News that the Liberals and Nationals plan to merge in Queensland took everyone, including most members of both parties, by surprise. Amalgamation has had a chequered history in Queensland with the present parties’ forebears having been merged from 1923 to 1936 and 1941 to 1943. It was discussed among academics and party members at a Round Table in 1990, while 18 months ago it was formally proposed by Lawrence Springborg, the leader of the Opposition, only to be flatly turned down by all sections of the Liberal Party.
Queensland is the only state where the Nationals are the larger of the two parties, a factor which has impacted on state politics in several ways. First the Liberals were constantly split, when in government between those wanting power at all costs and prepared to acquiesce to National demands and those who wanted to carve out a separate Liberal position. The collapse of the coalition in 1983 rendered the Liberals an irrelevancy in state politics, a fate which befell the Nationals in 1989.
Second the Nationals are a spent force. They currently hold 16 seats and the most optimistic scenario can give them only another five or six, so this would add up to 22 out of 89 seats, just under half the number required to form a government. The Liberals hold seven after two by-election victories, so they would have to win another 16 seats for a coalition to return to power and would require an anti-Labor swing of epic proportions.
The question is, can an amalgamated party achieve what a coalition cannot? The answer at present is that there is no evidence that a merged anti-Labor party would be more electable than the coalition. Equally there is no evidence to the contrary, so the proposal represents a massive gamble, suggesting that the movers behind the merger calculated they had nothing to lose and might break the cycle of a quarter of a century of electoral failure.
However, there are two further considerations. One is that this was a deal done secretly at the top level of both organisations and forced on all sections of both parties. There was evidently no consultation and no transparency in the stitching together of the deal. That may yet prove to be an extremely stupid decision as whatever else it may be, democracy in operation it is not. Second, if it is true as reported, that pressure was exerted by sections of the business community to bring this about, then that is dangerous. Business people are not necessarily politically skilled and in any case have their own agendas as an interest lobby. To be forced into an amalgamation for financial reasons suggests both fiscal and political bankruptcy.
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