A new political party was launched in Queensland yesterday as the long-touted state merger of the Liberals and the Nationals finally came to pass. The executive of the new Liberal National Party (LNP) met in Brisbane and anointed former Nationals boss Bruce McIver as State President and former Liberal powerbroker Gary Spence as his deputy. The launch also introduced the new leadership team of Leader Lawrence Springborg, and Deputy Leader Mark McArdle. Like the presidential roles, the leadership and deputy roles were filled by former Nationals and Liberal leaders respectively, showing that Nationals remain the more powerful force in the combined entity.
Speaking in front of a thousand cheering fans, McIver said the launch marks the birth of a new era in Queensland politics. “The LNP is determined to offer the people of Queensland…a credible alternative to the current Government,” he said. “And a team with vision, built around the leadership of Lawrence Springborg and Mark McArdle.” New party leader Springborg said the creation of the LNP had ended conservative disunity which he described as the Labor government's “greatest asset”.
In his acceptance speech Springborg outlined four major areas the new party will focus on in the lead-up to the next election due in 2009. The four areas were: roads, hospitals, education and water. Springborg had the key backing of pro-merger Liberal MPs Tim Nicholls and Steve Dickson. He also received the endorsement of Liberal Brisbane mayor Campbell Newman who urged Liberal delegates to ignore calls by the party's federal president Alan Stockdale to delay the merger vote. Springborg attacked Stockdale and said the vote “can never be stopped and stymied by a few faceless men and women who seek to stand in the way.”
Embattled Federal Liberal leader Brendan Nelson came out in favour of the merger yesterday saying it would significantly strengthen the prospects of the conservatives defeating the Bligh Labor Government at the next state election. "We will all now work to see the best interests of the non-Labor side of politics are best served, both in Queensland and nationally," he said. Nelson’s statement came despite the last-minute Liberal moves to defer the vote over dispute over who would become president of the new party.
Crikey’s Bernard Keane says the LNP is merely the National Party with a Liberal rump. Apart from getting to go first in the name of the new party, Keane says the party is the “same clutch of dribbling hicks and divided incompetents [Queensland has] rejected for a decade.” He says that many Liberal members are now considering bailing out rather than joining a party that shares none of its basic beliefs. “The Nationals exist to promote the systematic abuse of government revenue and regulatory arrangements for the benefit of selected, primarily regional, industries and businesses,” he said. “Their record in government is one of corruption, rorting, rank incompetence and intolerance.”
But surprising or not, others accept the new arrangements, albeit with raised eyebrows. Andrew Bartlett called the merger a fait accompli and believes the merger will take the combined party further to the right. He said the new party fits comfortably with the “fundamentalist conservative right-wing mindset” of the Bjelke-Petersen era. But perceptively, Bartlett also points out that that the merger is less about ideology than it is about marketing. “Like any major party, it will try to focus on a few key messages and themes that it hopes will appeal to a majority of the electorate,” he said, “a large part of which will seek to focus on tapping into and building upon dissatisfaction with their opponent.”
Of course to do so, they will need to overcome dissatisfaction with their own side. As Poll Bludger points out, the new party structure over-represented rural and regional areas “in time-honoured Queensland style”. The newly elected Liberal state president Mal Brough has declared he will not join the new party. Brough maintains he is still officially the president of the Queensland Liberals until the federal party ratifies the merger. After that, he says he is undecided. "There's absolutely a career in politics if I want it, because that has been made very clear to me [by] my colleagues down south,” he said. “But whether I intend to do that or not is another thing altogether, that's not a decision I've taken.”