The Senate seat
Before dealing with the substantive issue that McGauran's defection raises, it's worth looking at the question of his Senate seat. Ownership of a Senate seat is a tricky question, since there's no by-election option to decide the matter, and most Senators are elected on the basis of their party allegiance and above-the-line votes rather than a personal vote.
McGauran was elected in 2004 for a six year term on a joint Liberal-National Party ticket in Victoria. For me, this is the key fact that means that McGauran is absolutely right in holding onto his seat since he remains true to the ticket. The previous time a Senate defection occured was in 2002, when Meg Lees, elected as a Democrat, chose to sit as an independent and later as a member of the Australian Progressive Alliance (what ever happened to...). In that situation, Lees had absolutely no claim on the seat since she was elected as a Democrat on a Democrat ticket. In McGauran's case, however, he is simply voting from one entity on the ticket (the Nats) to another entity (the Libs), but still remaining within the group on the ticket. Were he to defect, for example, to Family First, he would have no such claim.
Senator McGauran shares his thoughts with The Nationals.
The future of the Nationals
Regardless of the personality politics involved, McGauran is spot on in claiming that the Nationals have no future in Victoria. I would widen the analysis and condemn it to a wallaby-like grave nationwide. The problem that the Nationals face is demographics. The movement of population from farms and rural towns into the cities has reduced the number of rural electorates and increased the number of urban ones.
To make things worse, there are some who are taking the seachange option and going the other way. These voters are moving from their urban electorate out to the country and are most unlikely to vote for the Nationals - they're most likely to lean to the left, or at a pinch vote for the Libs.
These two trends combined mean that there are fewer and fewer country seats available, and in those seats voters are less inclined then ever to consider the Nationals. It's no surprise that over the past few elections the Liberals have increasingly taken over electorates previously held by the Nationals.
Ironically given it's name, the National Party is a spent force in all states except for New South Wales and Queensland. In other states, the party has either ceased to exist, or exists as a shadow of its former self in much the same way that the DLP does, still managing to put up a slate of Senate candidates each election. There is no future for the party in most party of the country.
The strategy of late has been for the Nationals to differentiate themselves from the Liberals within the bounds of the coalition agreement. At best, this has helped slow the decline (in 2004 no seat went from the Nationals to the Liberals), but done little better.
Perhaps the Nationals need to start thinking seriously about a merger with the Libs, or more likely a takeover by the Libs. It could ensure a future for sitting Nationals, boost the influence of country electorates, but most of all give the party some relevance. Given the unity of policy between the two parties it's definitely worth investigating. Without it, the Liberals will happily watch the Nationals wither away to nothing. With it, the rump of the Nationals will give themselves a future.