The aftermath of Port Arthur is repeating, as the government is using John Howard’s playbook in order to marginalise One Nation. There is a problem with that, however.
In relegating Liberal preferences for Pauline Hanson’s One Nation party candidates to below those for Labor, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has evoked the resilience of John Howard’s equally unequivocal stance at the 1998 federal election. At that federal election, in the aftermath of the Port Arthur massacre, One Nation won not a single lower house seat despite polling around 1 million votes. The Coalition’s preferencing against One Nation kept them out.
Morrison is hoping this time to shore up the Coalition’s vote by making a clear stance against One Nation. He is also attempting to defuse the issue of how the Liberals will deal with the issue of “putting One Nation last” which could suck out much oxygen from his subsequent campaigning.
On the back of Howard’s successful appearances for the Coalition during the NSW election campaign, he is suddenly the anchorman with whom Morrison wants to associate himself. Howard’s tough stance on gun laws after the Port Arthur massacre in 1996 earned him considerable respect, but also caused him great political pain when confronting his own constituencies who were gun owners (farmers, landholders, shooters, hunters).
Now Morrison wants to protect the sanctity of Howard’s gun laws, acting decisively and speaking tough. He claims he was “shocked” by Hanson’s comments on the Port Arthur massacre, believing it to be a conspiracy to tighten gun laws. He has asserted that he did not make the decision alone, but consulted the state Liberal party organisations, and John Howard himself. At his press conference last week, he alluded to the fact that he had waited for Pauline Hanson to apologise or explain her covertly recorded comments, but she had not chosen to do so.
In terms of residual preferencing, Morrison said: “there’s a lot of competition for who you put last with a lot of these (micro) parties.” However, the Nationals’ leader Michael McCormack declared that his party would not necessarily conform to the decision, and probably allocate preference rankings on a seat-by-seat basis. It remains to be seen whether the Liberals can enforce a preference arrangement against One Nation across the entire nation.
The PM’s declaration may prompt some form of retaliation from the Hanson tribe. Expecting up to 5-8% of the vote in selected seats, she might decide to preference against sitting Liberals in marginal seats, which could cost them their seats.
Alternatively, not wanting to advantage the Labor party, she could offer open tickets and allow her voters to select for themselves which way their preferences flowed. If she opted for this course she would not be indirectly endorsing fellow conservative candidates.
In Queensland’s federal seats held by the Coalition, Michelle Landry (Capricornia 0.6%), Bert van Manen (Forde 0.6%), Ken O’Dowd (Flynn 1%), Luke Howarth (Petrie 1.6%), George Christensen (Dawson 3.3%) and Keith Pitt (Hinkler 8.4%), are all susceptible to a One Nation vindictive anti-preferencing strategy, which is enough to see a change of government. It will be interesting to see whether One Nation will stand in Peter Dutton’s seat of Dickson (2%), given their similar policy stances.
Sitting LNP members in these seats will be nervously calculating the cost of Morrison’s edict. Some may choose to disobey him and issue their own how-to-vote cards at the local booths.
If One Nation seeks to preference against sitting Labor members then Cathy O’Toole (Herbert 0%), Susan Lamb (Longman 2%) and Terri Butler (Griffith 1.4%) are in trouble.
The Liberal hierarchy have obviously decided that the time is right to try to puncture One Nation’s bubble before the party can gain any traction in the forthcoming campaign. And yet again Pauline Hanson has dampened potential support for her party by injudicious comments likely to dismay mainstream voters.