Political junkies might have been delighted with the “Big Weekend In Politics”©, but one suspects the rest of the country found it all a bit trying. None of Saturday’s elections were necessary. All were brought on by the self-indulgence or stupidity of politicians. Which might explain why the results brought no comfort to any of them except the Greens and more independent-minded Nationals.

Those were the two groups who did best on Saturday — don’t forget that Rob Oakeshott is a former Nat, and whilst more socially moderate than most of his former colleagues, isn’t all that distinguishable from them.

Warren Truss at least quickly got the message from WA, and declared they’d consider leaving the Coalition. They have to think about it — the Nationals are now at the “fire at will” stage of the siege. Everyone thought Oakeshott would win Lyne, but the sheer magnitude of his victory must terrify the Nationals.

Oakeshott instantly converted his status as an established State independent — he polled 67% of the primary vote last year — into a huge margin in Lyne, polling 64% of the primary vote on Saturday. The result not merely puts the Coalition one seat further away from victory in 2010, it will encourage more high-profile independents to take a stab at the remaining National Party seats.

Maybe they should concentrate on State politics. The issues are smaller and more likely to fit their narrow mindset. When was the last time a National made a useful contribution about the non-farm economy? On defence? Or on climate change? The only climate change Ron Boswell is worried about is global cooling, although given Boswell doesn’t appear to reside on planet Earth, he may be correct.

But playing kingmaker at a State level opens up vast pork-barrelling possibilities. Brendon Grylls’s “royalties for regions” proposal, which would deliver 25% of mining royalties — currently around $700m — for pork-barrelling, would amount to one of the biggest heists in state political history. If either Labor or the Liberals had an ounce of integrity, they’d refuse to cooperate. Which of course means both are desperately courting him.

The Greens got a swing in WA as well, but it was in Mayo that they gave the Liberals a scare. Senator Bob Brown declared the “disintegration of the two-party system in Australia”, which might be a trifle premature. Jamie Briggs will limp into Parliament having suffered a 10.5% swing and the ignominy of converting a blue-ribbon seat into a marginal.

But rather than the two-party system disintegrating, it was because the Greens campaigned smarter than the Liberals. They picked up on widespread concern about the Lower Lakes and Coorong and never stopped talking about it, demanding action, commencing a Senate inquiry.

The Liberals’ response was insipid and missed the point — Brendan Nelson called for a $50m package to “support” the affected communities. It was too small to get any cut-through — despite Greg Hunt explaining that it was money that had already been appropriated for the Murray-Darling Basin, a significantly bigger package would’ve again drawn attention to the Liberals’ dwindling economic credentials. And in effect it offered a bribe to the communities in the region to cop the death of the Lakes sweet.

The Greens’ position — get water to “give the Coorong a drink by Christmas” — was far smarter, simpler politics, and that’s why they ran the Liberals so close. Now that they have party status federally, and the resources that come with it, the Greens will be able to do more of this — maintaining a profile, influencing the debate, slowly lifting their status so that voting for the Greens stops being a protest vote or one-off decision and starts becoming a more solid , reliable source of electoral support.

“In Mayo, it’s a great result for us to be able to hold the seat,” Nelson said yesterday.

Sadly, he’s right — for him, things are so grim that even hanging onto a blue-ribbon seat is a “great result”. At least the Liberals aren’t facing political oblivion like the Nationals are. But they might if they stick with this bloke.

Peter Fray

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