December 19th 2015


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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY The first Christmas: a birth that set fire to men's hearts

CANBERRA OBSERVED A Nationals welcome no sure thing for Macfarlane

CLIMATE CHANGE $100bn a year climate fund the rub in Paris deadlock

FAMILY AND SOCIETY Free speech petition: appeal all 'right not to be offended' clauses

WATER POLICY Review tells of destruction of farms in Goulburn Valley

CULTURE AND POLITICS Liberalism's disappearing act on human freedom

TAX REVIEW Rise in GST a no go when the need is for jobs

HISTORY Taiwan's first people have survived waves of settlers

FREEDOM OF RELIGION Law not broad enough to contain freedom's flow

SPEECH IN PARLIAMENT Credit where credit is long overdue: B.A. Santamaria

FAMILY AND SOCIETY Swedish daycare part II: problems of weak parenting

CINEMA No life is lived as an island: It's a Wonderful Life

BOOK REVIEW A contribution to Pope Francis' call for a conversation on conservation

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CANBERRA OBSERVED A
Nationals welcome no sure thing for Macfarlane




News Weekly, December 19, 2015

The defection of Ian Macfarlane from the Liberal Party to the Nationals has been a harsh gearshift in the internal dynamics of the Coalition so soon after Malcolm Turnbull’s era of “new politics”, but is also causing friction within Nationals ranks about the future leadership of the party.

Ian Macfarlane

Liberal MPs reacted with shock when they learned that the 17-year veteran of federal politics had thrown his oar in with the junior Coalition partner, but the shock soon turned to anger when they learned Macfarlane’s real motivation was not merely pique but to reinstall himself in the Cabinet.

Mr Macfarlane was acknowledged as a solid performer as industry minister in the Abbott government, and he possessed valuable corporate knowledge from his six years as minister in the Howard government.

Interestingly, Mr Macfarlane was also Mr Turnbull’s numbers man in earlier leadership battles and the pair were said to be friends.

However, Mr Turnbull brutally dumped Mr Macfarlane from Cabinet and from the frontbench because the new PM was under pressure to find room for fresh faces, and particularly to lift the number of women in Cabinet.

Rather than languish on the backbench or quit politics altogether (as former small business minister Bruce Billson has decided to do), the Queensland MP has cleverly dealt himself back into the game by his switching from the Liberals to the Nationals.

(Mr Macfarlane is a member of the Queensland LNP but his seat of Groom is designated a Liberal seat for the purposes of the federal parliamentary parties).

Mr Macfarlane turned 60 this year and, aside from his trademark gravelly voice caused by treatment for laryngeal cancer a decade ago, he is fit and healthy and has no desire to quit politics.

Mr Macfarlane himself initiated the switch, reportedly first approaching his old friend and Nationals Leader Warren Truss, who helped smooth the deal with key people within the volatile Queensland LNP. It was enthusiastically supported by Nationals Deputy Barnaby Joyce, who saw the move as strengthening the clout of the Nationals within the Coalition.

Under the Coalition agreement the additional MP in the Nationals ranks alters the ratio between the two parties, entitling the Nationals to an extra ministry at the expense of the Liberals, many of whom are none too happy about Mr Macfarlane’s Machiavellian manoeuvrings and have said so publicly.

If Macfarlane manages to get back into the Cabinet room, some ambitious Liberal MPs will have to step back in the queue. Attorney-General and fellow Queenslander George Brandis says the move has left a bitter taste in the mouths of his former Liberal colleagues.

But even among the Nationals Mr Macfarlane’s defection is not universally popular. Younger ambitious MPs will also have to wait their turn for promotion, and plans have had to be put on hold. In reality the fact that Mr Macfarlane’s defection to the Nationals entitles them to an additional minister, no one is actually missing out in the Nationals. But the perception is that a former Liberal is potentially leap-frogging them into Cabinet.

Mr Macfarlane’s name has also been mentioned as a possible future leader or deputy of the Nationals, although this was not Mr Macfarlane’s motivation for switching parties. However, Warren Truss has reportedly wanted an alternative candidate to Barnaby Joyce as leader when he retires some time in 2016 because the other aspirants in the Nationals – such as Michael McCormack and Darren Chester – are not yet experienced enough to be leader.

Mr Truss has been a steady hand, a thorough and meticulous minister and a reliable Deputy Prime Minister. However, Mr Truss also tries his best to avoid the spotlight and work behind the scenes, sometimes to the point of invisibility.

By contrast Mr Joyce is the exact opposite, always in the public eye and never or rarely backing away from a political fight.

As a result of his high profile Mr Joyce is almost certain to be elected leader of the party and therefore to assume the deputy prime ministership. Despite his mercurial personality and unpredictability, he has proved himself as a popular and capable agriculture minister.

However, there are some in the Truss camp and other Nationals MPs who have had battles with Mr Joyce in the past and who hold on to concerns that the deputy leader is still not ready to assume the top job, or may not be a long-term proposition should he attain it.

It is this group who may decide to back Mr Macfarlane as deputy leader to Mr Joyce.

At the moment it is inconceivable that the Nationals would put a former Liberal in the top job, but stranger things have happened in the topsy-turvy game of politics.




























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