Are the Nationals a political party?

I’ve made this point before, but I’m constantly reading articles about the rising share of “protest” votes going to “minor parties” in which the set of minor parties excludes the National Party. The reason is, of course, that the Nationals are a long-established party which, with a few state-level exceptions, operates in permanent coalition with the Liberals.

But, for all practical purposes, the same is true of the Greens. Roughly speaking, Labor and the Greens are in the position the Liberals and Nationals (and previously the Country Party) were for most of the 20th century. They fight three-cornered contests, often bitterly, and do a lot of agonising about preference swaps, coalitions and so on. But, when push comes to shove in terms of forming governments, they almost always line up together, whether in a coalition, with a formal agreement, or with informal support.

The most important difference between the two is that the Greens get more votes from a wider range of electorates. The difference that drives the spurious analysis of “protest parties” is that the coalition between Labor and the Greens is less formal and more fractious than that between the Liberals and Nationals.

If you count Labor and the Greens as a coalition, then the rise of protest parties in Australia appears primarily as a crackup of the political right. We’ve seen a profusion of rightwing protest parties, with only
the Xenophon group in the centre, and nothing much at all on the left. That differs from the situation in some other countries, where social democratic parties have embraced austerity and collapsed (Greece, Netherlands) or where the established leadership has been pushed aside (UK and possibly soon US also). I have some ideas about this, but I’ll have to write about them later.

But, coming back to the main point, a consistent analysis should treat both the Nationals and Greens as minor parties, or else neither of them.

15 thoughts on “Are the Nationals a political party?

  1. John, I feel the majority of Aussie voters are in a state of total desperation. Apart from the rusted on elements of the left and right, there’s a swirling tide of frustrated people in the centre, running around in ever decreasing circles trying to find a decent pollie to vote for. These days, more and more pollies (left and right) are in either attack or defence mode, with a firm focus on self preservation.

    In 2009, the quality of our political arena was dragged into the gutter by the behaviour of certain pollies in the House of Reps. As a result, people these days have very little respect for most pollies. There’s very little wisdom, commonsense, logic, sound judgement or national interest in many of their decisions and statements.

    We can only go upwards from here. Let’s hope they start the trip ASAP.

    This cartoon sums up the cause of our current situation . . .


  2. Largely agree with Mick.

    I haven’t voted Green for several elections now precisely because they no longer appear to me to be an alternative to ALP.

    Even if that means a “wasted” vote. Offer me something to vote FOR (not against) and I’m in. Otherwise you get nothing – “lesser” evilism lost the US democrats their last election in my view.

  3. @Lt. Fred

    They’ve been turning incrementally more tree-tory in taking on a bit from the Lib’s, and adding bit of the Lab’s over the last decade or so. Their population “policy” waffle which follows liblab’s vested interests serving “Big Australia” rubbish now undermines any environmental platform the Greens may wish to claim.

  4. @D
    An alternative view would be that that exact attitude – they’re both evil so what’s the difference / why vote – cost Hillary the last election. And I think to most fair-minded observers that position has been proven absurd.

    Still, I agree that it’s a case of reaping what they (i.e. centre-left parties) have sown – though perhaps for different reasons. Prof. Q has posted several times on the failure of progressive parties to establish a viable (and credible) alternative to Neoliberalism. It is nascent perhaps, with an increasing focus on Inclusive Growth, but it needs an actual policy platform (and political message) to back this up.

  5. Back in the early 90s when us Mexicans got Jeffed, I was a National Party member and Council amalgamations were on the agenda. Living in the well managed Shire of Deakin we were assured by the head honchos of the National Party that amalgamations would happen over their dead bodies. Six months later Jeff ushered his version of Thatcherism that stuffed the State of Victoria!

    The National Party are a non-entity!! They exist in name only, they don’t represent rural and regional Australia, they are a lap dog of the Liberal (Conservative) Party. It is my belief that the Tories use the Nashos as a barometer, litmus paper for their more right wing ideology. It’s akin of throwing a dog a bone, they’ll run with it, play with it and then bury it only to dig it yup again later.

    Then again the Greens (black, blue and/or red), the chameleons of the Australian political climate who don’t recognise overpopulation to be a problem also have an identity problem. So similar the D, I have been wasting my vote for the past 25 years in the hope of finding somebody, some party that is worthy of my vote.

