Liberal National Party: Not Such A Happy Family

The Barnaby Joyce and Craig Kelly saga was a mere sign of things to come.

The revelation that Barnaby Joyce approached Craig Kelly to join the Nationals if he lost pre-selection for the Liberal Party in his outer metropolitan Sydney seat of Hughes is merely a sign of things to come in terms of tensions between the Coalition parties.

Most of the tensions emanate further north in Queensland – the power base of the Nationals. As we unpack the challenges the conservative side of politics faces, remember that while Joyce now represents a northern NSW seat, he was first elected as a Queensland Nationals senator, and he barracks for the Maroons in State of Origin.

The Coalition agreement is a secret document, but there have long been uneasy parts to the relationship. Queensland is the only state in Australia where the Nationals dominate the Liberal Party. The unusual spread of the Queensland population has seen the Nationals able to win more seats across the regions than the Liberals usually pick up in the capital city of Brisbane.

However, with the growing population of Brisbane, combined with the removal of a gerrymander going back to the days of Sir Joh, the decision was made some years back to merge the parties, thereby allowing a Liberal to lead the Frankenstein beast, not just a National. This would make the party more appealing to city folk, so the theory went, making electing the conservatives in Queensland state politics more likely.

Kelly and Joyce. AAP Images

But the merged party – known as the LNP – has caused complications in Canberra. MPs elected in Queensland need to pledge allegiance to either the Nationals or the Liberal Party, thereafter only attending that party’s party room meetings.

The merger of the parties sees Nationals more freely involving themselves in Liberal Party business. In short, it makes it more likely that we will see situations like Joyce approaching Kelly to switch parties. Don’t forget it wasn’t that long ago that Ian Macfarlane went all the way, and on an approach from Joyce moved from the Liberals to the Nationals. Unlike Kelly he was a Queenslander, so all he had to do was switch party rooms rather than parties.

Off the back of the Kelly story we broke on 10 News First on Tuesday, a very senior Liberal contacted me to say: “My tip remains Abbott and others will still propose a merger of party rooms to deal with these issues (ie the ones they create, and the LNP creates).”

READ MORE: Barnaby Joyce's Secret Plan To Turn Craig Kelly Into A National

He didn’t stop there, offering a detailed exposition on the challenges the LNP create in Canberra.

“The LNP has been threatening to sit as a separate party room for years now; the LNP was itself created after the 07 loss when the Liberal Party was very weak; it was created by Nats and so-called conservative Libs who were promised power in the new structure; years ago some of the right used to argue for a party merger to stop waste on three-cornered contest, it was also about bringing the Nats into the LP room for leadership ballots (think about it).”

“Add all that up and I see it as possible people will try to pull it on if we lose an election, in the aftermath of immediate weakness of the LP, it will also allow people to avoid the reality of what triggered the loss. Of course, the LNP has been a complete disaster, opening up the right flank to Pauline Hanson.”

While Liberals should be worried about the influence of the LNP, it’s also interesting to think about the approach to Kelly in the context of whether or not the Nationals can grow their vote beyond the regions. Off camera Kelly and I discussed the interesting idea that if the Liberal Party walks away from its so-called “conservative base”, perhaps there is room for a more Conservative party like the Nationals to broaden its appeal into seats like Hughes. I suspect that’s unlikely, but clearly, the likes of Kelly and Joyce have thought about it.