Lucky The Australian has better journalists than Dennis Shanahan to cover politics. While Shanahan is playing echo chamber to the claims of “Liberal strategists” that this is a one-term Government, Greg Roberts has continued to explain just what an astonishing mess the Liberal-National merger is turning into for the Federal Liberals.

There are a number of Liberals, from Queensland and elsewhere, who have been astonished at the behaviour of the Nationals in recent weeks. There is widespread acceptance of the logic of some sort of merger with the Nationals, but a strong view that it should’ve occurred Federally, with States to follow, rather than being driven by the one state where the Nationals are stronger. But things have got worse in the last fortnight.

The sight of the West Australian Nationals seriously considering an alliance with Labor shocked many Liberals. How can you credibly argue for a merger of the Nationals and Liberals when a state division is contemplating hooking up with Labor in WA? Moreover, in response to the contrast between the WA result and the Lyne debacle, Nationals leader Warren Truss commented that they might think about having a more independent role.

And then earlier this week, professional maverick Barnaby Joyce became Nationals Senate leader. Will he tone down the independent act, or will it simply give him a bigger stage on which to perform, especially now that John Williams — preselected ahead of Sandy McDonald because they wanted someone more like Barnaby — has arrived from NSW?

More to the point, whose party is Joyce leading if the LNP becomes a division of the Liberal Party? Does he become a Liberal? Do he and his National colleagues get a right to vote in future leadership ballots? Brendan Nelson would walk back into the leadership if the Nats got a vote.

Meantime deeply unhappy Queensland Liberals are trying to have the merger overturned and prevent the new party becoming a division of the Liberal Party. There are virtually no Liberal officials actually in the LNP executive at this point. Liberal officials have been sacked and replaced by Nationals, and the latter dominate executive positions within the new party. Sources say only collaborationist Santo Santoro-allied Liberal Darryl Fennel has secured a place in the LNP’s executive structure, in addition to vice-president Gary Spence, another Santoro spear-carrier.

The merger is now not even a takeover — it’s a political slaughter. The Nationals have, in effect, destroyed the Liberal Party in Queensland and the “Liberal National Party” is simply a rebadged version of the Nats. This will play out not merely in Queensland state politics but in the Federal arena as well. It will be Nationals who select the candidates who will challenge Federal Labor members in 2010, and that will have a significant bearing on their chances of picking up seats. National Party ideas about what will shift voters from Kevin Rudd are likely to be very different to what Liberals want.

Peter Fray

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