The Nats still riding on the rural voter's back

A party pulled in new directions

Opinion
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There remains a limit to the tolerance among rural voters for political point scoring and infighting - traits that have become prevalent among the Nationals in the past decade.

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A lot has changed in the rural landscape since the Nationals' formation a century ago.

For instance, the way commodities like wheat, milk and wool are sold, and the fact unions are comparatively non-existent now to what they once were.

The marketing institutions are no longer government owned or run and so there's less connection now between a vote that once might have been won on a local issue like a silo or rail branch upgrade as opposed to broader philosophies like gas, climate change, or water.

Issues that farmers now face have also seismically shifted, including the "free" market, native vegetation, animal welfare, radical activism and communications.

And then there are the issues the Nationals find themselves a tad wedged on, like coal seam gas, mining and Inland Rail - big infrastructure with inherent land use and water conflict and in some state seats, hefty farmer fall-out.

It is a party being pulled in new directions under conditions unlike those when it was formed. The one important exception being to promote rural interests.

Also read:Modern Nationals suffering an identity crisis

It is this rural difference that invariably keeps country voters returning, even after testing the waters with the occasional independents, minor party groups, or the "country" party's long-time political rival, Labor.

In an era when the needs and interests of farmers and rural communities have become as diverse as ever, and as the "big two" (Labor and Liberal) increasingly pander to idealistic influence, the formation of the Greens and the type of city ideals it represents has created a new adversary for the Nationals and reinforced the need for a rural party.

But, there remains a limit to the tolerance among rural voters for political point scoring and infighting - traits that have become prevalent in the past decade. And, in this context, the party could benefit by trading in some of that politicking for some of its good old longer term experience and vision.

This is perhaps why voters tell The Land that "we need the Nationals to get in. They need a kick up the bum to do a better job, but we can't afford to have Labor get in".

Rural voters need a voice on a range of issues, and that's not going to come from anywhere but the bush.

And as the population scales tip ever further towards the big cities, country voters need a rural party now as much as ever.

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