Defying the doomsayers, LNP shows the way forward
The federal election may hold a message for the Liberal Party and the Nationals. A national merger may be the smart way forward.
The strong performance of the Liberal National Party of Queensland in the 21 August poll runs counter to the prediction of the doomsaying merger critics and positioned the organisation strongly in the federal sphere.
When the next federal parliament sits, the LNP will have delivered 21 of the 73 coalition (and WA NP) members of the House of Representatives.
This defies the criticism and dire predictions that followed the formation of the merged party.
”I think Barnaby [Joyce] is wrong to be even contemplating wins; the LNP is falling well short of providing any reason for people to vote for them,” the 22 June 2010 Brisbane Times reported Mal Brough as saying.
“If Tony Abbott wants to be prime minister, he has to win in Queensland … But the one thing that could stand in his way is his own party, or at least that hybrid mix of Nationals and Liberals who have hijacked the local franchise,” the Australian editorialised on 16 June 2010.
“The merged Queensland Liberal National Party now has no future federally—if it ever did—and the two wings of the conservative political movement north of the Tweed are likely to be in a death roll when Kevin Rudd calls the next election, which could be won or lost in his home state,” the Australian’s Glenn Milne wrote on 5 October last year.
Wrong, wrong, wrong.
Statistics compiled by the LNP soon after the federal election dispel many of the myths that have been promoted by opponents of the merger and some elements of the media. (See tables below.)
The LNP achieved a swing in Queensland almost twice the size of that which the coalition achieved nationally.
The commentary on the Queensland result so far has tended to attribute the LNP’s success to the so-called “Rudd factor” and an anti-Bligh protest. That explanation avoids the need to consider the fact that the Liberal-National merger itself might have had something to do with the very positive result.
The election results do not support the “Rudd sympathy factor” thesis.
For example, even in the former prime minister’s own electorate there was a marked lack of sympathy. In Griffith, Kevin Rudd suffered a swing of 8.68 per cent on primary votes and 4.47 per cent 2PP. The 2PP swing against Labor statewide was 5.32 per cent. Not much sympathy there for Mr Rudd.
Compare the Kevin Rudd result with that achieved by that other deposed leader, Malcolm Turnbull, in Wentworth. Turnbull increased his primary vote by 9.58 per cent and the 2PP by 11.19 per cent – compared with a NSW statewide 2PP swing to the coalition of 4.73 per cent.
More plausible reasons for the LNP’s success would be the electoral dissatisfaction with the Bligh Labor government contaminating the federal Labor vote, and the performance and appeal of the merged party itself. We have heard much about the former, notwithstanding the constant assurances that the electorate is habitually fed about the voters’ ability to distinguish the local from the federal. On the subject of the LNP’s actual performance we have heard next to nothing.
There is a view that a national merger would overcome the relative disparity between the coalition’s urban and non-metropolitan vote. At just over 52 per cent, the coalition’s non-metropolitan vote is inadequate and far less than it should be. The regional seats currently held by independents are examples of those that ought to be inside the Liberal-National camp.
Other realities that a merger would address are the need to get serious about regional policy and strategy and the efficiency and effectiveness of campaign funding.
A merged party would provide more intellectual capital for policy development.
Without the wasted campaign expenditure involved in three-cornered contests—something to the order of $750,000 in the 2010 election—more resources could be deployed where they are needed most – in marginal seat contests.
The Nationals’ independent posturing, in reality, fools no-one. Electors know that the Nationals are members of a team and play by team rules. But by pretending to be independent and then not being so, the Nationals set up a key performance indicator that real independents can exploit with success.
Amalgamation holds another appeal. A merged right-of-centre political party nationally could tilt the policy balance away from the predilections of trendy urban liberals and weight it more towards a truly conservative agenda. Rather than being “Labor-lite”, the national entity might be better positioned to offer Australians the real alternative they seek.
The analysis below is an updated version of the post-election LNP assessment:
FACT 1: SWING TO LNP – STATE V STATE
The LNP secured the largest swing to the Coalition of any state or territory in the nation; the swing to the LNP of 5.37% was almost twice the size of the national swing of 2.71%.
”I think Barnaby is wrong to be even contemplating wins; the LNP is falling well short of providing any reason for people to vote for them.” – Mal Brough, 22nd June 2010, Brisbane Times.
“The state of the Queensland LNP is obviously a great concern to their Federal Liberal counterparts. Obviously Queensland is a state full of must win seats. It’s a key battleground coming up for this election and a lot of people outside of Queensland are starting to think that the LNP might be the weak link in Tony Abbott’s chances of election” – Paul Williams, political commentator, ABC Radio, 14 June 2010.
“IF Tony Abbott wants to be prime minister, he has to win in Queensland, where marginal seats delivered power to John Howard in 1996 and Kevin Rudd 11 years later. But the one thing that could stand in his way is his own party, or at least that hybrid mix of Nationals and Liberals who have hijacked the local franchise. “ – The Australian, Editorial, 16 June 2010.
