There are two perennial topics in an election year which, despite their importance, only attract occasional commentary.

One is the Senate election, and the other is whether the Nats will “all be rooned”. That question has popped up recently, raised by former Nat and Queensland Senate independent candidate James Baker.

The two are very much connected, particularly with Senator Ron Boswell’s bid for re-election in Queensland, where he faces being squeezed between the Libs and a Labor vote that will rise enough to make four Coalition seats highly unlikely. Competition for the sixth seat will be fierce, with the Democrats pulling out all stops to defend Andrew Bartlett, the Greens sniffing their first chance of Queensland victory, and Family First and James Baker competing for Boswell’s base vote.

Little has been heard from the Nats this year, in contrast to last year’s conniptions over Barnaby Joyce and Julian McGauran. Mark Vaile claimed credit for road spending in the election, even if none of it would cut in until 2009. AWB has been arranged to suit the Nationals’ proclivities. But Ron Boswell, at least in the mainstream media, has kept a low profile since he defeated Baker for pre-selection.

No doubt this demonstrates that the nine staffers Boswell was revealed to have at Senate estimates are all busy beavering away on public business not on campaigning for the venerable senator’s re-election.

The most recent Senate voting intentions poll is a survey by Morgan taken over March and April. The Nats’ vote in Queensland was holding at 6%, which would put them in contention for the sixth spot, though a very low vote of 25% would suggest not much of a Liberal surplus to distribute, and would probably indicate a win for the Democrats or the Greens on Labor preferences.

The Nats may well be ‘rooned’, at least as far as their Senate leader is concerned. The lower house is another story — and deserves another story. Baker seized on the Nats’ 3% number in the latest Newspoll to pronounce Boswell dead in the water.

There are difficulties in transposing lower house polls to the Senate, and grounds for believing that the Nats’ vote would be higher in the upper house as it’s a statewide vote, and the Coalition agreement means they only run in a minority of seats. Polls also routinely understate the Nats’ vote, for a range of sampling and respondent reasons.

But it is interesting to note that over the same period as the Morgan poll sampled, the Nats’ primary declined in Newspoll, more or less in synch with the Libs’ vote.  This would suggest that Boswell’s “strong Coalitionist” message might spell his doom. With a surging Labor Senate vote and fierce competition for his seat, he might need a rabbit of his own to emerge from an Akubra somewhere.

Peter Fray

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