With all eyes on Western Australia this week, as the Barnett Liberal Government braces to be washed away by a tidal wave of voter discontent, Pauline Hanson’s resurgent right-wing force is set to gain a firmer foothold in the political landscape.
A controversial preference deal with the Liberals could see One Nation – polling up to 8.5 per cent – with the balance of power in the state’s upper house.
The deal has backfired on the Liberals, forcing Premier Colin Barnett to publicly defend it as “unusual but a practical pragmatic decision by the Liberal Party because what we’re out to do is to retain government”.
The arrangement will see the Liberals preference One Nation ahead of the Nationals in the Upper House in regional areas, with Hanson’s party reciprocating by urging voters to put the Liberals ahead of Labor in all lower house seats.
But the deal has been criticised by many, including some One Nation candidates, with federal Labor leader Bill Shorten seizing on the controversy to reiterate the ALP’s long-held stance on the divisive minor party.
I've announced Labor will preference One Nation last – Turnbull should do same.
— Bill Shorten (@billshortenmp) March 6, 2017
That position has been backed by Labor’s SA branch as it gears up for its own election battle, with state secretary Reggie Martin telling InDaily: “The Labor Party will not be doing a deal with One Nation for preferences in SA.”
“As a general rule, we put One Nation last,” he said.
That general rule has mattered little in recent elections, with One Nation no longer even registered as a party at the 2014 poll.
However, its phenomenal rebirth will see it play a far more prominent role in next year’s election, with state administrator Steven Burgess saying the party planned to run “as many quality candidates as we can run”.
Interestingly, One Nation’s preference flows at the July federal election were all-but evenly split between Labor and Liberal, but its resurgence is another headache for the Marshall Opposition, already grappling with the likely insurgence of Nick Xenophon’s SA Best in key Adelaide Hills seats.
Liberal state director Sascha Meldrum today wouldn’t rule out preferencing One Nation ahead of Labor, saying: “With a year to go, it’s too early for any preference deals.”
That was echoed by Burgess, who said it was “just too early to comment at this stage”.
“I’m not in a position to make any statement on preferences because ultimately that’s a decision for Senator Hanson,” he said.
“Obviously we’ll go a lot by what happens in WA.”
Burgess hit out at recent changes to electoral laws by Attorney-General John Rau, designed to clamp down on preference “gaming” by micro-parties. Rau also raised the cost of nominating to run from $450 to $3000, which Burgess said was “put in place to stymie democracy”.
“The price of being a candidate here is 12 times that of WA and three times the federal election,” he said, noting it would cost One Nation around $150,000 to run candidates in all electorates and the upper house.
“It makes it very difficult for minor parties like us,” he said.
“It’s dirty politics, because it stops democracy.”
Burgess believes while SA has never been fertile ground for Pauline Hanson’s party, there are notable similarities to the WA scenario.
“In WA you have an entrenched Liberal Government on the nose; we have an entrenched Labor Government on the nose,” he said.
“The Liberal Party [in SA], I don’t think they’ve kicked the goals in Opposition… to have good Government you need a good Opposition, and we’ve had neither – it could be wide open this time for change.
“SA could be the powder keg… don’t underestimate how much support she has here.”
He said he was “not surprised at all” that Labor had opted to put One Nation last on its how-to-vote cards.
Federal frontbencher Arthur Sinodinos said of the WA situation last month that “the One Nation of today is a very different beast to what it was 20 years ago”.
“They are a lot more sophisticated, they have clearly resonated with a lot of people… our job is to treat them as any other party,” he told reporters.
“That doesn’t mean we have to agree with their policies… so when it comes to issues of preferencing and the like, we have to make decisions — in this case, it’s a state decision, it’s not a federal decision… it’s based on the local circumstances.”
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