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Howard pressure pushes Qld Liberals to rethin -

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Broadcast: 30/05/2006

Howard pressure pushes Qld Liberals to rethink party merger

Reporter: Dana Robertson

TONY JONES: Well, back to Australian, and the Deputy Prime Minister, Mark Vaile, has tonight failed
to convince the Queensland National Party to dump the idea of merging with the State's Liberals.
After talks in Canberra this evening, the State leader, Lawrence Springborg, was still committed to
a single conservative party to contest the next State election. But it appears John Howard's strong
opposition to the plan could carry more weight. The Queensland Liberal Party is expected to meet
within days to take another look at the decision to negotiate a merger. Dana Robertson reports from
Canberra.

DANA ROBERTSON: At the last federal conference it was all smiles, but tonight, the two men at the
top of the Nationals are deeply divided. The Deputy Prime Minister is demanding the Party's Federal
President, David Russell, stand aside for keeping him in the dark about the Queensland merger talks
when he was in the thick of it.

MARK VAILE, DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: I've made a request of the organisation and the organisation is
complying with the processes under the constitution that is available to them.

SIR JOH BJELKE-PETERSEN, FORMER QUEENSLAND PREMIER (NEWSREEL FOOTAGE): The coalition is finished!

DANA ROBERTSON: Mr Russell was one of the key backers of the disastrous 'Joh for Canberra' campaign
nearly two decades ago, but the Queensland reaction to Mark Vaile's demand is all too typical of
the division now racking the party.

LAWRENCE SPRINGBORG, QUEENSLAND NATIONALS LEADER: David Russell is an excellent Federal President.
He's extremely intelligent, very capable, very applied, and knows the Nationals like no other
person.

DANA ROBERTSON: Lawrence Springborg emerged from his talks with Mr Vaile this evening still
committed to the idea of a single conservative party for Queensland.

LAWRENCE SPRINGBORG: There's been significant progress in one, the understanding and two, the way
that we could accommodate both the Commonwealth's issues, as expressed by the Prime Minister and
Deputy Prime Minister.

DANA ROBERTSON: But as to just how those concerns could be placated, he was less forthcoming.

LAWRENCE SPRINGBORG: There's always more than one way to skin a cat.

DANA ROBERTSON: Convincing the doubters though, seems an almost insurmountable task.

BARNABY JOYCE, QUEENSLAND NATIONALS SENATOR: There are a lot of people if they didn't vote
National, they'd vote Labor and they're not going to be joining - they're not going to be voting
for us if we join the Liberal Party.

SENATOR BOSWELL, QUEENSLAND NATIONALS SENATOR: I just know everyone is supporting Mark and Mark's
position. Everyone. Well, nearly everyone - Bruce Scott's not.

GEORGE BRANDIS, QUEENSLAND LIBERAL SENATOR: I think it's very important that this issue should be
taken off the table fast before it causes any more damage to the federal coalition.

DANA ROBERTSON: And John Howard's certainly not for turning. He told the closed door meeting of
Coalition MPs today that his permission had not been sought, but, if it had, "I would have said
'No. Under no circumstances'." And why? "The National Party would be divided and cause a whole lot
of trouble." That message was reinforced by the Prime Minister tonight at an almost 2-hour-long
meeting with Queensland Liberal MPs and senators. And it's understood the Queensland Liberal
Party's State executive is expected to meet again within days to look again at its decision to
endorse the negotiations with the Nationals. Mr Howard didn't convince everyone though: three
Queensland Liberals are still backing the merger idea. Dana Robertson, Lateline.

(c) 2006 ABC