Anyone would be forgiven for thinking they alone won the election for the Coalition - but the results speak to a very different outcome and one that should inspire a bit more contrition than is currently being displayed.
Leader Barnaby Joyce has claimed an increase in his party’s vote is some sort of vindication of its performance, but it belies what’s really happening.
The biggest impact on the National’s vote was in the seat of Murray where it gained a seat by running against the Liberals and winning when former Member Sharman Stone retired after 20-years, opening up a three-cornered contest.
Any votes in Murray were a gain in that electorate and clearly in looking for a fresh change rural voters favoured the National’s candidate Damian Drum.
Congratulations are due in Murray to be sure but this is no indication of a universal increase in popularity or any kind of broad endorsement that would or should silence critics of the Nationals’ performance.
The despair in their performance is profound, particularly in relation to the promotion of mining while failing to protect agricultural land and water in the same landscape.
While the Nationals had a swing of 0.5 per cent in the overall primary vote across 16 Lower House seats, that result was largely due to a 36.2pc positive swing in Murray.
Taking into account the redrawing of electoral boundaries, seats like Cowper in NSW experienced a -8.5pc result in the two party preferred vote and -5.7pc in the electorate of Flynn in Queensland.
In all but three of the 16 seats, the Nationals saw swings away from their candidate on the primary vote and all but two seats saw negative swings on a two party preferred basis.
Setting aside Murray as an outlier due to its anomalous nature, the general trend of the Nationals support is negative.
In most seats there was no effective conservative competition, except in New England and Murray and perhaps Cowper.
As a close observer of the New England campaign, the resources poured into it by the Nationals and other supporters of Mr Joyce was verging on the obscene in its excess.
Mr Joyce’s campaign cost will not be covered by his refund from the AEC and that does not include the in-kind man hours also provided to him.
The reality is that the Nationals have seen an ongoing erosion of support that is only checked at this stage by the fact the electorate has not yet seen a credible alternative to vote for.
That is not to say that there is not one - just that it has not yet been recognised.
Looking at the Nationals’ 16 seats in terms of margin which is the strongest indicator of motivation for incumbent Members of Parliament, on a two party preferred basis:
- Six are now marginal on less than 6pc.
- Eight seats are considered safe with a margin between 6-12pc.
- Two seats remain very safe down from eight in the previous parliament.
Mr Joyce’s immediate post-election posturing has an air of arrogance about it as he chides the senior Coalition party and seemingly ignores the profound message the electorate is sending.
The one good thing is that there are an increasing number of marginal Nationals seats in regional Australia.
This is excellent news for those electorates because MPs in marginal seats work harder and deliver more for their electorates as a matter of political survival.
Similarly, the smart ones use their marginal status to get more attention from both sides of the parliament because their electorates are important strategically in the counts to form government.
The reality is the Nationals have held the balance of power in one House or another and failed to use it effectively for decades.
They have been an ineffective voice for regional Australia because they have chosen to hide in Coalition.
They do not even contest the Senate independently and have failed to provide equitable advocacy for regional Australia and win public and private sector investment befitting our real contribution to the nation’s wealth.
Time alone will tell if the 2016 election forces any cultural change in the major parties, Nationals included.
The early rhetoric is that Mr Joyce is not heeding the warning from the grass roots as he fails to recognise that nearly half his party seats have lost very safe status and a fifth have become marginal.
The biggest risk facing regional Australia is that the electorate finally elects unknown wildcard parties or candidates in protest because the Nationals fail to genuinely reform and return to their roots in deed as well as word.
In some respects, this is already happening in the Senate.
In the meantime, CountryMinded continues to build the solid foundation for the safe and credible political alternative that understands the critical importance of viable and vibrant regions to the prosperity of the entire Nation and is willing to fight for it.
Watch this space.