before they die over the next couple of polls.

The Government doesn’t give two hoots for the Nats at the moment. Mark Vaile is next to useless – yet he’s the only plausible leader they’ve got. The talk of Agriculture Minister Peter McGauran joining the Libs keeps bubbling along like some subterranean stream. And Cabinet has only decided to let the country cousins get a code of practice to ensure the best prices for farmers from city markets and wholesalers in the most begrudging way. Senior staffers for Liberal ministers are openly rubbishing the idea.

Still, on media – on replacing the cross-media ownership restrictions with minimum levels of diversity of voices, five in the metropolitan areas and four in the regions – the Nats may have a role to play.

When the new media laws were finally discussed in the Government Party Room yesterday, two Nationals reserved their right to oppose the bills. But who are they? There are plenty of names drifting around.

The most worrying two are Senators Barnaby Joyce and Fiona Nash. Without their support, the bills would fail in the Senate.

But there are also signs of stroppiness in the Reps, as well – talk about Paul Neville, De-Anne Kelly, John Forrest and Kay Hull. Hull’s interesting. She’s now the Nats whip. She got the job when Forrest opposed the refugee laws. As we learned then, when whips revolt, it’s serious.

Even more intriguing are the reports that former minister and North Queensland Liberal Senator Ian Macdonald is wobbly, too.

That puts the pressure on Family First’s Steve Fielding, who held a meeting with Communications Minister Helen Coonan last night at her request. Fielding has avoided commenting on the proposed changes in the past by talking about putting the interests of, er, families first. But surely he must realise that in a media world with fewer voices the chances of him and his party of being stereotyped – and denied oxygen – could be increased.

Peter Fray

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