    This is the Lucky Country! Well not if you watched John Pilger’s ‘Utopia’ last night it isn’t!!!

  6. Agree with John Q’s analysis – we have two coalitions that work as they do because of our preferential system, plus semi-proportionate Senate. We don’t have a protest party of the left. And it’s an interesting question why not. It’s also an interesting question why a centrist uprising has manifested itself in SA a state with a very different religious, historical ethnic background. Regional differences do seem to make a difference.

  7. @Svante
    Yeah, you’re not going to convince the party to adopt an anti-immigration policy, nor have they ever held one. The party has not adopted any policy from either major; in fact, the reverse is largely true (ICAC, Denticare, gay marriage, etc).

  8. @Lt. Fred

    The Greens once were rather against a “big” population, just as they once were rather strongly against any state funding of “private” schools. In a senate speech shortly before retiring Bob Brown said he regretted the various changes, regretted being rolled on them, but shrugged it off. Progress? These areas are examples of what they have adopted from the liblab major.

  9. John I think the Nationals have been traditionally and historically associated as part of a well-known conservative coalition over many years standing. However the Greens and the Labor Party don’t have the same formal political connections and like philosophy, as the Nationals and the Liberals.
    I have for some time believed that the Greens and Labor party would be better served politically if they created a more formal, recognised coalition.

  10. @Svante

    The Greens have never been anti-immigration. They have always been strongly pro-immigration. This is because the policy is right on its merits, because the party doesn’t like dogwhistles and so on. I daresay that’s been true since about 1980.

    The Party does not have a policy of eliminating or defunding private schools, that’s true (except in NSW). This is largely for strategic reasons; the party would defund private schools if it ever won government, which it won’t. I doubt we ever had a policy to eliminate private schools.

  11. I would actually say the party is swinging left, if anything. It’s a LOT more complicated than that.

  12. Lt. Fred :@Svante
    The Greens have never been anti-immigration. They have always been strongly pro-immigration. This is because the policy is right on its merits, because the party doesn’t like dogwhistles and so on. I daresay that’s been true since about 1980.

    The Greens changed when they began to court the “Doctors Wives” so called, and changed markedly when the “wives” moved in. My attention piqued by some schools policy backflips I’d noticed, I bookmarked numerous articles at the time, but, sadly, many of those are now dead links and the wayback machine archived few. Insider power struggles and change were apparent at times by the sudden unexplained wholesale changes and deletions on the Greens site. No amount of searching there would find the alterations – webcrawler and archive bots were blocked, I suppose.

    What you would maintain about Greens policy consistency and sensibilities is simply not so…

    Green Left Weekly

    Greens change their immigration policy

    By Francesca Davis Wednesday
    September 16, 1998

    At their national conference, held in Melbourne from July 31 to August 2, the Australian Greens made significant changes to their immigration and population policies.

    The Greens’ 1996 policy planks supporting cuts to voluntary immigration and restrictions on concessional entry under the family reunion category have been removed.

    In what seems to be a response to One Nation’s racism and the Coalition’s restrictive immigration policy, the Greens now call for “eligibility criteria to be reviewed to ensure that potential immigrants are not unfairly discriminated against by, for instance, the requirement to be fluent in English”. They also call for migrants to have access to social security payments, English language classes and appropriate programs.

    The Greens state that immigration policy should be considered within the broader population policy. Their 1996 population policy had the goal of “stabilising” population numbers (hence the call for a reduction in immigration).

    The Greens’ new policy has a different goal: “An Australian population policy should consider the distribution of human settlements rather than just concentrate upon population size at the national level.”

    The emphasis is on planning and construction of settlements which “minimise environmental [destruction] and maximise social well being”. In line with this, there are references to the need to reverse the drift of population from rural areas and provide services of the highest standard in all areas.

    The changes are a significant shift to the left. The idea that population growth, in and of itself, causes environmental destruction has been dominant in Australia’s environment movement. This led to the Greens’, the Australian Conservation Foundation and parties such as the Australian Democrats lending their support to “a zero net migration policy” (where the numbers of people entering Australia can be no more than the number of those who leave) as propounded by Australians for an Ecologically Sustainable Population (AESP).

