Regional Australia disproportionately makes up some of the lowest socioeconomic demographics in the country corresponding with some of the poorest health, education and infrastructure outcomes.
How can regional Australia get a better deal out of the Australian electoral system?
There is a long list of options that are pretty hard to deliver, but there is one that should actually be pretty simple.
The National Party could dissolve any coalition agreement when an election is called, run its campaign independently and then negotiate a coalition or supply agreement after the election with either the Liberal Party or the Labor Party, depending on which will give the best deal for regional Australia.
I am pretty sure that if you checked you would find that the National Party has held the balance of power in one or both houses of federal parliament for many decades and on most occasions it has squandered its leverage through its largely unconditional commitment to a pre-existing coalition agreement.
Of course the merger of the National Party and the Liberal Party in Queensland muddies the waters to some extent, but look how well that is going anyway. I suspect many would gladly demerge in that state, and in any case a Qld LNP candidates must declare their allegiance to one or the other federal party room before they go.
Now the Nationals will tell you that they are the big winners in the Coalition agreement because the Coalition ticket agreements mean Upper and Lower House seats are not contested between the Coalition partners, making those seats safer.
Then they will tell you that thanks to the Coalition agreement they get to hold higher offices and are therefore more influential in the government because of this.
I don't buy either argument.
Safe seats are the enemy of good political service. If an incumbent is aware that their seat is not a safe, foregone conclusion then that politician will personally and visibly work much harder for the constituency they purport to represent to secure their seat. In genuinely contested seats, politicians are much more accountable and thereby relevant to their constituents.
The coalition agreement largely constrains the junior partner from genuinely leveraging its balance of power. We have seen a few scenarios in recent times when tensions nearly boiled over, but the coalition agreements have prevailed.
If the National Party can't survive independently of the Liberal Party then it is not an independent party. This lack of independence, real or perceived, severely limits the Nationals' potential to influence outcomes for regional communities from any government - Labor or Liberal.
Barnaby Joyce is a self-declared agrarian socialist in line with the Nationals' roots. Ideologically he and his party have much more in common with the Labor Party than with the Liberal Party.
Imagine the outcome of a negotiation for regional Australia if both the Liberal and Labor parties felt they could negotiate with the Nationals to form government and/or pass legislation in the wake of an election.
Perhaps though, with the Nationals' stance on critical issues like climate, we should be careful what we wish for.
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