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I recently came across Lynton Crosby’s analysis of the 1998 Election Campaign, won by the Liberal Party. Lynton Crosby was the Campaign Director for the Liberal Party in their 1998 victory as well as those in 1996, 2001 and 2004.

Why You Should Not Believe Political Advertising

In his analysis of the 1998 Election Crosby makes the staggeringly deceitful claim that John Howard decided to preference One Nation last on ethical grounds and that the decision to do so came at a significant political cost to the Liberal Party.

I wonder if Crosby can lie straight in bed. Here he is in his chapter “The Liberal Party” in “Howard’s Agenda: The 1998 Australian Election Simms M. and Warhurst J., (eds), UQP, St. Lucia, 2000

The decision to put One Nation last on Labor How To Vote cards came at no cost to the Labor Party whareas a similar and totally correct decision by the Liberal Party came at a considerable political price”

and

Handling One Nation was always an axiomatic issue. Our research found that evert time the media focussed on Pauline Hanson her support and One Nation’s would rise in the polls. John Howard was right all along in relation to the handling of One Nation…To hound her personally gave her the oxygen of publicity which was essential to her survival. John Howard’s actions in governing for the national interest irrespective of the personal political cost spoke louder than any words ever could.

Crosby should be disgusted with himself. His article is nothing but propaganda, an attempt to inject falsehood into the political discourse to improve the image of his boss, John Howard.

In fact, Howard had only one objective with One Nation and that was how to handle them tactically to the benefit of the Liberal Party. Conceptions of the national interest or any other laudable ethic were never a consideration for Howard when it came to how to preference or otherwise interact with One Nation.

Crosby v. The State Of Reality

One Nation was established in 1997 and immediately commandeered 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.

(see Megalogenis G., ‘The Longest Decade’, Scribe Publications, Melbourne, rev ed. 2008, p.223)


Margo Kingston in Unmasked Howard gets amnesia on Hanson provides a great overview of Howard’s tactics in relation to One Nation. This whole post is basically a paraphrase of Margo’s article.

Howard had two major objectives in relation to One Nation: minimize One Nation’s primary vote and capture as many One Nation preferences as possible. Howard was not at all averse to the policy agenda of One Nation so he had no reason to oppose them (by his ‘standards’, such as they were) on ethical grounds. According to Kingston:

Howard told his partyroom he’d prefer working with One Nation in the Senate to working with the Democrats.

Howard’s Problem

The problem that One Nation posed for Howard is that not only did One Nation significantly reduce the LNP primary vote, almost half of the One Nation vote went to Labor via preferences. So for every 1% of One Nation Vote the 2PP Coalition primary vote was reduced by approx. 0.5%. This was a huge problem for Howard and controlled his entire thinking toward One Nation.

Because of the sensitivity of the LNP 2PP vote to One Nation preferences, Howard initially decided 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.

Howard Rejects Principled Advice

In this Howard went against the advice and example of two of his senior colleagues, Peter Costello and Amanda Vanstone. 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 Comes A Gutser…But Only By Proxy

The first test of Howard’s tactics was the Queensland State election of June 1998. This election, held in the climate of a passionate Native Title debate turned the Australian political world upside down. 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. Kingston notes:

In the rural NSW seat of Gwydir, held by deputy National Party leader and Primary Industry Minister John Anderson, private party polling showed an incredible 49 percent of voters intended to vote One Nation.

Why Howard Really Put One Nation Last

It was only after the failure of Howard’s preferencing strategy in Queensland that he decided to put One Nation last. He could not afford to gift One Nation seats through Coalition preferences. Not that Howard told One Nation supporters that he would put them last. No. They still needed to be reassured that Howard was sympathetic to the grievances of One Nation voters. Immediately after Queensland election Howard flew to Queensland to meet with One Nation supporters and try to convince them that the Coalition understood their issues and would help them.

Howard now knew that One Nation presented a mortal danger to his political life.

Tony Abbott put the choices facing Howard and the Coalition succintly in his contribution the book Two Nations: The Causes and Effects of the Rise of the One Nation Party in Australia (Bookman, 1998).

The Queensland pattern suggests that a strong One Nation vote presents the Coalition with two alternatives: conceding government to Labor (by directing preferences against One Nation); or creating a credible rival for the conservative vote (by putting Labor last)…Obviously, rather than take a high One Nation vote for granted, the only viable Coalition strategy is to find ways of undermining support for the Hansonites.

UnAustralian

Thus was born one of the more revolting episodes of Australian political history, ‘Australians For Honest Politics’ , the slush fund created by Tony Abbott with the full support of John Howard.

The purpose of that slush fund was to provide funds for a legal battle on the bona-fides of One Nation’s registration as a political party in order to deprive One Nation of the publicly-financed electoral funding they were entited to as a result of their performance in the Queensland election. The objective of that legal challenge was to destroy One Nation financially. As Tony Abbott writes:

One of the key questions is the fate of the $500,000 worth of taxpayers’ money to which it has always been assumed One Nation is entitled in the wake of the Queensland election result. To receive public funding, a party must be registered under the relevant act.

Howard and Abbott needed the Liberal Party connection to the slush fund to be kept secret. This was important enough for Abbott, with Howard’s blessing to lie to to the Australian public on two occassions, once on Four Corners when it interviewed him on July 31 2003, and again in the Sydney Morning Herald in 2000. Abbott told the truth only when confronted by the SMH with incontrovertible evidence in the form of a guarantee signed by Abbott. As Kingston relates:

That agreement, a copy of which has been obtained by the Herald, was handwritten by Abbott and promised “my personal guarantee that you will not be further out-of-pocket as a result of this action”. It was witnessed and dated July 11, 1998. (See Tony Abbott’s dirty Hanson trick – and he lied about it, of course)

Howard Lies To The Public

John Howard knew all about the slush fund and approved of it. He lied to general public via the ABC on this matter. In a doorstop interview on August 22, 2003 Howard denied that he knew anything about his slush fund, but on August 29, 2003 in an AM interview he admitted that he did know about it. That doorstop interview was the only interview from the time that Hanson was sentenced for the irregularities in her party’s registration that did not appear on Howard’s Prime Ministerial website.

