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Consistently Unprincipled: The Liberal Party’s Approach To One Nation Preference Deals

March 4, 2017 - 10:55 -- Admin

More on Liberal Party preferencing strategy towards One Nation here.

The Liberal Party has decided to preference One Nation in the upcoming Western Australian State Election. This decision has endorsement from the national executive of the Liberal Party including the Prime Minister and is also endorsed by former Prime Minister John Howard whose regard within the Liberal Party is hagiographic, kind of like living royalty, a saint, the effulgence of an idealised Philosopher/Statesman.

John Howard, campaigning for the WA Liberals, wholeheartedly approved of the One Nation preference deal calling it very sensible and pragmatic.  Since John Howard is formally campaigning, and he is in his very person a living extension of the Liberal Party secretariat, his comments tell you that the Liberal Party at the highest levels endorse and approve preferencing One Nation in the WA Election. This is despite Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull expressing the formal autonomy of the State-level Liberals and distancing himself from any opinion or input into the decision.

WA Liberal Premier, Colin Barnett, has made no secrets about the rationale for the One Nation Preference deal – its a simple matter of maximizing his chances for re-election. There is no consideration of ethics or policy. His decision is completely unprincipled and designed simply on tactical considerations of how to retain power.

As Barnett said:

 (It’s) just a mathematical equation, the Liberals best chance of winning. (We) can’t sit back and let it all happen.”

As straight-forwardly stated by WA Today, The WA Liberals want to avoid a repeat of the 2001 election when Richard Court lost power after putting One Nation last.

Barnett, trying to avoid being tarnished by association with One Nation viewpoints, has claimed he doesn’t even know what their policies are. This is absurd and Barnett can not expect anyone to believe what he says. In fact, just like Labor and the Greens, One Nation is opposed to one of the Liberals’ signature economic policies. That is the privatisation of Western Power, mainly in order to reduce the state’s extremely high and worsening debt levels.

So Barnett’s central Budgetary policy will be likely scuppered by the outcome of the preference deal he has made with One Nation as a  probable result of that deal is that One Nation will hold Balance of Power in the Upper House.

Apart from this, of course, all of Australia, including Colin Barnett, knows what One Nation stand for. Barnett is trying to avoid guilt-by-association while forming a partnership with persons he knows both reject his major Budgetary policies and hold a range of reactionary, xenophobic, irrational and homophobic viewpoints and in fact are an entirely erratic, idiosyncratic collection of individuals loosely bound by broad agreement on certain themes.  Consigning Balance of Power to such a group is unbelievably irresponsible on the part of Barnett, Howard, Turnbull and the entirety of the Liberal Party executive and leadership.

Sophisticated And Nuanced

The Liberal Party have attempted to justify their preference deal with One Nation by claiming that One Nation is no longer reactionary, xenophobic or racist and that Pauline Hanson and One Nation themselves have become more nuances or sophisticated.

This is simply untrue. One Nation is the same entity as it ever was. As The Western Australian Newspaper reported, WA One Nation candidate Richard Eldridge once advocated killing Indonesian journalists and attacked “poofters”, Muslims and black people on his now-deactivated Twitter account.

Mr Eldridge, a real estate agent contesting an upper house seat in the South Metropolitan region of Perth, called Muslims “little sheet heads”, derided gay relationships as “poo games” and advocated taking up arms against “extreme Muslims”.

He revived his Twitter account on Thursday morning, saying his 2014 comments did not represent his views today.

A second WA One Nation candidate, Michelle Myers nominated for the newly-created seat of Bateman said that the gay community uses Nazi-style mind control techniques in order to brainwash ordinary citizens into supporting policies of the alternative sexuality movement. WA Today, quoted Myers as follows:

Are you wondering why even some Christians are being swayed by the gender industry’s pitch and push 4 same sex ‘marriage’ and acceptance of fake families?”, the One Nation candidate asked. It’s not by accident; it’s by a carefully contrived but disingenuous mind control program, melded together by two Norwegian homosexuals who graduated from Harvard – one of whom has since prematurely passed away.

Whatever one thinks of the statements of Myers and Eldridge, it is obvious that One Nation has not changed one iota. They remain the same beast they were in 1998 when John Howard instructed the electorate to put One Nation last in every seat.

