May 29, 2006 | Graham

Merger demerging

The proposed Queensland merger appears to be still-born, going on statements made in the press this morning. Yesterday very reliable sources could tell me what the structure of the deal was, including some of the proposed changes to the Liberal Party constitution. They could also confidently tell me that John Howard was in favour and that the parliamentary entity would be meeting next week to elect its leadership team. Yet this morning both state presidents are playing down the firmness of the deal, and John Howard appears to be off-side.
Here are some of the quotes from this morning:

Geoff Greene (LP State Director): “The entity that will survive or continue on from the merger of the two parties will be the Liberal Party of Australia Queensland Division.” (ABC Radio 7:00 a.m. news)
Geoff Greene: “The arrangements that we have agreed to in principle would effectively operate under the Federal Liberal Party’s model.”
Bruce Scott (NP State President): “There’s a long way to go yet. It’s an agreement in principle. But we’ve never been at this stage before.”
Bob Quinn (LP Parliamentary Leader): “What we’re trying to do here is bring two parties together to have one united force in Queensland. There are… we’ve reached an in principle agreement between the two parties and we’re now going down to Canberra to talk to our federal colleagues about it.”
Bruce Scott: “Well Madonna, these talks will progress over the next few weeks. The proposed entity would be under the banner of the New Liberals…”
Warwick Parer (LP State President): “What we’ve said is we’re going through a process of discussions for a possible merger, and if it comes off, all the best. If it doesn’t come off, we will continue those discussions. They’ve been going on for years so there’s nothing very new in it. And if it did occur, it’s really evolution rather than revolution.”

My interpretation of all of this is that once the news became public telephones started ringing off the hooks with complaints leading to considerable back-peddling. Some of the major participants appear to have been misled about the agreement or otherwise of people like John Howard. Today an entirely different group of people is being misled as to what the extent of the planning was, and even how the merged entity was to be created and branded.
As George Brandis said,

“This has started to cause, not unity, but division and dispute. We need this like a hole in the head.”

It’s worth revisiting my posts from last year on the subject starting with “Pineapple party fruit salad – internal research” drawing on research that had been commissioned by Lawrence Springborg on the concept of a merger. In it the researcher Toby Ralph said:

…the process is extremely likely to be a catalyst that drives many current and potential voters away, thus utterly disastrous for the Coalition and suicidal for its political advocates.
Under no circumstance should Party leaders announce an “unresolved” merger in the hope that people will tolerate disagreements that will eventually be resolved. This would backfire badly.

He was right then, and he is right now. The result of the current furore is likely to be no merger and a reinforcement of negative community opinions about the durability and worthiness of any Coalition arrangement.
You can download the research here.

Posted by Graham at 12:15 pm | Comments (4) |
Filed under: Australian Politics


  1. Given that the National Party isn’t a national party, the Queensland Nats would be better off shoring up their support base by ensuring that the Katter phenomenon is a one-off and that the independent movements that gave rise to Tony Windsor, Dawn Fardell and Peter Andren in NSW do not take root in Queensland soil. This would have to mean that they give up their dream of winning seats in Brisbane and the Gold Coast, recognising that the results of 1983 and ’86 are freaks of history that can no more be repeated than the QLP split of 1957. It might be hard for the Nats to trust the Liberals as vote-winners, but without trust why have a Coalition at all?
    Queensland’s urban Liberals seem best when they represent their communities at a grass-roots level, which makes it hard for them to regain the statewide focus lost when Llew Edwards retired.
    The research sounds right – it takes two parties to shore up the conservative vote in Queensland. A unified entity would be more vulnerable to independents and Hansonites than a vigorous National/Queensland Party – not less. Urban(e) Liberals would not recognise themselves among reactionary hayseeds, and leading people in country towns would become independents rather than submit to the city machine. True, there’d be more money in the short term – but that would go to Federal campaigns, and money doesn’t cure all problems in state politics anyway.

    … with complaints leading to considerable back-peddling.

    I’d complain about the language used here: surely you mean “back-pedalling”, as in futile attempts to reverse the course of a bicycle one is riding.

    Comment by Andrew Elder — May 29, 2006 @ 4:23 pm

  2. Yep, you’re right Andrew. I did mean “pedalling”.

    Comment by Graham Young — May 29, 2006 @ 4:48 pm

  3. And just how would the parties keep secret such an important negotiation requiring the input of so many stakeholders?
    Its ok to have a little argy bargy. It will all have been worth it in the long run. 10 years from now (maybe even 10 months) Queensland will be thanking the Nats for their courageous decision.

    Comment by R — May 30, 2006 @ 8:24 am

  4. That’s my point – you can’t and shouldn’t keep it secret. But that’s what they’ve effectively done up to date. I’m also led to believe that two different propositions were put to each of the parties’ “management” committees, so it’s quite possible that the disagreements we are seeing aren’t back-pedalling at all, but the result of what one might charitably call “finessing”.

    Comment by Graham Young — May 30, 2006 @ 9:58 am

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