The renewed talk of an amalgamation between the Liberal and National Parties into one grand conservative organisation gives a wonderful insight in to the influence of self interest on the way political parties operate.

In Queensland, where the latest round of speculation has emerged following the re-appearance of Lawrence Springborg as National Party leader, National Party state members of parliament believe their best chance of becoming state government ministers is to be united with the Liberal Party. Abolishing the National Party by merging it with the Liberal Party is the price they are prepared to pay to achieve high office.

National Party members of federal parliament generally believe their best chance of staying as (or becoming) federal government ministers or shadow ministers is to stay separate from, but friendly with, the Liberal Party. Maintaining the separation is the price they are prepared to pay to achieve/retain high office. The motives of both groups of parliamentarians are identical while the chosen means are completely incompatible.

Within the Queensland Liberal Party, the rump of State Parliamentary members is so small that their views are secondary to the controllers of the party itself. While the Liberal state council in Queensland will meet on Sunday to consider any proposals put forward by the Nationals, and also a recommendation from state leader Mark McArdle that an eminent persons group be established to consider a merger, individual members of the Party realise that in a merger they might keep the Liberal Party name but lose everything else. The Nationals would bring over a membership of 12,000 that would swamp the 4,000 who currently pay their Liberal dues.

Many voters in an increasingly cosmopolitan Brisbane would surely react with horror at the prospect of voting for a party dominated by country red necks. Federal Liberal MPs would start worrying not only about their election under these circumstances but about their pre-selection as well. That self interest puts them in the same anti-amalgamation camp as their Federal National Party colleagues.

Should the unlikely event of the merger in Queensland actually occur, the next step will be the creation of a new rural based party to replace the Nationals. Senator Barnaby Joyce has shown Queensland country people that a minority holding the balance of power in the Senate has far more potential influence than members of a Cabinet. That influence will increase now that a Labor Government does not have a Senate majority.

The News Limited website reported this morning that Senator Joyce sees the solution as being the Liberals joining forces with “like minded Liberals”, rather than the Liberal Party as such, to form a new party.

“You have the capacity for a strong regional emphasis, as well as a strong small-business emphasis, as well as a conservative, family-based emphasis,” he said.

If in New South Wales the division on self interest lines is probably similar to that in Queensland with State and Federal National MPs having different views, across southern Australia things are quite different.

In Western Australia, South Australia and Tasmania the National Party is a virtual irrelevance with a de facto merger occurring years ago. The more conservative Liberal Party members in these states, who would welcome the arrival in their fold of conservative Nationals from the north, tend to favour a national merger.

The small “l” Liberals are horrified at the prospect. They share with the Liberals of Brisbane a fear of having their views completely swamped by northern rednecks.

In Victoria, while Nationals are a declining force federally, they are still potentially significant in gaining State Government but State Parliamentary Leader Ted Baillieu, being from the liberal wing, would be most uncomfortable having them in his party room.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey