Is Lawrence Springborg allowing his paranoia about Mal Brough to cloud his judgement and ruin the Nationals’ prospects of a successful merger with the Queensland Liberals?

Liberal sources have pointed out to Crikey that when the Queenslanders last negotiated a merger in 2006 — a deal that foundered on the hostility of John Howard and Mark Vaile — the Nationals were happy to sign up to a split between the party’s Parliamentary leadership — Springborg — and the party presidency — a Liberal (at that stage, State president Warwick Parer).

However, this split suddenly became a deal breaker for the Nats this time around when faced with new Queensland Liberal president Mal Brough. Despite losing his seat in the Ruddslide in Queensland last November, Brough is a potent political force with far more charisma and appeal than Springborg. State Liberals reckon Brough isn’t interested in State politics, but his mere presence is enough to worry Springborg, who has already lost two State elections.

The Nationals have been insisting that the joint convention of the new party — scheduled for Sunday — elect the president. This commitment to party democracy is very worthy, but it would also favour the Nationals’ candidate, although current Nats president Bruce McIver has yet to nominate. Nationals have floated the idea of nominating Gary Spence, spear carrier for Liberal right-wing factional heavy Santo Santoro. This would suit them, given the Santoro forces are pro-merger as part of their efforts to drive moderate Liberals from power.

Yesterday was ostensibly the deadline set by Liberal Federal president Alan Stockdale for the resolution of the presidency issue, but it passed without action from the Liberals. This was merely the latest line in the sand drawn by Stockdale and happily stepped over by the Nationals. From insisting that the new president be a Liberal, Stockdale was reduced last week to offering a power-sharing deal, which the Nationals also ignored. Stockdale’s woeful efforts at negotiation have not been helped by pro-merger Queensland Liberals like Mark McArdle in effect telling the Federal Liberals — who insist the merger must be approved Federally — that the weekend convention will go ahead whether they like it or not.

There is still significant potential for the issue to wreck the weekend’s fun and games, but it could have all been avoided by the Nationals agreeing to the same deal to which they signed up two years ago. The only difference was Mal Brough, who appears to have been enough to drive Springborg and the Nationals to risk everything on getting their own way.

Meantime, Anna Bligh watches and waits for the best moment to call an early election.

Update: Mal Brough has brought the vexed issue of the presidency of the new Liberal National Party to a head by calling an emergency State Council meeting tonight at Liberal HQ in Brisbane. The meeting will discuss Brough’s motion to cancel the weekend state convention which was to consider the merger with the Nationals, prior to a joint convention of the new party. The motion will pit Brough and the party’s moderates against right-wing forces associated with Santo Santoro, including presidential nominee Gary Spence, and pro-merger supporters such as State Liberal leader Mark McArdle, and if successful is likely to see the Queensland Nationals go it alone in a rebadged conservative party with a number of State Liberal MPs.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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