Smackdown: LNP Blocks Macfarlane Defection Bid

THE OBSCENITY of Ian Macfarlane’s attempted switch to the National Party — just weeks after seeking and receiving endorsement as a Liberal, whilst engaging in subterranean negotiations to defect — has been correctly torpedoed by the Queensland LNP, in a win for good sense that avoids a dangerous and insidious precedent. Macfarlane had threatened to quit politics if this outcome eventuated. He should now feel free to do his worst.

At the bottom line, Ian Macfarlane won the seat of Groom in 1998 as a Liberal Party candidate — backed by that party’s money and resources, and supported by that party’s members — and even though the Liberals and Nationals merged in Queensland seven years ago, Macfarlane’s debt to the Liberal Party for enabling him to have a political career at all is a continuing one.

As readers know, I have followed this issue with complete disgust and unbridled outrage ever since it broke a couple of weeks ago; extensive discussions with Liberals (and rather a few Nationals) across the country have shown my own reaction is hardly unique, although the opinions I’ve heard from those I’ve spoken to range from sheer fury among Liberals at the utter bastardry that has been attempted, to much hilarity that anyone would try to stop Macfarlane making good his threat to stomp out of politics if he didn’t get his way, and to some Nationals who are aghast that the sleight of hand and deceit underpinning the “coup” attempt were undertaken in the name of their party, which they feel has been sullied.

This afternoon — in a win for common sense, decency, principled politics, and what is right — the state executive of the Queensland LNP slapped down Macfarlane’s attempt to dump on the Liberal Party in a switch to the Nationals that was apparently motivated by disappointment over the loss of his ministerial post, and the half-baked idea he was an appropriate candidate to reclaim it through grubby and dubious means.

It disturbs me that the outcome of the vote of the 26-member state executive was by the narrowest possible margin — 14-12 — and in my view, the 12 who voted to allow Macfarlane’s defection ought to go away and have a good, long, hard look at themselves.

It doesn’t matter that Macfarlane’s local branch members voted 4-1 to sanction his defection; after all, since the Liberals and Nationals merged, Groom is one of a myriad of electorates across Queensland in which ex-Nationals outnumber ex-Liberals at the membership level, but one where voter preference in recent years has been for a Liberal MP in three-cornered contests rather than a National.

It might be human nature for ex-Nationals to support something that accords with their historical party allegiances, but it doesn’t automatically follow that they are right.

If the Nationals — as opposed to Macfarlane — had prevailed, it would have confirmed every suspicion held by Liberals in Queensland about their motives in merging the parties in the first place, and the fact an ex-National now sits in the LNP’s safest state seat in Brisbane underscores the breach of trust such an outcome would have constituted: if the merger was simply cover for a National Party land grab, as many of us suspected, it was completely unacceptable. The acquisition of Groom by using a disgruntled backbench Liberal MP as a cat’s paw would send the signal to Liberals in Brisbane that their interests would be better served back in their own, eponymous party.

Fortunately, that has been averted as well.

What is unquantifiable for now is the bad blood and hostility that will linger in the wake of what has been a tawdry, unsavoury affair, and whilst Macfarlane has received the only sanction his intentions merited, the scope for recriminations and squabbling is all too real.

For something that wasn’t even an option until his “friend” Malcolm Turnbull sacked him from the ministry, the opportunity cost of Macfarlane’s dalliance with the Nationals may yet prove high; it is inconceivable this move could have been attempted for any other reason than seeking to reclaim a ministry through the back door, and it is to Turnbull’s credit that he signalled, as I demanded yesterday, that Macfarlane would be unacceptable as a candidate for any additional ministry the Nationals might be entitled to if his defection attempt had succeeded.

When all is said and done, “Macca” — as Macfarlane is known by his mates — isn’t such a bad bloke.

But his behaviour over the three months since Turnbull replaced Tony Abbott as Prime Minister, and since losing his ministerial position, has rightly enraged virtually every active, committed Liberal in the country, and has left everything to be desired on a great many levels.

The unbelievable crassness of the enterprise is underlined by the statist, quasi-Marxist, pseudo-socialist performance he turned in as “Industry Assistance” minister that apparently and pompously helped legitimise his proposed course of action to himself, but which in truth showed him up as an irrelevance, and incompatible with a government of free enterprise, free markets, and small government.

It was also a public relations disaster for the government, although to be fair, some of the blame for that lies with the Prime Minister’s Office as it existed under Abbott, and the defective communications apparatus that operated on its watch.

Even so, Macfarlane is no loss to the ministry, be he a Liberal, National, or anything else. The subterfuge and intrigue, apparently contrived to get him his job back, was reprehensible.

Today’s vote by the Queensland LNP was the only possible outcome consistent with principle and decency in politics. To have sanctioned the Macfarlane move would have been to set the terrible precedent that an individual comes before the party, and that any disaffected failure could retrieve his or her fortunes simply by holding their party to ransom and selling it out to any other available bidder.