As the Australian Financial Review puts it

The suggestion Hanson has changed in some fundamental way is actually an indication of how much the rest of politics has changed

Consistently Unprincipled

The decision by The Liberal Party to preference One Nation continues its historical policy of dealing with One Nation purely on the basis of Unprincipled Self-Interest. This is the way that The Liberals have always dealt with One Nation and what they are doing now in the WA Election.

Here are the major milestones of the consistently unprincipled Liberal Party / One Nation preference deal journey:

March 1997 – One Nation Formed.

One Nation immediately commandeers 9% of the national vote, measured by polls, most of which came from the Liberal/National coalition. George Megalogenis states that the LNP vote fell from 49% in March 1997 when One Nation was formed, to 40% one month later ‘and all of it went over to the One Nation column’.

Howard could not afford to antagonize One Nation as their support base was comprised mainly of disaffected Coalition voters. Howard needed to ensure that One Nation voters would preference him, so he played softly-softly with them.

Howard is not fundamentally opposed to the One Nation agenda and tells his party room that he would prefer to work with them rather than the Australian Democrats. Peter Costello and Amanda Vanstone disagree. Both of these made public comments that the Liberal Party should put One Nation last in the preference order on ethical grounds i.e. that One Nation were racist. Both received long and emphatic phone calls from John Howard they should retract their opinions, Vanstone commenting that Howard was so loud she was forced to hold the receiver away from her ear (‘The Howard Years’, Episode 1, ABC Television, broadcast 17 Nov. 2008)

Howard decides to preference One Nation above Labor. This, Howard hoped, would send a message to One Nation voters that he was not displeased with the One Nation message, particularly in the climate of general social condemnation of One Nation, and maximize the One Nation preference flow to the Coalition.

June 1998 – Queensland State Election

One Nation won an astonishing 23% of the primary vote and, aided by Coalition preferences won 11 seats, while the Coalition itself lost 5 seats in Brisbane as inner-city voters expressed their disgust at Howard’s preferencing of One Nation above Labor.

If these results were to be repeated at the upcoming Federal Election, Howard and the Coalition would be soundly defeated.

Immediately after Queensland election Howard flies to Queensland to meet with One Nation supporters and try to convince them that the Coalition understood their issues and would help them. In the meantime he commissions Tony Abbott to find a way to destroy One Nation. Abbott creates a slush fund to fund legal action against Hanson and One Nation. Abbott and Howard lie about their knowledge of and existence of the Fund. Abbott and Howard eventually get Hanson thrown in jail.

The strategy of the National and Liberal parties to preference One Nation paid off outside Brisbane, where it won five seats from Labor and failed only narrowly to secure the re-election of the Borbidge Government (Ward and Rae 2000, 114), in Brisbane the strategy badly back-fired: urban voters ‘punished’ the Liberals for directing preferences to One Nation (Reynolds 2001, 156).

So the overall effect of Coalition preferences was to assist One Nation to win seats, to win some seats for the LNP in rural and outer-metro areas, but to experience significant punishment in urban seats as relatively educated and progressive voters express disgust against associating with the LNP

1998 – Federal Election

Howard decides to put One Nation last to protect urban seats  (of which there are many) from backlash against inner-city voters, foregoes assistance in rural seats (of which there are few) and avoid loss of outer-metro seats to One Nation.

2001 – WA State Election

One Nation retaliate by putting LNP last. LNP lose power to ALP.

2002-2015 One Nation Ceases To Exist as a significant political force

2017 – WA State Election

Barnett, Turnbull and Howard fine-tune the preference strategy, swapping One Nation preferences in Lower House for Lib preferences in the Upper House. They are trying to sandbag Lower House seats and so retain government whilst conceding Balance of Power in the Upper House. One Nation has proven potent in WA. So, like Howard did, Barnett and other Liberals are trying to mollify One Nation voters by saying they are good people, sophisticated and nuanced, and that their concerns are seriously addressed by the Libs.

Also, noting a reactionary shift in the political landscape toward populism, nationalism and anti-Immigration, the Libs judge that urban voters are less likely to punish them by association with One Nation

The Libs are also trying to distance themselves from One Nation even while cuddling up to them, hence Barnett feigning ignorance of their policies. This is to mollify urban voters intended to reduce backlash.

I go into more detail about the early LNP / One Nation history here, drawing heavily on research by Margo Kingston.