The more Queensland Liberals look at the draft Liberal National Party constitution, the less likely they are to vote for it.

New state president Mal Brough and vice president John Caris have already expressed reservations about the constitution, with Caris attacking it as a National gerrymander (which Crikey identified earlier this month).

In particular, the proposal to establish regional councils based on ten arbitrary geographical areas will ensure that the National heartland in North and Central Queensland will balance members from the south-east corner regional zones, despite having only two electorates in each zone, compared to four each in the Brisbane and Gold Coast zones. Regional Chairmen – there’s none of that gender-neutral PC rubbish in this document thanks – will form a substantial block of the 23-member state executive.

Merger proponents are unapologetic about the gerrymander. “The new Party will represent all Queenslanders, not just those in the South East,” says the documentation accompanying the plebiscite material. “The regional structure has been proposed because it will make the Party more response to its membership.”

Yep, and Joh’s gerrymander ensured the interests of country people were looked after, eh?

There’s plenty of other evidence that this is a Nationals takeover. The Constitution explicitly states as some of its Objects under “Industry and Trade” to “improve the lifestyle of country people”, “increase rural amenities” and “encourage decentralisation of industries.” Anyone smell pork?

And the Nats’ social conservatism is also on display. Rather than the Liberal Party’s commitment to a nation “in which there is no discrimination on the grounds of race, religious belief, political affiliation, gender, sexuality or age”, the new constitution proposes a nation “in which there is no discrimination in grounds proscribed in Queensland and Australian legislation.” So, as long as you can pass a law discriminating against someone, it’s fine.

The biggest flaw in the document, however, is that it misses a major opportunity to empower and revitalise the participation of the parties’ membership. This is the first time in decades a new major political party has been established. Yet the draft constitution confirms the top-down method of party management and policy development that has seen the membership of all major political parties in freefall for over a decade.

Federally, and in other states, the Liberal Party is undertaking a debate on giving greater power to its membership and embracing the opportunities for online participation in the party. Apart from leaving the way open for an online branch in the future, the constitution ignores these issues entirely. If the Queensland conservatives were serious about re-engaging with an electorate that simply refuses to take them seriously, they should have started with their own membership.

That’s assuming they actually know who their members are. There are reports of former members, and dead members (physically dead, that is, not brain-dead), receiving plebiscite documentation. That might be simple carelessness. Or it might reflect the furious stacking that has gone on within the party in recent years. Wonder how many of those dead members were in the electorate of Ryan…

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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