Don’t be taken in by the Queensland Liberal Party plebiscite. Yes, it was an overwhelming outcome in favour of a merger with the Nationals, and it is being spun by pro-merger forces as another step on the glorious road to unity.
But there are a lot of moderate Queensland Liberals who are profoundly unhappy about what amounts to a right-wing coup of their party.
For all the ambitions of Santo Santoro and his acolytes to control the new party, by sheer numbers alone the Nationals will dominate it, with more than twice as many Nationals members as Liberals and Lawrence Springborg as Parliamentary leader. And the good ol’ boys and girls from the Nats have already tipped their hand on the new party’s constitution, moving to impose the Nationals brand of social conservatism. Not to mention a Joh-style regional gerrymander.
Some Queensland Liberals are said to be considering whether they have a future in the new party, even though their preselections are guaranteed. They’re watching the party they’ve worked hard for and represented with pride being taken over by a mob who, for all the new faces, are run and funded by many of the same crowd as the Bjelke-Petersen years. Greg Roberts’s article in The Australian nicely captures the conflicting emotions within the party.
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New Queensland Liberal President Mal Brough remains an issue for the merger and, for that matter, more widely within the Liberal Party. There is considerable speculation about Brough’s future within the Queensland Liberals at the moment. For all that he lost his seat and is despised by anti-interventionists, Brough is highly regarded within the party, and if he re-entered parliamentary politics at either level he would immediately cause leadership ructions. At the state level, he would be an obvious replacement for two-time loser Springborg, especially given he would stand a chance of winning seats in the south-east corner of Queensland, where the Nats brand is toxic. And a Brough return to Federal politics would muddy the leadership waters further in Canberra. He could easily run a similar populist line to Nelson but without turning on the waterworks every time he speaks.
For the moment, however, Brough is worrying about the Queensland Liberal finances. He has also raised doubts about the draft constitution conjured up by the Nationals and chief merger proselytiser Gary Spence.
There’s also the complicating factor of Anna Bligh. Bligh, educated in the Beattie school of never missing an opportunity, may choose not to sit back and wait to see whether the “Liberal National Party” (see how the Nationals brand has been cunningly disguised?) will be a threat. An early election called in the next few months would catch the Opposition mid-merger and hopelessly unprepared. There are a few Queensland Libs who are worried about that. The entire point of the merger for many Liberals is to have a chance at winning office. That’s why so many have put aside their concerns about the Nationals to support it. A loss would make the whole exercise a waste of time.
There’s nothing worse than selling out your principles and not getting anything for them.