AT one of the last Federal National party meetings I attended, the discussion centred on the rerun of the WA Senate elections after the ballot papers were lost by the Australian Electoral Commission.
Then leader Warren Truss and deputy leader at the time Barnaby Joyce, supported by the party room, made the decision that we would field a candidate. It would cost a bomb and we had no chance of winning, but our own preferences would elect Liberal Senator Linda Reynolds.
We agreed we could not abandon our coalition partners. Senator Reynolds won. She acknowledged in her first speech the National Party effort. That’s what the Nats do: play as a team.
It came as a bitter disappointment when the WA Liberals did a preference deal with One Nation that gave One Nation a foothold in the WA Upper House. What were they thinking? To abandon the National Party that you have governed with in the past, and you will have to govern with in the future? It sent a terrible signal to the WA electorate. If the Libs and Nats can’t back each other in their campaign and go to the election as a team, how are you going to run the state as a team? Doing a preference deal with One Nation added doubt and uncertainty to voters’ minds before the campaign even began.
The Nationals had been in hand-to-hand combat with One Nation for years. We learned the hard way, when former Premier of Queensland, Rob Borbidge resisted giving preferences to One Nation but was overriden by the party. The result was 14 years in opposition.
A preference deal is not simply adding a Liberal vote of 35 per cent to a One Nation vote of 20pc and getting 55pc and winning. It doesn’t work that way. The moderate Liberals get uneasy, don’t want to have any part of a government that relies on One Nation’s support, and go to Labor. On the other side, some conversative voters believe it’s safe to go direct to One Nation if the coalition has endorsed it by a preference deal. The primary vote is caught in a pincer movement from the left and right and is reduced to the point where a conservative primary vote can sink low enough to elect a One Nation candidate. It’s happened.
Unlike the Greens who are disciplined and follow the how-to-vote card religiously, One Nation preferences spray everywhere and go back to the major party from where the vote originated from. A preference swap with One Nation reduces the primary vote; you get your own vote back, less the transaction cost. It’s a dud deal.
The election result was a warning for the conservatives. We have seen firsthand how preference deals with One Nation are not worth the paper they’re written on. We’ve experienced this before heading into the next Queensland and Federal elections. There is no point making ill-advised deals in a panic.
Last week Barnaby Joyce and Malcolm Turnbull negotiated a trade agreement that allowed Australia to sell another half a million tonnes of sugar to Indonesia. The average weight of feeder cattle was increased from 350kg to 450kg. This was another big win for primary industry. The Government has signed a trade agreement that will allow Australian primary producers access to another 300 million Indonesian consumers.
Regional voters must answer the question: who do they want sitting at the table negotiating with President Joko Widodo to reduce tariffs, to get market access, to sign trade deals? Pauline Hanson with her anti-Islamic rhetoric? Or Barnaby Joyce? As a former paintbrush salesman, you learn you don’t insult your customers if you want them to open the order book. It’s true whether you’re speaking about Indonesia, Vietnam or the Middle East. These countries take our products. It’s these countries that our exporters depend on for their livelihoods. With the mining slowdown this dependence will only grow and grow.
Australia’s primary industry is worth $60 billion. This magnificant trade figure was carefully negotiated through trade agreements, reduced tariffs on meat, wheat and other primary exports. These are the trade deals that Steven Ciobo negotiated and Pauline Hanson is against.
Pauline Hanson has called for fewer politicians in Parliament. Tell that to regional Australia. They know that politicians are the lifeblood of their towns and their regions. They are the conduit for the funds to build roads, schools and hospitals. Good luck fighting off any epidemic caused by Pauline Hanson’s anti-vaxx views when you’re without a town doctor.
One Nation’s ideas might sound good, but for regional Australia they’re catastrophic. Take Pauline Hanson’s plan to introduce citizen-initiated referendums. This would give the public the ability to introduce and replace laws. It would threaten the hard-won gains made by regional Australia. It’d be pretty easy for the left-wing group GetUp! to lodge a campaign against live cattle exports or kangaroo culling, or for the closure of fishing grounds. These referendums would be used against the interests of regional Australia.
Voters must understand that governing is complex. Barnaby Joyce said last week, this isn’t a reality TV show. This is running a country. This isn’t just finding a couple of issues that gel with the public and running on them. This is serious stuff. Real issues require serious attention and intervention or they simply don’t get solved. They demand someone with political clout. This is something Pauline Hanson can’t offer. Populism just won’t cut it. One Nation thrives on it.
It was the Aboriginals. Then the Asians. Then the Muslims. The story is always the same, it’s just the characters that change based on who’s most unpopular at the time. It’s good for winning a few votes but it’s a disaster for Australia and its relationships with its trading partners.
Australia is a democracy. Pauline Hanson was elected to Parliament. The Government must seek her vote to pass legislation and she must be treated with respect. But her ideas and policies must be scrutinised, exposed and explained, and their repercussions pointed out, or voters will not understand the consequences of what they are voting for. Her policies must be challenged by the major parties.
- Ron Boswell was a Senator for Queensland for 31 years and leader of the National Party for 17 years.
The story Why Pauline Hanson’s One Nation is catastrophic | Comment first appeared on Queensland Country Life.