Liberal National Party of Queensland
The Liberal National Party of Queensland (LNP) is a political party in Queensland, Australia. It was formed in 2008 by a merger of the Queensland divisions of the Liberal Party and the National Party. At a federal level and in most other states the two parties remain distinct and operate as a more or less permanent Coalition. The LNP is a full member (i.e. affiliated branch) of the Liberal Party of Australia, and has observer status within the National Party of Australia.
After suffering defeat at its first election in 2009 the LNP won government for the first time at the 2012 election, winning 78 out of 89 seats, a record majority in the unicameral Parliament of Queensland. Campbell Newman became the first LNP Premier of Queensland. The Newman Government was subsequently defeated by the opposition Labor Party at the 2015 election.
Prior to the merger the National Party and Liberal Party had found themselves in frequent competition with one another for seats in Queensland since the 1970s. The Liberal Party (and its predecessors) and the National Party (formerly the Country Party and National Country Party) have been in a coalition at the federal level for all but a few years since 1923. In most parts of Australia the Liberal Party is the larger party, concentrated in urban areas, with the Nationals a junior partner operating exclusively in rural and regional areas. Competition between the two is thus minimised as the two attempt to win more seats combined than the Australian Labor Party.
However, Queensland is Australia’s most decentralised state. Brisbane is by far the largest city in Queensland; it has more than double the population of the next largest urbanised area, Gold Coast and is five times as large as the third-largest, Sunshine Coast. However, only around 45% of the population lives in the Brisbane area, with a greater portion of the state’s population distributed either in regional cities like Toowoomba, Rockhampton, Townsville, Mackay, Gladstone and Cairns, or in rural areas. As such, the urban-rural divide is not as pronounced in Queensland as in the rest of Australia; in other states, 60% or more of the population lives in and around the state’s capital city.
Historically, the Country/National Party was stronger in these regional centres than the Liberals. As a result, the Nationals had more seats than the Liberals and their predecessors, and had been the senior partner in the non-Labor Coalition since 1924. This division into urban, regional and rural areas was, for most of the twentieth century, reflected in a system of different electoral weighting that made it easier for rural-based parties to win more seats in Parliament.
The formation of the LNP was actually the third attempt to unite the non-Labor side in Queensland. In 1925, the United Party — the Queensland branch of the urban-based Nationalist Party — and the Country Party merged as the Country and Progressive National Party. This party won government in 1929 under former Queensland Country leader Arthur Edward Moore, but was defeated in 1932 and split apart in 1936. In 1941, the Queensland divisions of the United Australia Party and Country Party merged as the Country-National Organisation, under Frank Nicklin of the Country side. However, this merger only lasted until 1944.
During the 1970s, the Country Party began running candidates in the more urbanised south-east corner of the state, including the Brisbane area, in direct competition with the Liberals. This was part of a larger strategy by the federal party to expand its base outside of rural areas — reflected in successive name changes to the National Country Party in 1975 and the National Party in 1982. The state party had actually changed its name to the National Party in 1974 as part of its effort to broaden its reach.
After more than a decade of increasingly fraught relations, the Liberals pulled out of the Coalition in 1983. The Nationals came up one seat short of a majority in their own right in the election held later that year. The Nationals then persuaded two Liberals to defect to them, and governed alone until their defeat in 1989.
In 1992 the electoral system was changed to Optional Preferential Voting, meaning that three-cornered contests between Liberal, National and Labor candidates became much more likely to see Labor candidates win. The other change in 1992 was the end of the old zonal electoral system for the Legislative Assembly, the sole chamber of the state’s parliament. As a result, 40 of the 89 seats—almost half of the seats in the legislature—were now based in Brisbane. The Liberals and Nationals signed a renewed Coalition agreement in November 1992, two months after Labor easily won a second term. However, it was all but impossible to win a majority government without a substantial base in Brisbane, something that was difficult for the Coalition to do since the Nationals were the senior partner. Brisbane’s increased share of the legislature made it politically difficult to win even a minority government without winning a significant share of the capital’s seats. Labor was in government for all but three years from 1989 to 2012 in large part because it won at least 30 seats in greater Brisbane at every election. Even when it was briefly consigned to opposition by the Rob Borbidge-led Coalition from 1996 to 1998, Labor still won 31 seats in Brisbane.
