When Billy Hughes was chivvied for having joined every political outfit except the Country Party, he famously remarked "I had to draw the line somewhere". Since its formation after World War I, the Country -- now National -- Party has been the exceptional party within the Australian system. Every other group has, or pretends to have, a universal message, even if they have only a partial social base. Only the CP/NP has been cheerfully willing to claim special conditions for white rural Australia, and damn the rest. That used to be statist buying-up of agricultural product; now it is ever larger social subsidies as the automation of farming and mining has hollowed out rural life.

The party's strength lay in the fact that it would never form government; formed only a few years after the city/country balance shifted in favour of the former (in 1910), the party's justification for its purely sectional approach was that the forces arrayed for urban classes were so strong that they needed to be uncompromising jerks on whatever ensemble of policies benefited certain parts of rural Australia (mining areas were Labor and Communist until the early 1960s).

But what's happened now has stood that logic on its head. The now-National Party's purview has shrunk. As former primary-produce centre towns have been filled out with new economic sectors -- education, medical services, meth -- Labor became more competitive. In turn, Labor became more attentive to rural needs, i.e. unwilling to push back against rural special treatment. And now the Libs have one eye to winning three-cornered contests.