Election reflections: The Liberals should ditch the Coalition with the Nationals

Apr 4, 2023
Sydney Australia - May 31, 2017: People visit NSW Parliament house in Sydney Australia.

There are some important lessons for the Liberal Party to learn from their recent series of election losses. There is no necessary law of political gravity which means that a party which has entered a losing sequence needs or will continue to do so. But if you keep making the same mistakes it is most likely that you will keep getting the same result.

In seeking to draw lessons from the recent results it is important to realise that while the NSW state election was not quite as bad as it appeared on the night, the Aston by-election was even worse than the “extraordinary” reports on the night. Commentators, and particularly Liberal commentators including Peter Dutton, have claimed the loss of Alan Tudge’s personal vote as a mitigating factor in their disastrous loss. However, the data shows that Alan Tudge actually underperformed compared to the Liberal performance in adjacent seats by as much as 3%. Therefore, there was a soft 3% that should have been easy for the Liberals to pick up at a by-election and yet they went backwards by more than 6%.

Much analysis will follow about appropriate Liberal responses to their current electoral plight. Some of these are policy matters and others are organisational. It is not appropriate for a life-long Labor man to offer opinions on such matters.

But there is one lesson I believe it would be in the Liberals interests and the national interest for the Liberals to learn.

They need to break out of the coalition with the Nationals!

I noticed Nikki Savva’s recent article in which she raised the possibility of the NSW Liberals dissolving the coalition in opposition. She also says the NSW Liberals believe the federal Liberals should do the same.

This would not be unique, it happens in WA, but it would be unusual. But it would also be very smart.

Anyone who takes a clear-eyed view of the political problems the Liberals face with young professional voters in urban areas, particularly young women, must accept that this problem is going to be impossible to solve while the Liberals are tied to the Nationals.

How will the Liberal candidate attempting to win back Warringah from the Teals, Brisbane from the Greens or Higgins from Labor be able to mount a credible case with Barnaby Joyce and Matt Canavan with their views about climate change and other issues as a potential part of any government those candidates would be seeking support to form.

This might not be the case in a decentralised state like Queensland, although I think it probably is, but in NSW, Victoria and federally it is a reality which has to be faced.

The coalition is a one-way street. All the benefits flow to the Nationals.

If the Nationals were a party to the right of the Liberals as the Greens are a party to the left of Labor, some form of political equilibrium might be established to the benefit of the Liberals.

What are the Nationals going to do in response? Support the Labor Party? I don’t think so.

The recent NSW and federal elections saw the Nationals crowing that they held all their seats (although in fact in NSW they did not do so). This illustrates their priority, building up massive majorities and fighting off Independents in their safe seats, but showing no interest in helping the Liberals win their urban marginals.

For example, recent polling shows that young voters in WA support the Voice referendum 71/29 and yet the Nationals were quick out of the blocks to oppose the proposal, and it looks like they might lead the Liberals by the nose to do the same.

Furthermore, the Nationals are a declining force. As Australian population continues to grow in the major cities and sea-change trends weaken the Nationals’ hold on coastal seats their influence on electoral outcomes will inevitably continue to decline.

In addition, there is real political mileage for the Labor governments at all levels to pursue the question of the secret agreements between the Liberals and the Nationals in forming a coalition. This secrecy cannot survive in the 21st century and any attempt to do so will only weaken the Liberals further.

The idea of ditching the coalition in opposition makes good sense. If the Liberals have the courage to do it, they may find that it will be easier to ditch the “Skynews after dark” crowd and resist the religious fundamentalists infiltration of their party.

And then they may find that they don’t need a coalition to form a government in future. Confidence and Supply agreements with the Nationals would be enough.

It may seem strange that I am giving advice to the Liberals. I could say that as a democrat I want to see a stronger opposition.

The reality is I feel safe in providing this advice because I am so confident that the contemporary Liberal party is not capable of acting on such advice.

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