The 1995 state election proved just how difficult it was for the Coalition to win during this time. While it actually won a slim majority of the two-party vote, much of that margin was wasted on landslides in the Nationals’ heartland. As mentioned above, Labor won 31 seats in Brisbane, allowing it to eke out a one-seat majority. The Labor majority was lost altogether a few months later in a by-election, but the Coalition was only able to form a minority government by a margin of one seat with the support of independent Liz Cunningham. This underscored how difficult the 1992 reforms made it to form even a minority government without a substantial base in Brisbane. The situation became worse with the emergence of other forces on the right such as Pauline Hanson’s One Nation and the City Country Alliance, and the advocacy by the Labor Party under Peter Beattie starting in 2001 of a “just vote 1” strategy that caused non-Labor preferences to exhaust instead of leaking to other non-Labor candidates. By the turn of the millennium, many members of both parties felt that a merger would reduce harmful competition between non-Labor candidates and to increase the chances of winning seats in Brisbane from Labor.
On 30 May 2008, an agreement in principle to merge was established between the Queensland divisions of the Liberal and National parties. A plebiscite of members of each party was then conducted with a large majority of respondents favouring the proposed merger.
The agreement in principle and a draft constitution were considered by separate meetings of the parties held over 26–27 July 2008, and the LNP was created on 26 July 2008. The inaugural conference of the LNP was held following the adoption of the constitution. The two parties had been meeting in adjoining rooms of the Sofitel Hotel in Brisbane. The wall between the two meetings was removed after both parties approved the merger, and the inaugural conference of the newly merged party began soon afterward.
After the July 2008 merger, the party had 25 members in the Legislative Assembly: 17 originally elected as Nationals, 8 originally elected as Liberals. National Party leader Lawrence Springborg became the merged party’s first leader, and remained as Leader of the Opposition. Liberal Party leader Mark McArdle became Deputy Leader of the new party, and remained Deputy Leader of the Opposition. While the new party was dominated by former Nationals, its president acquired full voting rights with the federal Liberals and observer status with the federal Nationals.
The LNP fought its first election as a unified party at the 2009 state election. It managed an eight-seat swing and finished one percentage point behind Labor on the two-party-preferred vote (with optional preference voting). However, it came up 11 seats short of forming government mainly due to winning only six seats in Brisbane. Springborg resigned as leader, later becoming deputy leader under his successor, John-Paul Langbroek. Langbroek is from the Liberal side of the merger, and his election marked the first time since 1925 that the non-Labor side in Queensland had been led by someone aligned federally with the Liberals or their predecessors.
Federal Queensland Liberal and National federal representatives and senators remained affiliated to their respective parties until after the 2010 Federal Election, with senators retaining their affiliation until the new Senate sat in July 2011.
Bruce McIver oversaw the Liberal–National party merger as president, which saw the Queensland Nationals, with their long history of social conservatism, amalgamate with the Queensland branch of the more socially progressive Liberal Party. McIver’s time as National Party president coincided with the demotion of members who did not share his socially conservative views. After then parliamentary leader Jeff Seeney disagreed with McIver’s opposition to stem-cell research and criticised McIver’s email seeking to instruct politicians on how they should exercise their conscience vote, he was soon deposed from the leadership. This led to speculation in the Courier Mail that the Queensland Nationals had been “hijacked by the Christian Right“, drawing parallels to similar developments in certain parts of the United States.
On 22 March 2011, Brisbane Lord Mayor Campbell Newman announced that he would seek preselection for the Brisbane-area seat of Ashgrove, a seat with a 7.1 percent Labor majority, and if successful, would challenge Langbroek for the party leadership. Newman, like Langbroek, is from the Liberal side of the merger. Langbroek and Springborg resigned as leader and deputy leader hours later. Under normal circumstances, an LNP MP from a safe seat would have resigned so Newman could get into the chamber via a by-election. However, a by-election could not be arranged. To solve this problem, former Nationals leader Jeff Seeney, who was elected deputy leader at the same time Newman was formally elected leader, became interim parliamentary leader (and hence Leader of the Opposition) while Newman led the party into the 24 March 2012 state election. Seeney agreed to cede the parliamentary leader’s post to Newman if he was elected to parliament.
The 2012 state election saw Newman lead the LNP to a landslide victory. The LNP scored a 14.5 percent swing from Labor, just short of 50 percent of the primary vote, and won an additional 44 seats. In the process, the LNP took all but three seats in the Brisbane metropolitan area, in some cases on swings of 10 percent or more. Overall, the LNP won 78 seats to Labor’s seven, the largest majority government in Queensland history. Newman won Ashgrove on a swing of 12.7 percent, almost double what he needed to take the seat off Labor. He was sworn in as premier two days later, heading the state’s first non-Labor majority government in 23 years.
