Dissension in ranks as the Coalition sticks to its guns
TO UNDERSTAND just how close the relationship between the O'Farrell government and the balance-of-power parties has become, look no further than the final parliamentary speech of the year by the Roads Minister, Duncan Gay.
''I thank all honourable members … On behalf of the Christian Democratic Party and the Shooters and Fishers Party, who make up our team in the House, I wish you all the best for Christmas.''
Yes, you read correctly - a senior government minister who counts the Shooters and Fred Nile's Christian Democrats as ''part of the team''.
The Shooters cop a lot of flak for pursuing their gun-loving agenda.
But you cannot blame them for the way they operate.
They are an unashamed single-issue outfit. By a quirk of the Westminster system, they just happen to have been landed with the balance of power in Parliament and hence the opportunity to deliver for that constituency.
The more surprising aspect of their growing clout is just how accommodating the government has been to them.
Not even Robert Brown and Robert Borsak, the Shooters MPs, could have believed that two years after the election, when they pledged to respect the mandate Barry O'Farrell had been handed by the electorate, they would have achieved so many things on their wish list.
Hunting in national parks and a resumption of duck shooting top that list but as Fairfax Media reported last week, they have also been instrumental in shaping the government's new firearms laws and watering down its plan to restrict the sale of ammunition.
What goes largely unremarked is that much of the Shooters' agenda is exactly the same agenda as O'Farrell's Coalition partners, the Nationals.
The Nats were instrumental in breathing life into the firearms consultative committee that has done its best to stymie the police on tightening gun controls and succeeded in sparing rifle and shotgun owners (read farmers) from the ammunition law.
In Parliament, Gay is the government's senior upper house negotiator with the Shooters and Nile.
He is passionately and vociferously anti-Green and has been saying publicly since 1995 that hunters should be allowed back into national parks.
His style has alienated large sections of the Liberal Party.
A Liberal MP told me: ''The Shooters call the shots with Duncan Gay - who delivers the Nationals party room, which delivers the cabinet and that locks in the whole party room. Duncan has been the tail wagging the dog.''
It is largely overlooked that federal Labor's minor resurrection in the polls came after it went to war with the Greens - once considered ''part of the team''.
At some point, O'Farrell's own party - but more likely the public - will demand he take a tougher line with the Shooters.