Article from: The Australian
QUEENSLAND, as they once used to say somewhat disparagingly, is different. Well here's some mail: politically at least, that remains the case. And in ways that may well shape the final outcome of the electoral contest between Kevin Rudd and Malcolm Turnbull. If Malcolm manages to last that long.
Before we go north of the Tweed, however, let's duck down to Canberra where at the historic Hyatt Hotel, the Nationals yesterday wound up their peak federal council meeting.
And very successful it was too. In the words of the party's federal director Brad Henderson, in his report to conference: "A new treatment of our logo, new website, in our annual report and with a new visual identity our contemporary new look tells Australians that we are changing."
What that "changing" meant became clear as the weekend progressed. In danger of dying a demographic death the Nationals have decided to rededicate themselves to their base.
Again in Henderson's words: "The nub of the changes that we are making is about more assertively advocating the interests of regional Australia."
The trouble is that in doing so they will henceforth not only be seeking to differentiate themselves from Labor but from the Liberals and Turnbull too.
Henderson in his report was clear about this. This new course, he said, "will require protection from bad or clumsy policy because regional Australia has the most to lose from policies like Labor's emissions trading scheme."
The possessive noun "Labor's" as applied to the emissions trading scheme is cursory, of course. What the Nationals really mean is that they are opposed to any ETS: a position the Nationals Senate leader Barnaby Joyce made clear yesterday morning when interviewed on the Nine Network.
Asked by Laurie Oakes whether the Nationals at the conference had decided they wouldn't vote for an emissions trading system under any circumstances, Joyce replied: "That is correct."
Translated, that is a one-finger salute to Turnbull. In other words, no matter what amendments or concessions he manages to negotiate with the Rudd government before the ETS comes back before the Senate in November, the Nationals won't be having a bar of it.
And what's more, said Joyce, making policy not so much on the run as at a gallop, if the Coalition does win government at the next election they'll be dismantling whatever ETS is in place anyway.
In fact the Nationals Federal Council meeting completed a transformation of the party that has been under way for some time. It formalised the reality that it is now cast in Joyce's image. In a powerful speech to the conference yesterday Joyce analogised the position of the party with that of the Spanish conqueror Hernan Cortes when he landed in Mexico with his conquistadors. Cortes immediately ordered the boats in which they had arrived be burned. The message to his troops: there was no going back.
Joyce has now sent the same message to his MPs, albeit in the somewhat more hospitable environs of the Canberra Hyatt. Under Joyce the differentiation in policy required by the Nationals' new regional focus will be imperative. The demands of Coalition unity will come a distant second.
Just in case anyone mistook where Barnaby Cortes was coming from, he was again asked yesterday by Oakes whether Turnbull was his leader.
Hernan's reply: "He is not my leader. My leader is Warren Truss."
The latter part of that statement is neither here nor there, because from this Federal Council meeting on, Joyce is the Nationals leader without a doubt. Which brings us back to Queensland.
With Cortes running things, Turnbull is going to have a hard enough time maintaining any semblance of Coalition unity at a federal level.
But what happens in Queensland where the Liberals and Nationals have amalgamated into the Liberal National Party, or LNP as it is known?
With the Nats now cast as regional conquistadors how will the Barnaby Party's policy differences be reconciled with the Liberals under a common banner, let alone under a loose Coalition agreement? Will the Liberals in Brisbane run a different campaign on climate change in the city to the Nationals in the bush? Whose position will prevail in government?
Remember that, in the wake of the recent redistribution, Queensland will be the key battleground of the next election. Can you imagine the response of Liberal voters in Brisbane, who are being asked to vote for LNP candidates, when Hernan announces in the middle of an election campaign that Turnbull is not his leader?
The fact is that if the Queensland LNP federally wasn't deceased in all but name before this weekend, with Barnaby's ascension it surely now has assumed official dead parrot status.
One senior Queensland Liberal who is deeply concerned about the effect of the LNP on the Coalition's prospects in Queensland is shadow attorney-general George Brandis, who is also the only Queensland senator who sits in the shadow cabinet. Although Brandis declined to speak with this column about the issue, his views are well known. Put simply, it will now be impossible to mount any LNP campaign at all.
With Barnaby in charge of the Nationals at a federal level the Coalition will have enough trouble on its hands as it is. Just how, Liberals such as Brandis are asking, is it supposed to work in Queensland under an LNP ticket?
Says another senior federal Liberal: "Imagine telling people that Barnaby Joyce is anything but a National, or that George Brandis is anything other than a Liberal! But the people who created the LNP really did see themselves as eliminating the Liberal Party.
"Nationals voters will want to vote National, particularly those who identify with Barnaby. The advantage of a coalition is that it allows you to target different messages to different constituencies.
"The case for product differentiation is stronger in Queensland than anywhere else in the country. All that would be lost. We would be asking people to vote for the Coalition, yet running in the name of a party which isn't even a member of the Coalition, which doesn't even exist in Canberra. It would be a total fiasco."
All of which must lead students of history to wonder if it will be Turnbull who ends up playing Montezuma to Joyce's Cortes.
Look up the tale. For Montezuma the ending is not pretty.
There are currently no comments, be the first to post one.