The bans are being read in cities, towns and villages across Queensland in advance of the marriage of the State National and Liberal parties.

“If anyone is opposed to the forthcoming exchange of vows between these two parties, would they come forward and speak now,” booms the newly re-elected Nats leader Lawrence Springborg.

We’ve been here before. In May 2006 Springborg and his then Liberal partner Bob Quinn won unanimous approval from their respective party rooms to tie the knot.

Enter Prime Minister John Howard with his famous “over my dead body” threat: “If there is one thing I will fight for in my last political breath it is to preserve the nationwide unity of the Liberal Party of Australia.”

Howard said the only merger he would support was one in which the Nationals moved en masse and joined the existing Liberal Party. He killed the marriage on the steps of the church.

But after 16 months on the backbench, Springborg is back in charge and his merger crusade seems unstoppable. His recently elected Liberal counterpart Mark McArdle has expressed support for the plan, although the Liberals are waiting until after the local government elections on March 15 to announce their intentions.

What’s driving the formation of a single non-Labor party in Queensland? The electorate. In successive elections over the past two decades, the Nats have shrunk in Queensland parliament to 17 seats while the Liberals hold a mere seven.

The messianic Springborg sees the formation of a single party embracing the remnants of One Nation and independents as the only way to defeat Labor.

“I have always been passionate about a new conservative force,” he said recently.

“This is something which I believed in for years.”

And he added ominously: “This is not only needed in Queensland but it is needed right across Australia. I mean this is like dominoes. Once the first domino falls, the whole lot of them are actually going to go.”

This proposition horrifies the old guard of Nats in Canberra who have just spent 11 comfortable years in office doing the bidding of Howard and the Liberals. But they too have been forced to consider the party’s future and, once again, the debate is being driven by the march of the electorate. In 1988 the Nats held 22 seats in federal parliament but their numbers are down to a paltry 10.

Former Nats leader John Anderson and former NSW director Michael Priebe have presented a post-election review to the party heavyweights in which they cautiously suggest a look at three options: an improved coalition with the Libs; exiting the coalition to form a stand-alone party; or joining a new conservative party with or without the Libs.

Senator Barnaby Joyce, a fervent backer of the Queensland merger who plans to join the new party if it is comes into existence mid-year, has made grim predictions about his party’s future to the website Agmates.com:

Unless there is the formation of a new United Conservative Party the National Party will wither and die on the vine. The facts are as ageing sitting members have retired in the past those seats have either gone Liberal or to Independents. We are heading to a crisis time federally with senior Queensland National MPs like Paul Neville, Bruce Scott and Warren Truss all into their 60s.

NSW Nationals Leader Andrew Stoner has the same problem. His ranks are filled with veterans who are reaching their used by date and are unlikely to stand again in 2011: John Turner ( Myall Lakes), George Souris (Upper Hunter) and Don Page (Ballina) were all elected in 1988 and Andrew Fraser (Coffs Harbour) who was elected in 1990.

In view of Labor’s commanding hold on Canberra plus all the States and Territories, a re-alignment of the Liberal and National parties has become an imperative that won’t go away.

Peter Fray

Get your first 12 weeks of Crikey for $12.

Without subscribers, Crikey can’t do what it does. Fortunately, our support base is growing.

Every day, Crikey aims to bring new and challenging insights into politics, business, national affairs, media and society. We lift up the rocks that other news media largely ignore. Without your support, more of those rocks – and the secrets beneath them — will remain lodged in the dirt.

Join today and get your first 12 weeks of Crikey for just $12.

 

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

JOIN NOW