IF ALLOWING Liberal dog Ian Macfarlane to defect to the Nationals is unavoidable — we’ll know tomorrow, when Queensland’s LNP upholds or scuppers a blessing given by his branch members — he must not, in good conscience and based on performance, be given a ministry. Macfarlane deserves scorn and contempt. A well-resourced Independent should regard him, and his seat of Groom, as fair game if the LNP implicates itself in his treachery.
Whilst I have great affection and respect for our friends over at the National Party, readers know very well the contempt with which I view political disloyalty and treachery, especially where self-interest, personal gain and delusional ambition are involved; in any case, and as far as I am concerned, the Nationals are having someone’s backside wiped on them in the distasteful process being played out on the Darling Downs at present, and if ejecting Ian Macfarlane from the Coalition altogether is impossible, the next best thing is to marginalise the bastard completely — and to ensure the country isn’t once again encumbered by having his dubious services as a minister inflicted upon it.
I have been reading the Courier-Mail this morning, which is carrying a story that suggests (as we already knew) that if Macfarlane’s defection is permitted to stand by the Queensland LNP’s state executive, the National Party will be entitled to an additional Cabinet post at the expense of the Liberal Party, and whilst this may be an unavoidable outcome of the bastardry Macfarlane has seen fit to engage in, he cannot and must not be allowed to secure that Cabinet spot for himself.
What it also suggests, however, is that the LNP will roll over and allow Macfarlane’s act of treachery to stand, which speaks to some of the very real objections I had to the amalgamation of the Liberals and Nationals in Queensland in the first place — specifically, the consequent ability of ex-Nationals to use their superior grassroots numbers north of the Tweed to ride roughshod over ex-Liberals if and when desired — and which I spelt out in an opinion piece in the same newspaper at the time.
To be sure, what is going on in relation to the prized conservative electorate of Groom right now is and was a foreseeable repercussion of that stupid merger, and it has the potential to cause tremendous instability and political trouble not just in Queensland, but to adversely affect Coalition relations across Australia.
This has been a tawdry, noxious affair, and it isn’t even finished yet; nobody will publicly confirm it, but it does rather seem that at least part of Macfarlane’s motivation was to help prop up Agriculture minister Barnaby Joyce in the ballot for the National Party leadership if, as expected, Warren Truss retires from the post early next year.
I have been a long-time advocate and supporter of Joyce, and it must be said that if this is true, he has lowered his colours; if the reports that he made overtures to fellow Queensland Liberal Scott Buchholz to also defect to the Nationals for the same reason are correct, then he has well and truly lowered his colours indeed.
There are those in the National Party who dislike Joyce, or at the very least, regard him as “unsuitable” to lead their party; that, of course, is a matter for National MPs to resolve among themselves when the time to do so arrives.
But aside from the fact he is alleged to have sought to import leadership votes from the Liberals, Joyce offers the National Party something it hasn’t had for decades: brand recognition. Public visibility. National awareness (no pun intended). And a profile that permeates not just the regional and provincial centres that continue to sustain the National Party in the first place, but one that can penetrate marginal electorates in the outer suburbs of capital cities and extend the appeal of the party.
If the stories of Joyce’s vote-gathering activities are true, let it be shown that my disapproval has been expressed.
Even so, it would be political lunacy for the Nationals to replace Truss with anyone other than Barnaby Joyce.
There is a story that has been doing the rounds over the past week or so — dormant for now, but not quite extinct — that Macfarlane himself could replace Truss, and aside from the grotesque prospect of the Nationals surrendering their leadership to an interloper and turncoat, Macfarlane as National Party leader would be tantamount to providing grounds for the Liberals to dissolve the Coalition agreement and govern in minority, at least until next year’s election.
(After all, even with Macfarlane’s defection, Liberals would still hold 75 of the 150 lower house seats: and as I put it to an associate during the week, who did not disagree with me, Liberals would probably win between a third and half of the National-held seats if freed from the Coalition agreement and allowed to stand against them: bye bye National Party, although that’s a discussion for another time).
But either way, this brings us back squarely to the merits or otherwise of Macfarlane — as we discussed last week, here and here — and just as he is utterly inappropriate as a potential “leader” of the National Party, he is also a completely inappropriate choice to fill one of its allocated ministerial slots.
Liberals, if his defection is sanctioned by the LNP, can scarcely object to the Nationals being given an additional Cabinet berth; the defection of Nationals Senator Julian McGauran to the Liberals a decade ago was used as the pretext to take a Cabinet spot from the junior Coalition partner by John Howard, although Howard did see to it that the Nationals’ overall frontbench representation remained unchanged.