    Such a position has left environmentalists open to charges of national chauvinism, isolationism and racism. This has become clearer for environmentalists with the rise of Hanson and her racist attacks on migrants. The Greens’ members who argued for the need to “stabilise” Australia’s population found themselves uncomfortably close to One Nation’s support for a zero net migration policy. Hanson has at times used the “excess population” argument herself.

    A background paper written by Deb Foskey, the Greens’ Senate candidate for the ACT and Australian Greens’ spokesperson on population, indicates that the Greens reconsidered their policy in response to the current race debate…

    Sustainable Australia
    News & Media

    The Daily Telegraph | Pauline is Dick’s last resort

    Posted by William Bourke
    December 07, 2016

    In understanding The Greens, it’s important to emphasise that on environmental grounds the original Greens party supported “stabilising” Australia’s population through lower immigration, just like Sustainable Australia does now. This original Greens party policy, like Sustainable Australia’s, was therefore based purely on numbers rather than ethnicity or religion.

    But then along came Pauline Hanson who also wanted lower immigration — for different reasons. For fear of being branded “racist”, the 1990s Greens cleared the path for Pauline Hanson’s One Nation by vacating the middle ground on immigration numbers. The Greens used the rise of Ms Hanson as an excuse to abandon its call for lower immigration and have been avoiding or playing down the issue ever since.

    With no credible opposition on the issue, John Howard then doubled annual permanent immigration from under 100,000 per year to over 200,000. More customers and cheaper labour is of course great for big business but not so good for the environment. Masterfully and to this day, the Liberal party uses the distraction of stopping asylum seeker boats to provide cover for their large non-refugee immigration program.

    In effect, The Greens have been complicit in the “big Australia” outcome that will double our population to 40 million by 2050. Remember the outrage when Kevin Rudd naively admitted that he supported a big Australia? Polling shows that Australians are overwhelmingly opposed to Australia’s high immigration-fed rapid population growth.

    But with The Greens not addressing this critical issue to everyday Australians and leaving a political vacuum, more and more mainstream Australians — including Dick Smith — will turn to Ms Hanson as a last resort.

    Debating the “doctors’ wives” phenomenon

    Max Suich.
    September 17, 2004


    Michelle Grattan used the phrase “doctors’ wives” in The Sunday Age recently to describe a phenomenon that is troubling the Liberal Party.

    It refers to middle-class women, whom the Liberal Party would normally assume would be big-L Liberals, who have been turned off by the Howard Government’s support for the Iraq war and are now contemplating voting Green, Labor or for another anti-Coalition party.

    Tracking the origin of the phrase is tricky. Grattan acknowledges it first appeared in print in a piece by the Telegraph’s Malcolm Farr in May. Farr will not reveal his source for the phrase other than identifying him as a senior cabinet member.

    In his piece, Farr described a group of women, “from comfortable families created by high-income husbands”, who are angry over the commitment to the Iraq war.

    Researchers at the Macquarie Dictionary confirm that the phrase has been used for some time to denote upper-middle-class women. One of the earliest allusions they have found is in a lyric in a 1994 song, H-Hour Hotel, by Cold Chisel, which relates: “they were gathered round in high class bars/doctors’ wives and trendy cokers”.

    One Melbourne Liberal candidate says the phrase has been about in politics for 10 years. But the doctors’ wives problem for the Liberals is bigger than before, which is why we are hearing the phrase more. Polling by both parties finds the group is a real enough concept in this campaign.

    “Doctors’ wives” evokes mock Tudor perhaps, twin-sets and pearls, golf, and a trace of silver in the hair – and the suburbs of Kew, Camberwell and Malvern. But the fact is the women are to be found across all age groups and in most Liberal electorates.

    In the Melbourne marginal seat of Deakin, one Liberal worker acknowledged the problem, particularly in the west of the electorate around Blackburn. “There are a lot of academics and accountants there who are upset by the Iraq war, refugees and environmental issues,” he said.

    Accountants! Voting against the Liberal Party? “Well,” the party worker replied, “not as much as the academics.”

