LIKE a plucky pooch that’s been pushed one time too many, the National Party is finally bearing its teeth.
Much was made of the Coalition’s “marriage of convenience” during Malcolm Turnbull’s dramatic ascension to prime minister this week.
The more progressive Mr Turnbull, a former millionaire merchant banker from one of Sydney’s swankiest suburbs, was never going to sit well with the party of the bush.
A darling of the centre and centre-left, Mr Turnbull is more at home on a yacht on Sydney Harbour than on a cattle station, and more comfortable on the ABC than The Bolt Report.
But he is also eminently more electable than Mr Abbott, forcing the Nationals – and indeed many Liberals – to confront an uncomfortable question, loyalty or political survival?
Even before a ballot was cast on Monday, Nationals headkicker Barnaby Joyce was sabre-rattling about tearing up the Coalition agreement if Tony Abbott was rolled.
The marriage of convenience was headed for a break-up and the Nats, the downtrodden housewife of the relationship, were set to initiate proceedings. By threatening to march the Nationals away from the Coalition, Mr Joyce was playing a dangerous game of political brinkmanship.
Not only would he be forced to forgo his prized ministry, but the National Party, which has just 15 members compared to the Libs’ 74 in the lower house, would be thrust into obscurity for this term of parliament. The bold gambit appears to have worked.
The renegotiated Nationals agreement with the Liberals can only be seen as a win for the bush.
More dollars for mobile blackspots and stay-at-home parents are a start. But the real sweetener is a commitment to move responsibility for water from the environment portfolio to agriculture.
Symbolically, this sends a clear message that the government’s much-vaunted “triple bottom line” approach to managing the Murray-Darling basin is more than just words.
Practically, it gives a National in Mr Joyce oversight of one of the single biggest issues facing the region’s farmers.
That alone is a reason to keep the marriage together.
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