It also shut down the prospect of the LNP being rent asunder into separate Liberal and National parties, at a time when unity is paramount in one of the Coalition’s strongest states, and in the immediate runup to a federal election that is almost certain to be held in March or April.

To that end, if Macfarlane holds good to his threat to quit politics and does so with immediate effect, it isn’t even likely to force the government into the potential embarrassment of a by-election.

All of these things were the likely consequences of Macfarlane getting his way. Common sense and saner heads have prevailed. One insignificant MP has been prevented from causing serious and perhaps irreparable damage to the federal Coalition. If he has wounds to lick, he has only himself to blame.

If Macfarlane now wishes to act on his threat to walk away from Parliament altogether in a fit of pique, there remains only one thing to say.

Go for your life, Ian.


Queensland: Informal Vote Better Than Supporting Macfarlane

IF QUEENSLAND’S LNP makes itself complicit by endorsing the subterranean, treacherous, so-called “coup” that saw failed minister Ian Macfarlane announce a switch from the Liberal Party to the Nationals this week, voters in his seat of Groom would be best advised to vote informal. Macfarlane is a merit-free liability who directly contributed to the woeful record of the Abbott government. He does not deserve to remain in Parliament.

Readers well know my views on loyalty and standards in the political sphere, and my lack of compunction in tearing to shreds unprincipled creatures who bite the hand that feeds them where my own party is concerned and dump on it for personal purposes, as I did here for example.

Whilst there are many of us in the Liberal Party whose tolerance of Malcolm Turnbull as leader will endure only for as long as it takes for his reversion to form (circa 2009) to become complete most of us would never walk out on the party, which we understand will be around long after Turnbull has had his time in the sun and his ego-slaking stint as Prime Minister has concluded.

Some will of course leave, and that is to be expected.

When their ranks, however, include members of Parliament who have benefited from the party’s ability to fund their campaigns, the cohesive brand that carries them to office over poorly-resourced Independents and the forces of the Left, and the sweat and shoe leather of the rank and file (on whose back local and national wins by the Liberal Party are carried), the only direction they have a right to head in is out the door — and away from Parliament, until or unless they are able to stand again under a different banner, and receive the endorsement of their constituents for doing so.

The issue of “brand” may, to some, be a moot point in this case, given the LNP in Queensland is a merged entity of the state’s Liberal and National Parties, but I contend that far from dumbing down the matter of Macfarlane’s treachery, this only makes it worse: and with an eye to the National Party’s future across the country, stands to heighten it if his act of bastardry against the Liberals is permitted to stand. We will come back to that a little later.

But whilst I have in fact canvassed the prospect of conservative Liberal supporters voting for the National Party in the Senate in protest over the ascension of the Left-leaning Turnbull as a Liberal Prime Minister, we’re talking about ordinary voters, not Liberal Party members or its elected representatives; and in any case, if there is to be any kind of desertion of the Liberal Party as a backlash against Turnbull, I’d much prefer it if that protest went to the National Party rather than some band of fruit cake right-wing wackos, Labor, or — God forbid — the Communist Party Greens.

At least in the states the Nationals run Senate candidates — Western Australia, Victoria and New South Wales — those votes might be kept in the Coalition fold. At least, where Queensland’s LNP is concerned, voters could ascertain which Senate candidates propose to sit as Liberals if elected and which as Nationals, and decide their votes accordingly.

But where a Liberal member of Parliament is concerned, I contend no such latitude exists.

Regular readers will recall that I opened fire on Macfarlane on Thursday when news of his apparently self-obsessed, revenge-driven, pompously grandiose party switch became public; I do not intend to back off, and as far as I am concerned there is no value to be realised from even retaining him in Parliament, let alone bicker over whether he should sit as a Liberal or a National.

But as I omitted to mention during the week in that hurried, lunchtime post (but which has been noted in the press today) it was only a matter of weeks ago that Macfarlane’s endorsement for next year’s election — as a Liberal Party candidate — was finalised, and at the very minimum I think Thursday’s revelations render that preselection null and void.

In my view, it doesn’t matter (as some have reported) whether the local branches in Groom would “accept” Macfarlane’s switch of party or not: to be preselected as a Liberal, and subsequently seek to use that endorsement as cover to switch allegiance to the Nationals, is one of a number of abuses of Coalition process that seem implicit in what Macfarlane is up to.

Yes, he comes from an agricultural background that ostensibly sees him fit well with the National Party, as a farmer and former president of the Queensland Grain Growers’ Association; no, this does not legitimise his decision to skulk out of the Liberal Party to join the Nationals in the aftermath of his (deserved) dumping from the ministry, after 17 years as a Liberal MHR elected six times by the resources and recognition provided by the Liberal Party as an entity.