  13. Lt. Fred :@Svante
    The Party does not have a policy of eliminating or defunding private schools, that’s true (except in NSW). This is largely for strategic reasons; the party would defund private schools if it ever won government, which it won’t. I doubt we ever had a policy to eliminate private schools.

    There once was a Greens strong policy of no state aid going to so called private schools. There may have been some waffle on the margins about elimination. The current party policy reading between the waffle is not at all to defund private schools, but merely to remove some funding from the very wealthiest…

    My snips and links on this don’t pass the spam blocker here. I’ve tried a few different ways. Maybe later for the links… for now a try without.


    web archive201306 newmatilda-australian-high-court-constitutional-coup-and-its-consequences

    SCHOOLS – D.O.G.S.
    PRESS RELEASE 200 #.
    20 MARCH 2007

    School policy fractures Greens

    Michael Bachelard August 15, 2010

    The Australian Greens are internally fractured over their policy to remove millions of dollars in funding from private schools.

    In an internal Greens email leaked to The Sunday Age, party leader Bob Brown’s senior adviser Prue Cameron complained on August 3 that the policy was making the federal election campaign more difficult.

    Last night Senator Brown backed away from the policy to reduce private school funding to 2003-04 levels.

    ”That is our party’s policy. What we have argued, though, is that circumstances have changed since that policy setting was made a number of years ago,” he said.

    ”The mining tax . . . would mean we could put some billions of new money into the public sector and that would mean we don’t have to take $1000 per student from the private schools.”

    He said, however, that the wealthiest 150 private schools should still lose their public funding, on equity grounds.

    His position appears to put him at odds with NSW Greens upper house member John Kaye, who said last night that the party’s ”principled stand on education funding” had come under ”intense attack from the very powerful private school lobby”.

    Ms Cameron’s email, sent to the national election campaign committee of the most senior Greens campaigners around the country, said the Senate policy team was “spending an inordinate amount [of] time” defending the policy.

    “I think the party and the people responsible for this policy ought to fully understand the consequences for the Greens in the federal campaign and in terms of the Greens’ capacity to engage constructively on education in the new Parliament,” Ms Cameron wrote.

    Her email attached a press release from a private school representative body in NSW complaining that the policy “punishes independent school students and parents”.

    But Dr Kaye hit back immediately, defending the “unique and principled stand” of the Greens and saying he was surprised at the Senate team’s attitude.

    The exchange suggests a wide divide within the party between idealists and pragmatists over education policy…


    Greens back down on private schools

    by: Christian Kerr
    November 12, 2012 12:00AM

    THE Greens will dump their most hostile policies regarding private schools as they seek to lift their flagging poll numbers and reposition the party.

    The draft education policy prepared at last week’s national conference and circulated to party members for approval – obtained by The Australian – ends plans to freeze commonwealth funding for private schools at 2003-04 levels.


    Greens change policies on schools, uni, TAFE

    by: Christian Kerr
    November 12, 2012 12:00AM

    THE Greens will dump their most hostile policies regarding private schools as they seek to lift their flagging poll numbers and reposition the party.

    The draft education policy prepared at last week’s national conference and circulated to party members for approval – obtained by The Australian – ends plans to freeze commonwealth funding for private schools at 2003-04 levels.


    Education policy: where the parties stand

    By Sabra Lane
    First posted 21 Jun 2013, 9:14am
    Updated 5 Aug 2013, 3:58pm

    •Support the Gonski education funding model, and an extra $2b over four years to kickstart the model
    •Support a needs based funding system which would prioritise federal funding to public schools before non-government schools…

    •No funding announced for any policies.
    •The Greens have pushed for the strengthening of the Minerals Resource Rent Tax, to collect $26b over the forward estimates, which would help pay for the Gonski education changes.

    theguardian australian-election-2013-policy


    Accessed July 18, 2017


    The Australian Greens believe that:

    6.Federal funding to the school education system, including both the public and private sectors, should be on the basis of need and equity to ensure that all Australian children have the opportunity to fulfil their best educational outcomes.
    7.Federal schools funding policy should prioritise the public education system to ensure that public schools are able to provide the highest quality educational experiences and set the educational standards for the nation.


    The Australian Greens want:
    5.Monies saved from any reforms to the funding model of very wealthy non-government schools to be reinvested into public schools with the highest proportion of students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

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