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.