And it is safe to assert that he actually owes the Liberal Party for the fact he has had a parliamentary career at all; at his first election — in 1998 — the National Party candidate was outpolled by One Nation in a three-cornered contest, and was eliminated from the count earlier than One Nation during the distribution of preferences.

There is no reason to believe that a different Liberal candidate, boasting a comparable agricultural/farming pedigree to  Macfarlane’s, would have failed to be elected in 1998: and if Macfarlane had stood for the Nationals in Groom in 1998 rather than for the Liberals, we probably wouldn’t even be talking about him, so any suggestion he is absolved from the kind of debt of loyalty to the Liberal Party I am alluding to is a nonsense.

Then again, perhaps he only stood for the Liberals rather than the Nationals in 1998 in the first place because winning was more important than principle. If so, then it merely bolsters the arguments against him now.

And as we have already discussed, this failed “Minister for Industry Assistance” who was content to first continue to shovel out billions to a car industry that was not viable, in cahoots with unions who saw the money only as a tool by which to extort more from business and ultimately government, and secondly to shovel out money to a division of a company that made half a billion dollars in profit last year, has no case now, based on merit or performance, to be manipulating the Coalition agreement to return to a frontbench role by switching parties.

Such an exercise in gaming the Coalition to get his own arse back into a ministerial chair is another of the abuses of Coalition process I am talking about.

But the very notion that this could set Macfarlane up as a potential National Party leader (and the leverage such a move would provide the so-called “anyone but Barnaby” rump within the National Party) not only constitutes a third potential abuse of Coalition process, but raises the prospect of the Nationals self-immolating because some of their ilk cannot see the wood for the trees.

The party of Page and Fadden and McEwen and Anthony — with the possible exception of Tim Fischer — has lacked strong, popular leadership with broad appeal beyond the bush for decades; after the slow drift of rural populations to the coastal cities, it is probably the single greatest factor in the continued decline of the National Party politically from its peak in 1975.

Barnaby Joyce might not be particularly liked by all of his colleagues, but out in the wider electorate — even, perhaps especially, in larger towns and capital cities — Joyce is a well-regarded, if polarising, figure: his ascension to the National Party leadership would provide the party with a profile and a voice it really hasn’t had since Doug Anthony retired in 1984. It is no overstatement to suggest that a Joyce leadership would be the best thing to happen to the Nationals in at least 30 years.

Macfarlane as leader, by contrast, would make a semi-coherent self-obsessed promotion chaser — with no tangible grounding in principle or loyalty — merely the latest pushover for the Liberal Party to kick around from arsehole to breakfast.

Make no mistake: if Turnbull can sack his “friend” from the ministry (which, I reiterate from Thursday, actually shows a modicum of sound judgement by the Prime Minister), he can walk all over him as a Coalition partner if and when he has to.

In any leadership calculation, Macfarlane is a lightweight to whom any serious consideration given is an utter joke.

But it shouldn’t come to that.

Given Macfarlane’s preselection for Groom was only decided a short time ago — and given popular consensus in National Party ranks is that their “Scottish” coup was being planned months ago — I think it is fair to say Macfarlane sought and received re-endorsement as a Liberal on a false premise.

The only proper course for the LNP to follow is to declare Macfarlane’s endorsement null and void, reopen nominations for Groom, and conduct a further preselection process that may or may not seem him chosen as a National to contest the seat.

Anything else, I’m afraid, is tantamount to giving the green light for disaffected losers like Macfarlane to act as laws unto themselves, denying better people opportunities to serve won through legitimate and proper processes, and permitting self-important failures like Macfarlane to risk the integrity and cohesion of the conservative political firmament just because they were (correctly) dismissed — having proven themselves political liabilities through their own performance.

In truth, Macfarlane doesn’t even merit a seat in Parliament at all, and if the events of the past few days truly reflect his idea of acceptable standards of personal conduct, then quite frankly, fuck him.

There are plenty of better people than Macfarlane floating around the LNP branches on the Darling Downs who would potentially make excellent members of Parliament; it is now incumbent on the LNP hierarchy to reopen the Groom preselection and allow them to stand. Its constitution gives it the power to do so, and it set a precedent for the use of that power a year ago as it (rightly) manoeuvred to get rid of Bruce Flegg from the state seat of Moggill.

Should fresh preselections see Macfarlane emerge unscathed, opponents would have to abide by the result.

But if the LNP refuses to act at all — and Macfarlane is permitted to get away with the outrageous, self-interested act of treachery and bastardry he has committed — then Groom voters, who have elected Liberal MPs (usually in three-cornered contests against the Nationals) for almost 30 years would be within their right to simply vote informal, and this column is prepared to do everything possible to help ensure Macfarlane’s defeat if allowed to run as a National without another vote of the local party membership.