For a mob who claim to be pro-competition and opportunity, there’s only one way to create a single party on the non-Labor side of politics – fight it out.

Abandon the prohibition on three-cornered contests for sitting members. Let the voters decide whether they want a Liberal or National to represent their interests. The Nationals, already pared down to 10 House of Representative seats, could be reduced to a rump within a couple of elections.

Once they lose party status, there’s your single non-Labor party. The remaining Nats from terminally rural seats can sit with Bob Katter and Tony Windsor – and never have to worry about voting with the Liberals again.

Christopher Pyne – whose services Brendan Nelson so foolishly dispensed with by consigning him to the outer shadow ministry – has offered the best analysis amidst the inevitable post-election clamour about merging. He made the threshold observation that the Nationals are a fundamentally different party to his own, lacking the genuine liberalism that motivates many, if not a majority of the Liberal Party. John Howard called it a “broad church”, even if for most of his two leaderships non-conservatives in the party lived in terror of excommunication.

The logical conclusion of Pyne’s analysis is that if the Nationals are added to the mix, the new party would simply shift to the right. No wonder Nick Minchin fancies the idea.

And if the Liberal Party hasn’t always been aptly-named, particularly for the last 11 years, the “Nationals” are a downright misnomer. Far from being “national” in any way, they are purely sectional, representing a narrow, and narrowing, range of socio-economic interests.

They also view the resources of government (AKA taxpayers’ money) entirely through the prism of those interests, rather than as tools for the betterment of all Australians. It’s not like either Labor or the Liberals aren’t prone to the same mistake, but it’s not their raison d’être.

So as long as they remain in Coalition with the Nationals, the Liberals will always be tainted with the stink of the pork barrel, with the reactionary views of a minority interest out of touch with larger regional and urban communities. The National brand is not healthy one to be associated with. That’s why they struggle to win State seats in south-east Queensland, where they should be building a Liberal heartland. Relocated southerners find the notion of a National Government absurd, and always will.

So let competition reign. Let opportunity thrive – let the Liberals see if they can unify the conservative side of politics through the very market forces they promote. The more business-minded Liberals could call it a hostile takeover. And it would show that the Liberals are deadly serious about change.

Peter Fray

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