Some of the sting was taken out of that episode, however, by McGauran declaring he wasn’t interested in a ministry: he just wanted to serve out the remainder of his term as a Liberal. It’s a mitigating precedent Macfarlane would do well to follow — voluntarily or involuntarily.
Yet “Minister for Industry Assistance” Macfarlane — whose botched and spectacularly inept performance in the Abbott government made him a candidate for disendorsement altogether, if objectively assessed — cannot and must not be restored to the ministry now, let alone to Cabinet.
For starters, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull — who exhibited the good sense to dump his friend to the backbench when his first ministerial line-up was announced — should show some backbone and some bottle, and flatly refuse to allow Macfarlane to serve in his government; the circumstances of Macfarlane’s infiltration of the National Party alone are more than enough to justify such a position, and his quasi-socialist, interventionist, market-distorting approach to his last ministerial post merely underlines just how unwarranted a promotion would be now.
There is the small matter of the abhorrence and repugnance of Macfarlane’s political conduct, which I regard as little better (or different) to that of turncoat South Australian state Liberal MP Martin Hamilton-Smith, who went off and jumped into bed with the ALP, and those who missed it can see what I thought of that particular piece of handiwork here.
The article I linked to earlier from the Courier-Mail raises “fears” within the National Party that it won’t have a Cabinet minister from Queensland after Truss retires as a justification for entertaining Macfarlane’s behaviour; I say those fears are based on a false premise — he’s not suitable to hold high office as a Liberal, and the idea he is any more suitable to do so as a National is fatuous — but in any case, someone like Matt Canavan from Queensland would be a far more appropriate beneficiary of the extra Nationals spot than Macfarlane.
And if Canavan is deemed unsatisfactory, for whatever reason — and if he is, then that reflects on LNP preselection standards and processes more than anything — then elevating Macfarlane is a poke in the eye to interstate Nationals who thoroughly deserve promotion when the opportunity arises.
Bridget McKenzie from Victoria is, in my view, at the top of such a list, but Darren Chester, Luke Hartsuyker and Fiona Nash would all be justified in feeling aggrieved if passed over for a dud and an opportunistic party-hopper like Macfarlane.
To me, it doesn’t matter that LNP branch members in Groom overwhelmingly voted to approve Macfarlane’s party-hopping; their ranks are heavily skewed in favour of the National Party, and to the extent that vote is relevant at all, it is merely to highlight what was wrong with the amalgamation of the conservative parties in the first place.
There is no principle that can vindicate what Macfarlane, re-endorsed as a Liberal just last month by largely the same people, has done, and it cannot be said the branch members have voted “on principle” now. They have simply seen the opportunity to pilfer a seat from the Liberals and taken it.
The last line of defence against Macfarlane — and an opportunity to instil any decency at all in this process — now rests with the LNP’s state executive.
And for what it’s worth — now aged 60, hardly a long-term prospect, and armed only with a ministerial record under Tony Abbott that would make interventionist socialists blush — I don’t think Macfarlane offers any value to the Coalition whatsoever, irrespective of what party he thinks will best serve his own prospects for advancement.
If being a National Party backbencher is the least odious outcome possible, then thus it should be, but the LNP now has a moral and ethical obligation to halt the Macfarlane “buggernaut” in its tracks.
For, frankly, what it is being asked to sanction is nothing less than an act of political buggery.
In the final analysis, Macfarlane is an endorsed Liberal candidate who has opted to stand for someone else, and as far as I’m concerned that makes him fair game: he’s already standing against the party whose endorsement he secured just a few weeks ago.
If that endorsement was obtained under false pretences to enable him to spit in the Liberal Party’s eye, which seems likely, then in my view he’s owed nothing: the finer points of the Queensland LNP’s subterranean mechanics notwithstanding.
A well-credentialled independent conservative candidate standing against Macfarlane in Groom — able to attract donations and resources locally — would merit the support of those voters who share the disgust of many in the LNP and the Liberal Party across the country, and who find the machinations in which such a mediocrity and ministerial failure has chosen to indulge himself repugnant at best.
But should such a candidate fail to emerge, the only appropriate vote in Groom at the coming election, for non-Labor voters, is an informal vote: and if that means the classic blue ribbon Darling Downs seat has to spend a term in unfriendly hands to flush the insidious Macfarlane out of Parliament once and for all, then so be it.
The LNP state executive should carefully consider the ramifications of its actions before it votes on Macfarlane tomorrow, and at the very minimum it should look beyond the obvious option of using ex-Nationals to poke the Liberal Party in the eye, just because it can.