The Queensland Liberal National Party (LNP) executive has blocked Ian Macfarlane transferring from the Liberals to the Nationals, humiliating not just the former minister but also the Nationals leader, Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss.
The executive vote, reported to be 14-12, thwarted a plan by Macfarlane – dropped by Malcolm Turnbull from cabinet – and the Nationals to get an extra cabinet spot by boosting the minor party’s numbers within the Coalition.
Macfarlane said he would now consider his options and make an announcement in the new year. He could quit early, causing a byelection, leave at the election, or seek another term. The last seems highly unlikely, because he earlier said his choice was between returning to cabinet or leaving parliament. He is not considering becoming an independent.
A former industry and resources minister, Macfarlane said there might be opportunities for him in the resources sector. “I’m not ready to retire from working,” he told reporters.
If he does not depart early, he would face bad feeling in the Liberal partyroom – assuming he turned up to its meetings.
Macfarlane said he was disappointed at the executive’s decision but “I accept it entirely”.
He added: “the LNP is a grassroots party and that is an issue the state executive will have to answer to the people in Groom”, who had voted overwhelmingly to support him.
Macfarlane’s local electorate organisation on Saturday endorsed the switch by 102 to 34 or 35.
LNP president Gary Spence said in stopping the move the executive was concerned about maintaining the “great stability” in the federal Coalition. He said he very much hoped Macfarlane would stay in parliament and run at the election. “I’m hoping and expecting Ian to be our candidate.”
Spence said that “while LNP members of the Groom electorate voted to support Mr Macfarlane’s decision, the interests of our party beyond his electorate were taken into account”.
Truss, although initially cautious about the defection plan when Macfarlane approached him, embraced it and promoted it publicly. Its failure is a major embarrassment for the Nationals leader, who attended the LNP executive meeting. It leaked prematurely, for which Nationals’ deputy leader Barnaby Joyce – who spoke about it at a Nationals leaders meeting – is being blamed. Joyce was an enthusiast for it.
Many Liberals were outraged by what some described as Macfarlane seeking to “game” the system. It was made known that if Macfarlane succeeded, Turnbull would not accept him back into the cabinet and any reshuffle to accommodate the extra Nationals number would be delayed.