Monday, January 30, 2006

National party split?

The Nationals are back in the news with the defection of Julian McGauran to the Liberals. if we go back to the formation of the Country party (as it was called until the 1980s) they was always a tension between those who saw it role as being an adjunct to the Nationalists and those who it as having an independent role. This tended roughly to parallel the division between the graziers who competed on international markets and the small farmers who looked to Empire markets and who sought government support. The party was so influential under McEwen because the Liberals accepted the small-farmers' agenda and McEwen was able to drive industry policy under Menzies. Personalities played a role in their decline after McEwen but the major factor was that farmer organisations came to agree with the graziers' free-trade position. It took time for the party to accept this position. John Warhurst's Jobs or Dogma shows how resistant Doug Anthony was to the industries Assistance Commission being involved in rural policy. Once however the party leadership adopted this position it had nothing to distinguish it on economic policy.
Queensland adds a complication. The Nationals resemble in the part the Labor party of the early 1930s, in both cases one state branch (NSW for Labor) was estranged from the majority of the party. Relations within Labor between NSW and the rest were poisonous and they seem to be fairly toxic in the Nationals currently. Eventually in 1931 Labor split when the state branch declared that sitting members would only be endorsed if they supported its policies rather than those of the federal ALP. Could the same happen now? I doubt it, in 1931 only a minority of NSW Labor MPs followed the state party, apart from Joyce today who would follow the Queensland Nationals if they tried to split from the federal party? None I think. The Queensland Nationals would be aware they would probably lose a knock-down battle with the Liberals at the state level as well. The 1930s were the age of ideology but I don't see a coherent rallying point for the Queensland Nationals.


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