Queensland Nationals will have been carefully studying the results of the Victorian election last week. The Nats have picked up at least one seat and, even more importantly, vastly improved their primary vote. And they’ve done it with a level of “product differentiation” from the Libs which has been accurately characterised as “hatred”.
Veteran Senator and Nats Senate Leader, Ron Boswell, faces the preselectors on Saturday. He has the fulsome endorsement of John Howard, but the Prime Minister’s claim that “Ron is no lackey of the Liberals” may not cut the mustard with the Queensland party. State parliamentarians and office-holders have made no secret of the fact that they’d like Boswell to step down, and in fact the Senator himself promised last time he scraped through his last preselection that this would be his last term.
The Nats’ new state leader, Jeff Seeney, has previously commented that “new blood” is needed in the Senate. While a number of high profile candidates including former Premier Rob Borbidge, former leader Lawrence Springborg and AMA President and son of Joh’s Deputy Premier Bill Glasson have all declined to run, retired army officer James Baker is seen as being the Barnaby Joyce candidate.
Boswell is making much both of his links to producer interest groups and his defeat of Pauline Hanson in 2001. He’s the only candidate who can hold the seat, he argues. But this is to ignore the context of his victory over Hanson. Many Brisbane voters crossed over from other parties to vote for Boswell as a tactical strike against One Nation. His victory wasn’t resounding, and the state Liberals will again not run a joint ticket. With Liberals leaking claims that Seeney asked them to sign a loyalty oath this week, current Coalition relations can be described as appalling.
There’s a crowded field for the preselection ballot, bizarrely including Mary McCormick, 25, whose platform highlights same-s-x rights. She’s from the Farmer Dave Big Brother Nats faction. Baker, 39, though, is seen as the 65-year-old Senator’s major opponent. National Party sources are claiming the numbers are anyone’s guess, but Central Council members will no doubt be hearing a lot from Barnaby about the vigorous anti-Liberal stance taken by the Victorian Nats.
And it’s interesting to note that the proxy rules which Boswell exploited in his favour last time around (securing a proxy from the dying Bjelke-Petersen) have now been tightened up. John Howard will have a lot riding on the contest between the Coalitionist Boswell and the potential bomb-thrower Baker.