“The merged Queensland Liberal National Party now has no future federally – if it ever did – and the two wings of the conservative political movement north of the Tweed are likely to be in a death roll when Kevin Rudd calls the next election, which could be won or lost in his home state.” – Glenn Milne, The Australian, 5th October 2009.
FACT 2: OVERALL VOTE – STATE V STATE
The LNP secured the second highest overall two-party vote for the Coalition out of all the states and territories; second only to Western Australia.
”I get calls on a regular basis from people saying they want to be members of a centre-right party but they have nowhere to go,” – Mal Brough, 22nd June 2010, Brisbane Times
“The second problem is a batch of dud candidates in winnable Labor seats who were endorsed at local level when the party had little hope of victory. Some of them could be the best thing Kevin Rudd has going for him. The third problem is the LNP itself, a problematic mix of prickle farmers on the far Right, sophisticated small “l” liberals on the Left and those in between. So far, it has failed to rebuild the credibility of non-Labor politics.” – The Australian, Editorial, 16 June 2010.
“And while Mr Abbott has declared four target seats for the LNP – Longman, Flynn, Dawson and Leichardt – the federal opposition will struggle to hold two of its own. In Dickson, opposition health spokesman Peter Dutton will be hoping constituents forget how he unsuccessfully tried to shift to a safer seat on the Gold Coast. In recent weeks, the three-term hold on the Brisbane seat of Ryan by Michael Johnson has been dealt a blow by his own party, which refused to approve his preselection…” – The Australian, 27 March 2010.
FACT 3: SENATE VOTE – STATE V STATE
(Based on preliminary count for first preference ‘Group’ votes): The LNP secured the second highest swing in the Senate, of all states and territories, and also secured the second highest Senate total.
FACT 4: CAMPAIGN EFFECTIVENESS – NUMBER OF SEATS FOR % SWING
While swings in QLD and New South Wales were the strongest, only the LNP in Queensland seems to have been able to translate the swing into real seat gains. With Labor needing to lose 8 seats nation-wide to forgo its majority, about seven of those eights seats could come from Queensland alone.
FACT 5: POOR PERFORMING STATE GOVERNMENTS BLAMED – QLD v NSW
While there is a tendency to blame poor performing Labor State Government’s for Labor’s losses, the facts indicate that it is more about effectiveness of state campaigns.
In NSW the Coalition was unable to capitalise on poor polling of Labor’s State Government: only securing 50.35% of the two-party vote in that state and winning far fewer seats than in Queensland for a similar sized swing.
FACT 6: SWINGS BY SEAT – CONSISTENT SWINGS
The LNP consistently secured two-party swings in every single seat across Queensland except Fisher.
“In Canberra, Queensland Liberal frontbenchers Steve Ciobo and George Brandis have been warning Turnbull that the LNP will be unworkable at a federal election” – Glenn Milne, The Australian, 5th October 2009.
“Some are also questioning whether Bert van Manen is the best the party can do in the winnable Labor seat of Forde.” – Editorial, The Australian, 16 June 2010.
FACT 7: RYAN PRESELECTION – RAMIFICATIONS OF RYAN DISENDORSEMENT/PRESELECTION
The LNPs candidate for Ryan, Jane Prentice, secured a +5.82% swing which was higher than the state-wide swing of +5.03%. The swing to Prentice was also higher than that secured by Tony Abbott in his own seat.
FACT 8: LONGMAN PRESELECTION – RAMIFICATIONS OF LONGMAN PRESELECTION:
The LNPs candidate for Longman, Wyatt Roy, secured both a higher primary vote and a higher two-party vote than defeated Howard Government Minister Mal Brough.
“There is a large component of veterans and seniors in the electorate. I find it hard to see how a 19-year-old will connect with these people, who have so much life experience. By the looks of him, he will struggle to even gain entry into the Bribie Island RSL – he should probably carry his ID.” – Mal Brough, The Weekend Australian, 23rd March 2010.
”But I do have a twenty-year-old son and if I were asked if I’d want him to represent me in federal Parliament, the answer would be no.” – Mal Brough, 22nd June, Brisbane Times.
“Now that might be the case with Mr Roy, that obviously there’s been some public concerns about Mr Roy is too young to represent them in Canberra … the fact that it has received so much press coverage and it’s the third, as I said, the third incident of not getting the preselection right as it were, you know this may well have an effect on the outcome of the vote.” – Paul Williams, political commentator, ABC Radio, 14th June 2010.
“And in Longman, north of Brisbane, where Labor’s margin is 1.7 per cent, the LNP has preselected 20-year-old student Wyatt Roy, whose lack of life and workplace experience are major impediments.” – The Australian, Editorial, 16 June 2010.
FACT 9: DICKSON PRESELECTION – RAMIFICATIONS OF DICKSON PRESELECTION
Despite early concerns that redistribution in Dickson made the seat unwinnable for the LNPs Peter Dutton, a swing to the LNP greater than the state-wide average was secured.
“He could have run again in Dickson but he’d lose. That’s not because Rudd is unassailable in 2010, though he probably is, but because what was left of Dickson has been pulled out from under the Liberals by the most recent redistribution.” – Glenn Milne, The Australian, 28th September 2009.