Nationals never say die
By PETER ELLEM
SENATOR Julian McGauran's defection to the Liberals caused pain and cost the Nationals a ministry but it will not lead to the party's demise, according to Federal MPs Ian Causley and Luke Hartsuyker.
Both men, who represent the old and new guard of a country party founded by Graftonian Sir Earle Page and farmers in 1922, tonight will attend a partyroom meeting in Canberra aimed at avoiding such a fate.
Mr Causley said the Victorian senator's treachery was all the more bizarre because it had left his brother Peter, a National Party cabinet minister, in an extraordinarily uncomfortable position.
''We're not happy about it (the defection), I can tell you. It has caused us some pain,'' he said.
"...We knew that as soon as he (McGauran) left, a mathematical formula would apply under our Coalition agreement and we would lose a ministry. We have to accept that."
Mr Causley said the Nationals recognised the problems it faced numerically, but it was a resilient party which had defied every prediction of extinction for over half a century by winning elections, and in his and Mr Hartsuyker's cases, improving their majorities.
He said the party would target marginal Labor seats such as Richmond, independents and vacant seats at the next election, particularly in New South Wales and Queensland where redistributions would occur.
Mr Causley agreed with Mr Hartsuyker's assessment that the Nationals could do a better job of communicating it had been at the genesis of, and fought for, Coalition policies such as Regional Partnerships, Roads To Recovery and Auslink funding.
They both revealed that while they had fought vigorously in the democratic forums of their own partyroom and the joint partyroom on specific issues affecting their constituents, they subscribed to Coalition unity which had delivered good government to Australia.
It was easier to be a populist like Queensland Nationals Senator Barnaby Joyce, Mr Causley argued, than to sell policies which might be seen as unpalatable in the short term but which benefitted the majority of Australians in the long run.
The MPs believed that the Sea Change and Tree Change phenomena were bringing many Liberal and Labor voters to the Northern Rivers, who, after several years living here, often switched their voting allegiances to the Nationals because they admired strength in representation.
"If the Nationals were not around, Sydney and Melbourne (Liberal and Labor power bases) would dominate and control the entire national political debate, and that would not be a healthy thing for rural and regional areas," Mr Causley said.