Despite predictions of its impending doom (some of which I have made myself), the National Party has had two good state election results this year: it scored significant swings in the handful of seats contested in South Australia, and a modest increase in its vote to win two additional seats last month in Victoria.
The common factor was the absence of coalition with the Liberals: South Australia’s Nationals MP actually sits in the Rann cabinet, while Peter Ryan in Victoria has led the Nationals into an openly hostile relationship with the larger non-Labor party. Independence seems to be what country voters want.
All the more strange, then, that the Queensland Nationals – historically the most assertive in distinguishing themselves from the Liberals – on Saturday re-endorsed Senator Ron Boswell, whose critics accuse him of being too strongly committed to the Coalition.
Queensland for many years has been the only state where the Nationals elect a senator in their own right, and unless they can do something different that doesn’t look like lasting much longer. Their vote has been in steady decline for 20 years; Barnaby Joyce got up in 2004 because the Labor vote was unusually low, allowing the Coalition parties to elect four senators, but in a more normal year, with only three elected, they would probably all be Liberals.
Joyce himself is “something different”, and many Queensland Nationals thought that his style of aggressive independence was the one hope of retaining the seat Boswell currently holds. But, confounding expectations, that view of the party’s future lost out on the floor of Saturday’s central council meeting.
Next year we’ll discover whether Queensland voters see it the same way, or whether, as in other states, they see no point in keeping alive a party that just echoes what the Liberals say.