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Friday, January 27, 2006

The angst and undercurrents of the reshuffle

The major undercurrent in the turmoil within The Nats is the status of The Nats in Queensland in the run up to the 2007 election. This is what bouncing Barnaby Joyce is all about. This is why he claims to represent the Queensland Nationals in the Senate. His profile and his position on issues is meant to be a major part of the arsenal of the Qld Nats so that they can be catapulted from Opposition to Government. Queensland is the only place in Australia where The Nats can govern in their own right. Queensland is the only place in Australia where The Nats can not be considered a rural rump party. Barnaby has a mate challenging Ron Boswell, Qld's long-time Nat Senator for pre-selection. He was making noises on RN along the lines of "I support the incumbent" which was hardly a ringing endorsement of Ron. Ron, of course, says "I have always won the seat for the National Party". Yeah, Ron, you have. But look at the help you got last time when it was a very close thing. Pauline Hanson was also on the list and a lot of ALP voters voted for the National Party for the first time in their lives. They didn't find you too indigestible Ron and they sure as eggs didn't want Hanson. So they took out insurance against Hanson and voted for you. Those same votes are unlikely to be there next time around, Ron. Your mates in The Nats are probably aware of this too - so the preselection is on shaking ground. If Barnaby's mate, James Baker, who is challenging Ron turns out to be bouncy Baker after the style of bouncy Barnaby you will be on the way out Ron. Your mates in the Qld Nats want government and if you can't deliver to build the state profile you have had it. One thing though - there may be a little less bounce in Barnaby after the McGauran defection. His toes might have to stay closer and more firmly to the party line.

For some years, the Beattie Government has been getting more bad publicity than money could buy from the mismanaged Qld health system. Added to this is the Dr Death scandal aided and abetted by ministerial heads rolling and incompetent rationalist bureaucrats. One thing is clear - it has taken a bit of the bounce out of Beattie.

But The Nats can't rest easy - even when by-elections give cause for comfort. Elections are a long way out and Beattie has many seats in hand. Labor came out of the 2004 elections with a majority of 37 seats. This got whittled away with the loss of two safe Labor seats to the Liberals at by-elections in 2005. The joker in the pack in Queensland is optional preferential voting.

The Nationals and the Liberals have difficulty working as a coalition in opposition and there is much acrimony. The Nats want to continue their dominance - but the Libs are comfortable with dominating Brisbane and don't want any intrustion on that. So the road to power for The Nats is iffy as it is undermined by Liberal-Nats acrimony and optional preferential voting.