When Lawrence Springborg proposed amalgamation of the Liberals and the Nationals in Queensland last week, it revived a very old debate. When it has arisen before, the debate has always centred around two propositions, the one in favour being that of synergy, the one against being that of incompatibility.
These days there is a new factor: the National Party is in terminal decline. Now, the National Party pursues amalgamation not to achieve government but to cheat political death.
The same thing can be said of Lawrence Springborg. In Queensland’s current political climate, Mr Springborg cannot hope to be Premier. Neither can anyone else in his party room. That is the reason for what is a bold ploy. His long-term political survival is staked on amalgamation. One might think it silly to stake one’s career on something that is almost certainly bound to fail, but it is only silly if one’s career has any hope in any other scenario. Like his mentor, Rob Borbidge, Mr Springborg is forever looking over his shoulder to see whether one of the party rednecks is creeping up to lynch him. A comparatively urbane and sophisticated man, Mr Springborg is just not representative of the earthier, more direct members of the National Party who come from its main and dwindling constituency.
Mr Springborg needs amalgamation to justify himself to those people.
The Liberal Party, on the other hand, looks at the National Party and sees a party that has a much greater grass roots membership but a much smaller base in the community. It sees its own processes, agenda and interests being hijacked by a group of people who have already driven their own party machine into the ground.
The answer - uttered time and time again as though it is some revealed truth - is that the non-Labor parties cannot win government unless they amalgamate. That view persists despite the examples of the Borbidge Government and the Bjelke Petersen, Pizzey and Nicklin Governments. That view persists despite the more obvious explanation: that both the Liberal Party and the National Party have continually served up dopes to the community. Thankfully, with its latest crop of MLAs in Queensland, the Liberal Party seems to have broken from that course.
The Beattie Government has a massive majority. It faces an opposition, which more often than not, is out to lunch on the big issues. It controls information so as to avoid embarrassment for its myriad failures despite its pretensions to accountability. It will probably win the next election because, by then, it should have fixed the electricity problems, or at least the associated publicity difficulties.
All that being so, the Beattie Government, like the Goss Government before it, is deeply secretive and obstructive of those who want to hold it to account. There will come a day when it will be struck by a scandal it cannot survive. When that happens, the electorate will turn away. The demographics which will be most concerned with such an issue will be urban ones: The Liberal Party will be the major benefactor.
When that happens, the structural problem with Queensland politics - namely the continued numerical superiority of the National Party over the Liberal Party - will be broken. The Liberal Party, which is the only non-Labor party which remains a serious prospect, will then be able to offer a long term alternative to the Labor Party in Queensland.
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