You have to hand it to Shane Stone — he’s not backward in offering advice to his party colleagues about things could be done better. In 2001, at least he had the excuse of being Liberal President. This time around, he’s offering his views for free.
And his letter suggesting Barnaby Joyce and the Nationals leave the Coalition will be happily welcomed by political journalists facing the descent into the Christmas political break with nothing but a hideously popular Prime Minister and a looming recession to write about. There’s more than a touch of the silly season about the sudden outbreak of fascination over the state of the Coalition.
Of course, it’s not a Coalition in Queensland, it’s one party. Let’s not forget, Barnaby Joyce and Ron Boswell are in the same party as their Queensland Liberal colleagues. A party, ironically, that the Liberals wanted Stone to head, until the Nats said they wouldn’t cop anyone except their own bloke to run the takeover, thanks very much. No one has yet been able to explain exactly who is doing what with whom amongst Queensland Liberals and Nationals at the Federal level, or whether the whole LNP thing is some nonsense they happily forget about the moment they fly out of Brisbane.
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Warren Truss — another LNP member — spoke on ABC Breakfast this morning, or at least tried to, when Virginia Trioli wasn’t cutting him off. He promised better communication with backbenchers — he might include frontbenchers like Nick Minchin in that as well – and said that the Coalition would continue to work through its issues. You have to admire Truss’s ability to say not very much at all, no matter what the circumstances.
Shane Stone makes an important point when he observes that since Ian Sinclair, the Nationals haven’t really had a leader, and that John Howard became the de facto Nationals leader. If nothing else, The Howard Years bore that out quite eloquently. It was Howard facing angry gun owners in Gippsland, and furious pastoralists in Queensland. None of Tim Fischer, John Anderson or Mark Vaile looked genuine leaders of separate parties with their own agendas, although Anderson was mortified by the potential of One Nation to wreck his party and convinced the Howard Cabinet — which had presided over the slashing of regional programs in its first term — to change tack and start pumping money into the bush. Warren Truss has the same problem as his predecessors.
There’s growing speculation from the press gallery that Barnaby Joyce should move to the House of Representatives and become Nats leader. This confuses Joyce’s maverick status, high profile and ability to land blows on Liberals with a capacity to lead, contribute to policy and land blows on the Government. Remember the last maverick who tried to turn a big reputation into the Senate into a quest for party leadership – although Bronwyn Bishop has rather more liberal views on a lot of issues than Joyce.
Like the Liberals, the Nationals won’t solve all their problems by playing musical chairs with the leadership. Particularly not with Barnaby Joyce, who might find that the House of Representatives and being a member of shadow Cabinet a bit more different than he thinks.
Still, at least the Government is happy. All year, the Coalition has found ways to ensure the political focus stayed on its internal problems. Mostly it was leadership, and former ministers hanging around like a bad smell. With those issues mostly resolved, you’d have thought the Coalition would have concentrated on taking it up to the Government. But old habits die hard. There appear to be plenty of Liberals happy to get stuck into their Coalition colleagues. Disunity is indeed death, but at the moment that might be a cover for the fact that the Liberals have their own problems cutting through.