The LNP appeared to be positioned to win a second term at the 31 January 2015 state election, albeit with a reduced majority. However, in a shock result that had not been foreseen by any commentators, let alone either party, the LNP suffered a 12 percent swing and lost its majority. Labor took 31 seats off the LNP, and came within one seat of rebounding from only nine seats at dissolution to an outright majority. One of the LNP casualties was Newman, who became just the second Queensland premier since Federation to lose his own seat. He immediately announced his retirement from politics, and Springborg was elected his successor on 7 February with Langbroek as his deputy. Although Springborg initially harboured hopes of forming a minority government, this ended when Labor formed a minority government with the support of the lone independent in the chamber.
On 6 May 2016, Tim Nicholls, who is from the Liberal side of the merger, successfully challenged Springborg for the leadership of the party, winning the ballot 22 votes to 19. Deb Frecklington, the member for the ancestrally National seat of Nanango (the seat of former Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen), was elected deputy leader. Nicholls led the party to defeat at the November 2017 state election and subsequently stepped down as party leader. Frecklington was elevated to the leadership position at a party-room meeting on 12 December 2017, with Tim Mander selected as deputy leader.
Function at a Federal Level
Currently, 19 of the LNP’s 27 federal MPs and Senators sit with the Liberals, while 8 sit with the Nationals. In the current parliament, these include:
- The Hon. David Littleproud MP
- Mr George Christensen MP
- Ms Michelle Landry MP
- Mr Ken O’Dowd MP
- Mr Llew O’Brien MP
- The Hon. Keith Pitt MP
- Senator The Hon. Matt Canavan
- Senator The Hon. Barry O’Sullivan
While incumbent MPs retained their previous federal affiliations, the LNP has worked out an informal agreement with its federal counterparts regarding the affiliations of newly elected members. Members who regain seats from Labor will sit with the previous Coalition MP’s party — i.e., if the LNP takes a seat off Labor that was previously held by a Liberal, the LNP member will sit with the Liberals. A division of seats was decided upon for new seats or seats that have never been won by the Coalition. In practice, most LNP MPs from Brisbane and the Gold Coast sit with the Liberals, while those from country seats usually sit with the Nationals.
The party has considered forming a separate party room in the Federal Parliament (i.e., separate from the federal Nationals who are formed by NSW and Victorian members). As a separate LNP would be the second largest party of the Coalition, it would theoretically have a claim to the Deputy Prime Minister’s post in any non-Labor government.
Election Leader Votes % Seats +/– Position Government 2010 John-Paul Langbroek 1,130,525 9.121 / 150 21 3rd Opposition 2013 Campbell Newman 1,152,217 8.922 / 150 1 3rd Coalition 2016 Tim Nicholls 8.521 / 150 1 3rd Coalition
Election Leader Votes % Seats +/– Position Government 2009 Lawrence Springborg 987,018 41.634 / 89 34 2nd Opposition 2012 Campbell Newman 1,214,402 49.678 / 89 44 1st Majority 2015 Campbell Newman 1,083,983 41.342 / 89 31 2nd Opposition 2017 Tim Nicholls 911,019 33.739 / 93 3 2nd Opposition
Leader Term Leader’s seat Lawrence Springborg 2008–2009 Southern Downs John-Paul Langbroek 2009–2011 Surfers Paradise Campbell Newman 2011–2015 Ashgrove Lawrence Springborg 2015–2016 Southern Downs Tim Nicholls 2016–2017 Clayfield Deb Frecklington 2017–present Nanango
Leader Term Leader’s seat Lawrence Springborg 2008–2009 Southern Downs John-Paul Langbroek 2009–2011 Surfers Paradise Jeff Seeney 2011–2012 Callide Campbell Newman 2012–2015 Ashgrove Lawrence Springborg 2015–2016 Southern Downs Tim Nicholls 2016–2017 Clayfield Deb Frecklington 2017–present Nanango
Deputy Leader Term Deputy’s seat Mark McArdle 2008–2009 Caloundra Lawrence Springborg 2009–2011 Southern Downs Jeff Seeney 2011–2015 Callide John-Paul Langbroek 2015–2016 Surfers Paradise Deb Frecklington 2016–2017 Nanango Tim Mander 2017–present Everton
- Katter’s Australian Party
- Clive Palmer
- Liberal-National party merger
- Queensland state election, 2012
- Young LNP – youth division of party
- LNP Constitution, clauses A.3 and A.4.
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