Tuesday, January 24, 2006

The McGauran defection

Senator Julian McGauran has defected from the Nats to the Libs, and in doing so has put the future of the Nationals in the spotlight. The Nats are in the spotlight in the same way that many wallabies are in the spotlight immediately before confronting a bullbar and a future in a shallow roadside grave, quite possibly on a highway that runs through a National Party electorate.

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.
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.

5 comments:

Peter...Canberra said...

Look closely at the picture, which the media has always alleged was photographic evidence of Senator McGauran giving "the finger" to the rest of the Senate.

It's his right hand, and there are clearly three fingers down and the left most finger is raised. Which means he is pointing his index finger.

Now, I'm not suggesting that he didn't actually wave his middle finger on that day in the House of Review. All I'm saying is that the photo doesn't prove it.

The moral of this story? Who do you think I am - Hans Christian Andersen?!

To quote another great work, The Simpsons:
"Perhaps there is no moral to this story." "Exactly! Just a bunch of stuff that happened."

Kent said...

In regard to this, I'm wondering if there is even a slight chance that some Nationals will push for a split from the Liberal Coalition... just a thought!

Unlikely, but you never know!

Mothy said...

Yeah he was quoted in the media afterwards saying he didn't even know the right finger to extend.

Bullshit - more likely it was a simple gesture indicating the majority - 1 vote - that got blown out of proportion and he went with it.

Nationals dead? 60% primary vote in Mallee Ari. They often OWN the seats they hold. True, if the Libs fielded candidates against them, that might split the vote somewhat (see Victorian Elections in the late 90's).

One of the Libs best pieces of politics is occasionally not even running a candiate (ref: Organ, Michael). Apparently Investment is not the only field where the decision to do nothing is actually a decision to do something.

Anonymous said...

Due to our preferential voting system (which favour coalitions) it's better (for them) to keep both parties for now and let demographics do its bit rather than to force any amalgamation.

If we had first past the post voting, there'd never have been any three-cornered contests.

Polly said...

The Nationals aren't in coalition with the Liberals at a state level in Victoria, and have taken contrary policy positions to the State Liberals (most notably on Eastlink, where they have oppposed the both the Liberals no tolls and half-tolls policies).
Upper house reform will see them lose most of their seats in the upper house - but I'd be suprised if they were wiped out in the legislative assembly by the Victorian Liberals - they're probably more in danger from strong local independents.
I think it's pretty obvious that McGauran's decision to defect is down to internal politics within the National Party (he was very close to missing preselection last year) rather than the reasons he gave for the move.