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History repeats as Hanson party fractures

Analysis

This week could go down in history as the beginning of the end for Pauline Hanson's One Nation at the federal level.

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It’s a breakdown that will have implications not only for the party but the success or failure of the Turnbull government.

Hanson and her West Australian colleague Rod Culleton are clearly at odds over a range of policies, as well as his ability to manage his day job while dealing with a barrage of court cases.

In the coming months Culleton faces a High Court challenge to his eligibility to run for parliament in the July election and a police investigation into whether he intimidated a Queensland magistrate and a bankruptcy case.

Fortunately for Culleton there is only one more week of parliament before it rises for the year, returning on February 7.

The pair met for more than an hour on Wednesday mainly to clarify – for Hanson’s sake – that he is capable of managing the mess he’s found himself in.

Hanson – who is well versed in the court system after being jailed in 2003 for electoral fraud and later cleared – also raised her deep concern about his plan to represent himself instead of getting professional help.

However, it took 24 chaotic hours to organise the meeting, with Hanson at one stage pleading on television: “Rod, excuse me, I’m party leader. I expect you to come to my office, right?”

Another One Nation senator Malcolm Roberts says Culleton is going through a difficult time “emotionally and mentally”.

However, there is more to the problem than the perils of organising a meeting.

This week Culleton and NSW colleague Brian Burston voted on the opposite side of the chamber to Hanson and Roberts – on a Greens amendment to the government’s superannuation changes.

Culleton later suggested this was what could happen to Malcolm Turnbull’s much-vaunted Australian Building and Construction Commission laws.

“Wasn’t it interesting in the chamber today with two on one side and two on the other – so there’s your question answered,” he told reporters.

Describing his approach to politics he said: “When I go sailing I don’t go between two points, I tack and many America’s Cups have been won by tacking.”

Culleton has split with Hanson on other policy areas, backing Bob Katter in his objection to Gina Rinehart’s bid to buy the Kidman cattle empire while the leader favoured the idea.

Senior staff are also at odds – especially Culleton’s chief of staff Margaret Menzel and Hanson’s most senior adviser James Ashby.

It’s not the first time One Nation has fallen apart. After the 1998 Queensland state election, when the party won 11 seats, it imploded with MPs quitting to form breakaway groups and Hanson eventually standing aside as party president and distancing herself from the rabble.

A functional breakdown today’s federal party, as well as inexperience, is having a direct impact on the way parliament is operating.

On Wednesday night, Hanson and Burston missed a Senate vote that caused the government to lose the vote on its bill to increase the international passenger departure tax.

Hanson’s team was crucial to the government this week getting some much-needed runs on the board. They supported the passage of one of the government’s double dissolution triggers, the laws to crack down on union misconduct.

Division in the party will make an already difficult Senate even trickier for Turnbull.

However, there may be some light at the end of the tunnel for whoever governs next.

Three of the four One Nation senators face re-election at a half-Senate election due in late 2018 could lose their their seats, leaving Hanson as the last party MP standing.

Hanson remains optimistic about the party’s future and wants to build its support base at upcoming state elections in Queensland and Western Australia.

The March 11 WA election is more problematic, with the state party’s most prominent figure – Culleton – distracted by court cases and the lack of a adequately functioning branch.

The Queensland branch is a better-oiled machine, having previously held seats in the state parliament and with polls showing voter support of 20 per cent.

But the reintroduction of compulsory preferential voting in Queensland will make it harder to win seats.

Hanson has personally proven to be a long-term political force, but it might take more than that to hold One Nation together.

AAP

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