For a few weeks in the years 1939 and 1941 and again over the mid-summer weeks of 1967-68 the most senior conservative politician in Australia was the leader of the Country Party.
Earle Page in 1939 briefly succeeded to the Prime Ministership after the death of Joe Lyons before the United Australia Party (predecessor of the Liberals) met to elect Bob Menzies. Again, in 1941, when the UAP drove Menzies from office, the affable Artie Fadden was sworn in as Prime Minister. (“For 40 days and 40 nights, he held the fate of the nation in the hollow of his head,” mocked Labor wag Eddie Ward).
Then in 1967, with the death of Harold Holt, Black Jack McEwen took the nation’s helm before the Liberals got around to electing John Gorton.
So, with the Coalition facing possible defeat, and out of office in all other seven states and territories, much has been said and written about the nation’s ranking Liberal after that – Brisbane Lord Mayor Campbell Newman.
But, as in 1939, 1943 and 1967-68, it will be a Nat, not a Liberal (or UAP) who is the ranking conservative politician in Australia – South Australia’s Minister for Water Security, Karlene Maywald.
The competent and popular Ms Maywald holds office in South Australia’s Labor Government courtesy of a radical rewriting of Westminster by the innovative premier Mike Rann.