The defacto coalition between the Western Australian Liberal Party and the National Party is in many respects far from a perfect fit. I say this in spite of the absurd and unhelpful comments made on election night by the embarrassingly amateur political observer Ms Julie Bishop, that the National Party was under some form of obligation to form a coalition with the Liberal Party. Equally absurd was Ms Bishop’s claim that a major cause of Labor’s defeat was the removal of Woodside’s exemption from excise on condensate produced from its wet gas fields.

The more Liberals such as Ms Bishop harangued the National Party with megaphone diplomacy the more it cemented the position of the National Party parliamentary leader, Brendon Grylls with his colleagues that a coalition with the Liberal Party would, as they viewed it, again reduce the National Party to a rump of the coalition without influence or respect.

Brendon Grylls is in many respects, new to politics and has a strong dislike of the Liberal Party. Prior to winning preselection for the rural seat of Merredin, previously held by the former National Party leader, Hendy Cowan, Grylls had no former involvement in politics.

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It goes without saying that Grylls has no ties to tradition, or sense of the historic relationship in Western Australia between the conservative voters of the National Party and the Liberal Party. That having been said, there has for many years been a deterioration in relations between the two parties. The National Party convulsed in 1985 when three National Party parliamentarians including two former senior Ministers left the National Party and joined the Liberal Party. At the next general State election they were defeated by National Party candidates.

One of those National Party members to defect and to be defeated was Dick Old, the former Deputy Premier and Minister for Agriculture.

The National Party leader during the life of the Richard Court government, Hendy Cowan, had a strong political dislike of Charles Court based principally on the view Cowan held that Court treated the National Party with minor respect in the coalition.

Charles Court’s view of the National Party was influenced more by the socialist political instincts of some of its parliamentary members rather than a generic dislike of the entire party. Two of his closest confidents were Dick Old and National Party Minister, Peter Jones.

Court did have a jaundiced view of the interventionist behaviour of federal National Party leader Doug Anthony, who, as Federal Resources Minister, was no help to Court in his own development of the mineral resources of Western Australia.

On the evening of the 1977 federal election, when it became apparent that Fraser could govern without the National Party, Sir Charles Court strongly conveyed to me the private view that Fraser should govern in his own right.

Cowan was determined, following the Richard Court election victory in 1993, that the National Party would wring the maximum influence in the coming coalition. Such was the strain of the relationship between the two parties that Court found himself in the highly embarrassing circumstance of having been called back during his short car trip to Parliament House to accept the Governor’s invitation to form a government, by Cowan having changed his mind about the detail of the coalition agreement.

Grylls and his National Party State President and Upper House colleague, Wendy Duncan, would be entirely comfortable in a Labor government and the fact that they are not, is in no measure due to their wish. Three Assembly colleagues refused under all circumstances to serve with a Labor government and effectively killed off Grylls grand plan for a coalition of the two parties.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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