Let's get the Party started

We will never get more political leverage unless these rural seats become more marginal

A FEW weeks ago a small group of farmers and I decided that it was time to put action behind the growing chorus of voices calling for change in rural politics. Over the Christmas break we quietly launched the Country Party of Australia.

I am not writing to promote the principles and ethos of this Party. Rather, I am writing to dispel the myopic criticism that emanated from the Nationals' head office in relation to this new rural and regional platform. Apparently the Country Party of Australia and others like it could dangerously dilute the rural vote.

Seriously?

“The Nationals are ineffective and lack influence because many of the seats they hold are actually too safe”

I have spent an inordinate amount of time in Canberra walking the halls of Parliament House talking about problems faced by farmers competing in distorted markets and being exploited by monopolistic companies that control supply chains.

I have been dismayed at the lack of understanding about how the regional economy actually works and the lack of empathy from politicians and bureaucrats alike.

I have been forced to listen to apologists who justify their inaction in advocating for their rural constituencies by saying that they don’t have the numbers to be politically influential in Canberra. These same people have the audacity to suggest that we, who elect them, simply don’t understand the nuance of political process.

The simple truth is that the Nationals are ineffective and lack influence because many of the seats they hold are actually too safe.

Let’s follow the logic. The electorate I live in is a Nationals seat that is held with a massive margin. The seat is safely held by the Nationals due to rural conservative sentiment with no effective competition. This is in part because the National and Liberal Party have an agreement to not compete in the seat, but more so because there is no genuine non-aligned rural alternative.

This lack of political competition means that it doesn’t matter what the Labor Party offers, or what promises the Coalition breaks or fails to even make, the seat will be returned to the Nationals.

What is the point of either side of our political duopoly providing any meaningful political comfort or respite to this rural electorate? Simply, there is none.

“The political pork barrelling in marginal seats is numbing”

Many eastern state rural seats are taken for granted as Nationals seats, unless traded by the Nationals to the Liberal Party. Regardless, these seats are taken for granted and because of this we who live in them are taken for granted in the political process.

There is no point in either side of government doing anything beyond the barest minimum for these electorates because in the singular focus on winning government these seats are already given.

Often the barest minimum is more to be seen to be doing something for these electorates in times of hardship only to appear charitable in sympathetic urban voters’ eyes. There is rarely any real commitment to resolve the underlying structural problems that increasingly amplify any disruption to our sector.

Following this realisation that safe seats actually have limited political capital, consider how marginal seats are courted in the political process.

This is the political process that we are not supposed to understand.

Without going into detail the political pork barrelling in marginal seats is numbing. A simple example was the financial support provided to multinational car manufacturers to maintain operations to provide employment and industry in key seats.

In the meantime we have seen key political support for agriculture abandoned - or, worse still, horse-traded away with little regard for the viability of the sector. The social demographic of rural electorates is quickly shifting as these seats slide into the lowest socioeconomic classes in the country.

Rural and regional Australia is in a population decline. We will never get more seats in Parliament. The unconditional commitment of the Nationals to the Coalition means we will never get more political leverage unless these rural seats become more marginal.

The only way that we, rural and regional voters, will get more political attention is if our vote cannot be taken for granted.

Over 85 per cent of this nation’s wealth is originated from rural and regional Australia. If we are to be politically supported in a way commensurate with our real contribution to the nation today and into the future, it is essential that there is political competition for the representation of the sector.

We have seen an increasing tendency for many parties to pursue political agendas that are for the sake of the party and those within it, with little or no regard for the moral and ethical obligations that come from being elected to serve their constituencies.

The Nationals are no exception. They pursue an increasingly conservative and politically safe agenda deriving their political relevance from their place in the Coalition.

It is obvious that decreasing the margin by which rural seats are held provides far greater opportunity for political leveraging of those seats. The most crippling dilution of the rural vote is achieved by an unconditional commitment to a Coalition in which rural seats are taken for granted and rural politicians are subservient junior partners.

It is laughable that the Nationals should warn of the risk of diluting the rural vote from Parties like the Country Party of Australia.

Einstein’s definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over while expecting a different outcome. It is time to end the political insanity and create genuine political competition to arrest the decline in the political leverage and influence of rural and regional politicians.

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FarmOnline
Pete Mailler

Pete Mailler

is a farmer on the Qld/NSW border and a co-founder of the Country Party of Australia
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READER COMMENTS

BB
11/01/2015 7:42:58 AM

Spot on, You have described the hole rural people have dug themselves in by having seats that are too safe.
Lou
11/01/2015 7:57:15 AM

Very good Pete, Now... why will your party be any different to any of the previous challenges to the ruling elite? Think, 'keep the bastards honest' and others. Try a change of thinking... The SEAT belongs to the voting electorate so the voters must take back control. Start by placing the sitting member last. It might mean dumping a good representative occasionally but a complete rollover of members could not be worse than the methods now used for elections... those elected are self indicted incompetents. Judge by results. Good luck.
rural_voter
11/01/2015 8:24:12 AM

Creating another party isn't the answer, parties don't look at the individual areas and country areas differ greatly with their needs. We need more independents who truly represent the people! The name Country Party tells me it's just a lot of Nationals hiding their true colours. And will still bow to their Liberal puppeteers.
Helen Hall
11/01/2015 10:42:52 AM

The Country Party website: http://www.countryparty.info/
Ann
11/01/2015 11:11:18 AM

Good luck, it's been a long time coming. A better alternative all around.
Qlander
11/01/2015 11:37:49 AM

'The simple truth is that the Nationals are ineffective and lack influence because many of the seats they hold are actually too safe.' I couldn't agree more, the National have held the balance of power for 1/2 a century. But they won't use it, because they categorically rule out backing Labor into government.
Ann
11/01/2015 11:41:06 AM

Our politicians who run for office are only a yes man to a higher person who controls OUR country.Too much is about overseas spending & never enough is spent where it's NEEDED, here in our own backyard. You pay through the nose for all our produce that is Australian made. Some of our assets have already been sold off. We DO NOT want our land & our post offices, power supply & all our assets sold to another foreign country. This is an outrage & most politicians aren't listening to the people who VOTED THEM IN. They are stopping the pension, are the politicians still getting their pension & WHY.
Fiona Macrae
11/01/2015 1:48:19 PM

A well written and thought provoking article Pete. And good on you for taking this action. I was amazed when I saw your still familiar face from UofQ days after all these years!
Farmerfromdownsouth
11/01/2015 2:43:45 PM

I've been thinking for a long time that country folk should take back the name "The Country Party" which was abandoned long ago. Just make sure that you stand up for farmers against exploitative corporations, fossil fools and the big business who want to own your breed and your seed. Please don't get bogged down with narrow minded policies spreading xenophobia; demolishing safe gun laws, calling for freedom to wreck our remaining wilderness, and using sexism, racism or homophobia to increase your following. We are beyond all that. Just stand up for the rights of farmers and rural communities.
wtf
12/01/2015 6:55:27 AM

just listened to Bob Heffernan on radio saying country voters need to get the city majority on side. How would the city take to the debt fuelled binge being turned off? we are opposites, the dollar high is good for them, not us. To me that shows how removed the libs are from our situation, its not domestic policy that is the problem. Try free trade and deregulation, both are a wrecking ball through our country. The city voter has no opinion on world trade, only domestic exporters. That's the role of our elected parties, to represent our own wishes and leverage that, not the cities.
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Burrs under my saddlePete Mailler is a farmer on the Queensland/NSW border. His perspective and opinions are borne from seeing more than one side of many problems in his various farm leadership roles and in wanting to ensure a future for his children in agriculture.

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