This is the weirdest starting point for a federal election that I can recall. Here in Queensland there are nine seats held by the LNP with a two-party preferred margin of 6 per cent or less. Depending on which betting market you prefer, in eight or nine of them the punters reckon that the Labor Party challenger will win.
Its early days yet, but the locals seem to have few doubts about what will happen on polling day. In my experience over recent state and federal elections the markets for individual seats provide a better and more accurate forecast of what will happen than calculating the seats that will change hands from the swing suggested by the opinion polls.
But there are some important unknowns mainly thanks to Pauline Hanson and Clive Palmer.
The One Nation preference issue is more important here than elsewhere in Australia. Scott Morrison’s tortured decision to have the Liberal Party preference One Nation below the Labor Party (but not necessarily last) doesn’t settle matters in Queensland where the Liberal National Party operates federally as two parties (depending on the decision of the individual LNP federal MP).
It probably won’t matter in Sydney, Melbourne or Perth, but the decisions that are bound to be taken by the LNP in regional and bush electorates to exchange preferences with Hanson’s candidates are likely to hurt the LNP’s vote in Brisbane. They have done in previous elections. Yet such preference deals are unlikely to rescue the affected LNP candidates.
This is because One Nation cannot deliver its preferences as assuredly as the Greens, 90 per cent or so of whose voters usually give their second preferences to Labor. One Nation can’t do much better than 67 per cent and sometimes as little as 55 per cent. That wouldn’t matter if they have taken first preference votes from people who previously voted mainly Labor, as seems to have happened when Pauline Hanson first come to prominence. But these days it is mainly Liberal and National Party voters who are attracted and desert to One Nation. That means that on balance, the presence of One Nation on the ballot is more damaging to the LNP than to Labor.
This is what matters in the election for the House of Representatives. It’s the ALP versus the LNP that counts. On present indications One Nation won’t be in the hunt for a Reps seat. It is extremely unlikely that they will be able to get enough support in any seat to push them into second place in the first preference count, ahead of the LNP, and thus be in a position to benefit from LNP second preferences.
And unlike the southern States, Queensland won’t be turning to any independents to rock the boat. Bob Katter is safe, but he is a one-off. No-one expects that anyone else will emerge to emulate his capture of what has become a seat so safe for him that neither the ALP nor the LNP will put any serious resources into a challenge.
It’s a different matter in the other election – the one for the Senate. The quota for a Senate place is just over 14 per cent. The polls suggest that One Nation in Queensland will go close to reaching that mark without the need for preferences – but the help the Nationals will provide should just about guarantee that Hanson’s Queensland leader, Steve Dickson, will start a new parliamentary career in the Senate.
Dickson, of course, was James Ashby’s offsider in the Al Jazeera expose of One Nation’s courting of the National Rifle Association. He was the one who boasted about how NRA funding would allow One Nation to get the balance of power and have the testicles of the Government ‘in our hand at every stage’.
Dickson started off as a Liberal and was elected to the state Parliament in 2006. He was the Minister for National Parks, Recreation, Sport and Racing in the Newman Government 2012-15 but switched to One Nation in Opposition, two years ago.
The notorious NRA scam raises another question: can money (and how much of it) really determine who wins elections? How many seats can a million dollars, $2 million, $10 million or $20 million – sums mentioned in the film – deliver? Well, it may be that Clive Palmer can provide us with an answer, and that answer may well be, none.
Palmer has spent many millions so far, with the promise of more to come. But he is spending it everywhere throughout Australia. Will those television and newspaper advertisements have any effect? Presumably they are aimed mainly at getting people to vote for his various Senate tickets. We’ll know more when the poll is formally called and nominations are declared. But all that money must have some disruptive effect. And where will his preferences go (particularly in the Senate)?
Meanwhile, spare a thought or two for the National Party. The Barnaby Joyce conundrum actually raises important policy issues for the party that highlight its dilemma. Just who does it represent these days? It was much easier when it was the Country Party – the name said it all. If it were still the Country Party it would have been the first to acknowledge that climate change is real.
But as the National Party it sought to broaden its appeal as the population outside metropolitan areas (and the electorates the party might appeal to) diminished proportionately. However, as it has distanced itself from its former base it has opened the way for independents to move in and capture significant parts of it.
And formally joining forces with the Liberals is not the answer, as Queensland demonstrates.
Dr David Solomon AM is a retired journalist and author. He was Queensland Integrity Commissioner 2009-2014.