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Lib wants official Nats deal to end three-way trouble

A regional backbencher hit by a 22 per cent swing on Saturday has called for a formal coalition between the Liberal Party and the Nationals to stop three-cornered contests in country seats.

Liberal Ian Blayney, who is currently ahead of Labor’s Lara Dalton in the race for Geraldton by just 278 votes, said he had underestimated the Opposition’s campaign in the seat because he was distracted by Nationals candidate Paul Brown.

Mr Blayney, who had a 20 per cent drop in the primary vote, said fighting the campaign on two fronts was “bloody hard”, especially when the Nationals campaigned on the Royalties for Regions program.

“It distracted me and it points out the stupidity of three-cornered contests,” he said. “As I said in the party room, we delivered the spending cuts, they delivered the Royalties for Regions cheques. It’s pointless.

“Why are we pouring resources into fighting our seats when we should be putting them into seats we can win — we are now no closer to winning Labor-held Albany and Kimberley than ever before.”

Despite calling the Nationals “irrational misfits”, Mr Blayney said an official coalition offered the best chance of returning to government. “I worry if we don’t (form a coalition), it makes it even harder to get back into government,” he said. “The way it works when we’re in coalition — you don’t contest seats with sitting members, sure you run a token candidate for the party faithful.

“Most of us would be happy to work in a coalition, but this next generation of Nationals want nothing to do with us. I call it rural chauvinism — they think they’re entitled to represent the regions.”

Nationals WA president James Hayward disagreed with Mr Blayney’s assessment that three-cornered contests were to blame for poor Liberal results.

“Three-cornered contests are something that we’ve had a lot of in WA and that’s the way we do business here or have done business here,” he said.

“I don’t accept that argument — in my view the Liberals … probably made a number of fundamental mistakes along the way and I suspect that those are the reasons why they have done really poorly.

“I think they probably took the seats for granted a little bit — we certainly didn’t do that, our campaigns have been long and hard-fought and, from what I could see, we didn’t see the Liberals in the same footing.”

Mr Hayward said while he did not disagree returning to government would be hard, he was not sure an official coalition was the right idea.

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