Thanks to Margo Kingston’s tenacious research we have this:

The DoorStop Interview (in which Howard denies any knowledge of AFHP):

Q: What about the allegation that the Liberal Party may have … bankrolled the campaign against Pauline Hanson?

PM: I’m not aware of the basis of that allegation. I’m sorry.

Q:Does the Liberal Party have anything…

PM: The Liberal Party to my knowledge, and bear in mind there’s a lot of people that represent the Liberal Party, but I’m not aware of anything of that kind…

EXTRACT OF ‘AM’ INTERVIEW, THURSDAY, AUGUST 28, 2003 (In which Howard admits he knew about AFHP):

McGrath: After Howard has persistently avoided the question … Can I ask you though, going back to that initial question – Tony Abbott (in 1998) said the juggernaut should be stopped. Did you think that too?

PM: Well I thought One Nation should be exposed politically. I believe that it was perfectly legitimate to pursue a belief, as Tony did, that there was something improper or invalid about the party’s registration. But that was in no way the prosecution for a criminal offence of Pauline Hanson.

(after more avoidance)

McGrath: So can I ask you though – if you thought back then that One Nation should be exposed politically, when you read it in the media in late 1998 that Tony Abbott had set this up and when he disclosed it formally to you, what did you think? Did you think, oh good on you Tony, that’s the way to go?

PM: Well I knew that he was pursuing it but –

McGrath: What did you think about it?

PM: Well Catherine I had a lot of things to think about then… I mean, let’s keep a sense of perspective. This wasn’t the most important thing on my radar.

McGrath: No, I’m not suggesting it was. I guess I’m just giving you an opportunity to explain to our audience who’d probably like to know, did you think ‘Good on you Tony?’

PM: Well look Catherine, Tony was pursuing this. I was broadly aware of what he was doing. It was in the papers. And for the Labor Party or anybody in the media now to turn around and say that this is a dramatic new revelation that demands explanation, I mean that isse the vernacular, give us a break.

McGrath: Well I’m trying to focus in on you really rather than Mr Abbott.

PM: Yes I gathered that. I’m quite aware of that.

[snip]

McGrath: But you must have had a thought about that.

PM: A lot of thoughts, and I’ve given you a lot of them. Let’s move on to something else.

Crosby’s Deceit

To summarize, Crosby wants us to believe that the 1998 election result was a just victory for a brave and principled John Howard who put One Nation last for reasons of the national interest despite enormous political cost. In fact, Howard was not averse to the One Nation platform, sympathised with Hanson’s bigoted viewpoints, tried to mollycoddle One Nation voters into preferencing the Coalition and resisted moves from within his party to apply a principled stand and preference One Nation last.

Only after the Queensland State election of mid-1998 did Howard to decide to preference One Nation last and he did so for his own political benefit, because preferencing One Nation above Labor cost the Coalition seats. In other words, contrary to Crosby’s deceit, Howard thought he would win more seats by putting One Nation last than by not putting One Nation last. Howard then set up a secret slush fund called ‘Australians For Honest Politics’ to finance a legal battle to destroy One Nation even while telling One Nation supporters he sympathised with them. Later, Howard lied about his knowledge of this fund.

Howard’s entire interaction with One Nation was based on how he viewed his own political fortunes. There was no laudable ethic involved at any stage.

Over to you Lynton Crosby or whoever wants to speak for him or his deceitful boss.

Appendix

What seems to be the original version of Crosby’s chapter in ‘Howard’s Agenda’ appears at Lynton Crosby’s Analysis of the 1998 Election dated October 23, 1998. It contains some additional material not in the chapter.

Murray Goot in ‘Pauline Hanson’s One Nation and the Party Cartelisation Thesis’ agrees that the Coalition was acting purely in self-interest in its One Nation preferencing strategy during 1998:

Goot says:

“Labor’s decision to place not just Hanson but all One Nation’s candidates last – a decision driven by its ideology, by its keen sense of self-preservation, and the opportunity to drive a wedge into the Liberal’s electoral base – dated from the 1998 Queensland election. On that occasion, both the Nationals and the Liberals placed One Nation ahead of Labor in every seat except one (Sunnybank, where One Nation had pre-selected a candidate of Chinese background).

The Nationals put One Nation ahead of Labor because they felt, correctly, that their seats were under threat both from One Nation (whose support was to be secured by an exchange of preferences) and from Labor; the Liberals may have directed their preferences to One Nation because they did not want to be out of step with the Nationals, their putative partner in a coalition.

If the strategy of the National and Liberal parties 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).

Labor had no common cause with the Coalition on this issue; on the contrary, it would have suited the Party well if the Liberals, in particular, had continued down the same path from the state election to the federal election. The fact that the Liberals decided not to [preference One Nation above Labor] had nothing to do with any arrangement with Labor and everything to do with protecting its own base – and not from One Nation so much as from the Labor Party.”

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2 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. […] of the secret slush fund to pay legal expenses in the campaign to destroy Pauline Hanson and return One Nation votes to the LNP, so Abbott is very aware, as Howard was, that One Nation sentiment must be molly-coddled by the […]

  2. […] More on Liberal Party prefencing strategy towards One Nation here. […]

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