ROGER SCOTT. With Friends Like These …

Nov 16, 2017

If Week 2 of the Queensland election campaign was dominated by parochialism and regional development, Week 3 was about statewide preference deals and the price to be paid by the LNP as it seeks to bolster its sagging fortunes by agreeing to a list of One Nation demands. In addition, one or two of the chaotic events on the national stage caught the attention of locals, after Canberra being invisible earlier in the campaign. These also related to the LNP’s new-found friends.

As I have noted earlier, Hanson has built a party around the cult of her personal celebrity, while the One Nation party has consistently exhibited two major weaknesses: inexperienced, often eccentric candidates coupled with autocratic internal management practices. Both were on display this week, acting as a reminder to potential LNP voters about the sort of company that their leaders would be forced to keep if they want to form a government.

Problems with the candidate for Thuringowa

The first event affecting Pauline Hanson was a widely-televised interview with Hanson standing beside her candidate for the Townsville seat of Thuringowa who was challenged to reveal that he was owner of an adult store ‘Cupid’s Cabin’ and then to comment on a posting on its site: ‘Good Sex should be in the gray area between “tickle fight” and domestic violence.’ He made the mistake of seeking to explain the connection between ‘gray’ and the erotic best-seller with a similar title, but his literary criticism was rapidly cut off by Hanson who brushed him aside on camera. She then declined to make any ‘rash decision’ on the spot about whether she would disown the candidate, until she had a chance to have a look at the site (since taken down) and had talked to her state party leaders. Hanson concluded the press conference with her familiar strategy of attacking the media for this set-up, and later widened her criticism by saying that there was a lot worse seen on SBS. The outcry about the promotion of domestic violence came not just from the relevant ALP Minister but also a wide range of other concerned groups. Nevertheless Hanson stood by her man.

Distasteful alternative facts on the Safe Schools program

The second event was even more reprehensible because it involved the One Nation state leader, Steve Dickson; disowning him was not even considered as an option. Again with Hanson nodding positively in the background, Dickson moved from propounding a general position about protecting family values to the specific commitment to abolish the controversial Safe Schools program (which is not funded by the State education department). He claimed that ‘We are having little kids in grade four in school, young girls being taught by teachers how to masturbate, how to strap on dildos, how to do this sort of stuff’. Dickson later apologised for his choice of wording, admitting he had no evidence, although by then Malcolm Roberts, now a candidate for Ipswich, had joined in the fact-free condemnation of the program.

Comings and goings in Canberra

The third event focussed attention back on One Nation’s representatives in Canberra. Here was an eerie echo of 1998, when One Nation’s Heather Hill set a national precedent by being expelled from her Senate seat on grounds of her dual British citizenship. In October 2017, in similar circumstances, Malcolm Roberts had been forced out of the Senate to make way for the next candidate on the list, Fraser Anning, sometime publican in regional Queensland and franchisee for solar panels. From early on, when Roberts seemed destined for the fate which ultimately befell him, Anning dissociated himself from the Roberts view of the world of international conspiracies against climate change.

In 1998, when Heather Hill lost her place in the Senate because of her citizenship, One Nation’s number two candidate on the Senate ballot, Len Harris, was appointed in Hill’s place, taking up his seat on 2 July 1999 and retaining it until 2005. Harris resisted pressure from One Nation to hand over his seat to Hill.

This week, hearsay suggests that Anning rendered himself incommunicado to avoid being browbeaten/shamed into agreeing to stand aside. What is on the record is that James Ashby, Hanson’s close advisor, has been accused of bullying a staff member, one of several accused of disloyalty in Hanson’s press release. Whatever the facts of the matter – in an era and in an organisation where they sometimes matter little –  the outcome was to cast a long shadow over the party’s high standing in the Queensland polls.

Preference deals clarified

This high standing comes, in the most part, from voters disillusioned or unimpressed with the two major organisations. The ALP has chosen from the start to have no dealings with One Nation. The LNP has been deliberately ambiguous because of its own bipartite voter base: Liberals in the urban southeast and Nationals in the west and north.

The LNP is faced with a shrinking base overall as support moves further to the right towards One Nation and to the centre via the ALP or even to the Greens. The Greens may benefit also from an influx of new enrolments by younger voters wanting to have their say in the recent equal marriage plebiscite, ironically threatening the ALP’s  push for majority status.

Preference arrangements had to be finalised in time to print ‘how-to-vote’ cards for pre-polling which opened last Monday. There is now less ambiguity. In all the seats that matter to One Nation, the LNP has placed that party above the ALP (with the Greens at the bottom in all cases).

The union movement accelerates its campaign

Tim Nicholls, as Campbell Newman’s Treasurer, played a major role pursuing a neo-liberal agenda, promoting small government by cutting public services and 14,000 public sector jobs. Newman’s campaign promise that no public servant had anything to fear from an LNP government haunted him throughout his term, and was largely responsible for his downfall. A recent economic analysis by John Quiggin has suggested that the LNP’s current promises, including no new taxes, means that its infrastructure largesse could only be funded by another round of public service cuts, an analysis likely to add fuel to any campaign by an already hostile union movement.

Over the final two weeks of the current election campaign, public sector employees will be reminded constantly of Newman’s misleading promise about their job security as the trade unions mobilise their resources to call into question Nicholls’ own credibility – particularly given the clear signal that earlier LNP statements about keeping One Nation at arm’s length have now proved similarly misleading.

So if Adani was the biggest millstone for Palaszczuk, discussed during the second week of the campaign, One Nation and its threat to sensible behaviour in government is the much bigger millstone in the third week, this time borne by the LNP. One beneficiary might be Katter’s Australian Party’s alternative offering to the bush, which is short of the racism and general lunacy of the One Nation’s ideology and its eccentric candidates. There may also be urban ex-Liberals willing to turn Green rather than Pink, in the interests of not helping the ALP, but being even less impressed by One Nation.

One further reason for being less impressed was a reminder of the basic ideology on which One Nation is built, once the first item in its own policy agenda but not mentioned in media coverage of the Queensland campaign – ultra-nationalist policies which started out in 1996 as anti-Aboriginal, then became anti-Asian, and is now anti-Muslim, all aimed at resisting multi-culturalism. When a white ultra-nationalist fringe group made a video of themselves harassing Senator Sam Dastyari in Sydney, Hanson’s response was to blame Dastyari: with friends like these ‘patriots’ …

Roger Scott is an Emeritus Professor of Public Administration in the University of Queensland and former Director-General of Education in Queensland. He was the Foundation Director of the TJ Ryan Foundation in Brisbane.

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