The motives behind the proposed merger of the Liberal and National parties may be many, but one of the questions that needs to be answered is who is saving whom from what here? If we look at the period back to 1996 and tally up the total number of seats held by the parties in all six States and the Federal lower houses, a few surprising things emerge.

Firstly, the general context; this is how the total number of seats held by Labor and the Coalition has changed over the last 12 years.

The conservative side of organised politics has changed from holding 329 seats at the end of 1996 (a 58.1% share of total seats) to a relatively paltry 202 today (a 36.8% share of all seats). Labor on the other hand has increased its total seat holdings from 225 (a 39.8% share of total seats) up to 324 (a 57.2% share of all seats) over the period.

Interestingly, the total number of lower house seats in these Parliaments has reduced from 566 in 1996 down to 549 today. Not only are the conservative sides battling Labor and losing, but they’ve been taking the brunt of seat losses associated with the move towards smaller Parliaments.

If we focus just on the Nationals and the Liberals, and look at how both their total respective seat numbers and associated seat share have changed over the period, we’ll need a couple of spiffy charts.

And here’s National Party representation:

The total seats held are read from the left hand side, the percentage of seats held can be read from the right hand side.

The Liberal Party, a party that likes to see itself as the true party of the Right and the natural competition to Labor (if only those pesky cow pokes would get with the program), aren’t in a particularly glorious position – holding only 26% of the total seats in the six State and Federal lower houses, down from 44.2% in 1996. Compared to the current Labor share of 57%, the Libs might want to have a quiet word with Graeme Samuel since there doesn’t appear to be a whole lot of competition going on here.

The Nats on the other hand have seen their total seat share fall from 14% in 1996 (79 seats) down to 9.7% (55 seats) today. This brings us on to the most important part of who is saving whom with any merger.

If we look at the seats held by the Nats and the Libs respectively as a percentage of total Coalition held seats, something interesting pops up:

The Nats are read from the left (yes, yes – the irony) and the Libs from the right.

The nadir of the Nats occurred in 2001, where they held only 22.4% of all Coalition seats. But over the intervening years, the Nats’ share of Coalition-held seats has jumped up to 27.2%, their highest share of Coalition seats over the period measured. So while the conservative side of politics has been in general decline since 1996, the Liberal Party is the Party that is bleeding the most. It is they, rather than the Nats which are the primary cause of the great conservative reprimanding the electorate has been dishing out.

The Liberal Party are responsible for losing 81.1% of all Coalition seats lost since 1996; a loss which far outweighs the Liberal party share of Coalition seats, especially when the Liberal Party is the only party in the Coalition that can win metropolitan divisions.

Quite frankly, the Liberal Party aren’t pulling their weight in the Coalition – why would a merger change that?

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey