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More on Liberal Party preferencing strategy towards One Nation here.

And of course, here 

Since 1998, with some exceptions, the LNP have claimed that their preferencing strategy towards One Nation is predicated on ethical principles. This post will demonstrate that the LNP has never based their preferencing strategy toward One Nation on ethical principles but has always based it on tactical and strategic considerations designed to maximize their chances of gaining or retaining power.

2019 Federal Election Campaign

In the 2019 Federal Election, the Liberal Party are preferencing One Nation behind the ALP but are not imposing that directive on their Coalition partners, The National Party.  Whilst the Liberal Party have dropped One Nation below the ALP in the preferencing order as a consequence of One Nation’s contemptuous approach to Australia’s Gun Control laws, the fact that the Liberal Party leadership are not insisting that the National Party also de-preference One Nation shows that there is no ethical imperative to the Liberal Party preferencing decision. This continues a long history of the LNP taking an unprincipled stand on One Nation preferencing in order to retain power.

Reluctant Revulsion

As Kathryn Murphy of The Guardian has exposed, the decision to direct Liberal voters to preference One Nation behind Labor was made reluctantly by Prime Minister Scott Morrison and the Liberal leadership. They were driven to it by the public revulsion directed toward One Nation in relation to the views of Pauline Hanson, One Nation’s leader, that the horrific Australian gun tragedy, The Port Arthur Massacre, in which 35 people were killed,  was the result of a government conspiracy [1]

As always the LNP is claiming that their approach to One Nation preferencing is based on ethical principles, but in reality, as always, the LNP approach to One Nation preferencing is based entirely on strategic motives.

The misleading claims to ethicality lie in Scott Morrison’s assertion that there will be no preference deals with One Nation.  This is a deliberately disingenuous remark designed to conceal from metropolitan voters the fact that the Liberal Party whenever possible preferences One Nation above Labor in the hope of attracting reciprocal preferences from One Nation.

Morrison was speaking in the aftermath of remarks made by Independent (former One Nation) Senator Fraser Anning, a far right sympathizer, who stated that massacre of Muslims in New Zealand by an Australian racist gun man was proof that Muslim immigration to Australia should be halted.

Morrison’s disingenuous no deals locution [3], correctly described as weasel words by the Queensland Federal Senator Murray Watt, concealed the fact that the LNP preferenced One Nation in 50 of 58 seats in the November 2017 Queensland State Election and had assisted One Nation to acquire the eat of Mirani.

Disingenuous
/ˌdɪsɪnˈdʒɛnjʊəs/
adjective
  1. not candid or sincere, typically by pretending that one knows less about something than one really does.
    synonyms: dishonestdeceitfulunderhandunderhandedduplicitousdouble-dealingtwo-faced, dissembling, insincerefalselyinguntruthfulmendacious;

Placating One Nation: An LNP Quandry

Hanson’s comments on Port Arthur were made public in the week following the Christchurch Massacre in which a racist Australian gunman, adorned with Neo-Nazi symbols, gunned down Muslims in two New Zealand Mosques, killing 50 and wounding 50 others. The public was further disgusted by revelations that One Nation party officials had met with the American National Rifle Association with the intention of seeking donations to support One Nation watering down Australia’s gun control laws.

Consequently, the LNP found itself in a similar quandry to that in 1997 when One Nation was held in opprobrium by a large section of the voting public, at that time as a result of its xenophobic anti-Asian immigration views. Then, as now, the LNP wanted to attract One Nation preferences but could not broker a preference deal with One Nation without alienating a large segment of the electorate. Then, as now, the LNP was trapped between wanting to mollify One Nation supporters and alienating the political centre by association with One Nation and certain of their viewpoints which are shocking to political moderates.

Backlash and Rightward Shift

In the Queensland State Election of 1998, the first election after One Nation’s formation the Liberals preferenced One Nation above the ALP and were punished by metropolitan Brisbane voters for association with One Nation’s xenophobic viewpoints, losing 5 seats while also assisting One Nation to win seats in outer-metropolitan areas with Liberal preferences. For the Liberals it was an absolute disaster.

After this very negative electoral experience, Howard put One Nation last on tactical considerations, to avoid being punished by moderate voters for holding xenophobic views on immigration and culture. But following the Tampa Incident Howard pushed Australian immigration policy to the right. The public proved receptive to this view which was inflamed by Howard and Peter Reith concocting the infamous Children Overboard scare on the Australian public. As Muslim asylum-seekers continued to flow in from Afghanistan following the Taliban wars there, Australian public opinion, encouraged by Howard, then in turn by Abbott and Morrison, continued to harden such that  majority views on immigration became compatible with the rejectionist stance of One Nation and also embedded in LNP policy.

Hanson herself noted this phenonemon by stating

“It has been widely recognised by all, including the media, that John Howard sailed home on One Nation’s policies,”

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

Mainstream Xenophobia

This rightward drift of mainstream views on immigration  occurred during a period when One Nation was largely neutralized within Australian politics. John Howard and Tony Abbott had succeeded in dampening One Nation as a political force by secretly funding legal action against One Nation in relation to breaches of the Electoral Act with the result that Pauline Hanson went to jail for three months during 2003. This, along with the organisational chaos of One Nation, culminating in the expulsion of Hanson from her own party, caused One Nation to lose voter legitimacy and One Nation temporarily ceased to be an important political force. In fact Hanson herself did not hold parliamentary office between 1998 and 2015. [2] But the xenophobic sentiments of One Nation had become entrenched in the mainstream and were now amply reflected in LNP government policy.

The overall effect was that One Nation was no longer held in general opprobium. Its xenophobic views, now directed primarily at Muslims instead of Chinese, were embraced by the majority of Australians. Instead of being a lightning rod for the anti-Immigration vote, One Nation became the home of a generalised right-wing protest vote for those on the right feeling alienated and disenfranchised with the major parties. But in general, One Nation no longer excited disgust from the political centre because on One Nation’s core issue – immigration – the centre had shifted rightward and was largely satisfied with LNP rejectionism of Muslims.

Disgusting The Centre Again

Furthermore, the major parties had come to a consensus that directly criticizing One Nation and especially Pauline Hanson was counter-productive and merely acted to increase its support. So after 2016, with the election of Pauline Hanson to the Federal Senate, One Nation was treated by the main parties and the public as a fixture of Australian politics – perhaps not liked or truly respected by many – but representative of an alienated minority of Australians and part of business-as-usual within the Australian polity.

This acceptance of One Nation changed with Pauline Hanson’s embrace of conspiratorial views of the Port Arthur Massacre and their exposure in the week following the Christchurch Massacre. The timing of this exposure indicates opportunism by Hanson’s political opponents but nevertheless One Nation was again equated with far-right viewpoints which disgusted the political centre. Consequently, the LNP again faced the dilemma of associating with far-right opinion and risking backlash from metropolitan and moderate voters.

Tactical, Not Ethical

But Morrison and the Liberal Party also had to accommodate the fact the One Nation vote is significant in some key Queensland rural seats. One Nation traditionally retaliate if put last in preferences by treating opposing parties in the same way. For example, One Nation ran this style of campaign in the Western Australian State election of 2001 putting all sitting members last. Fearing losing the flow of One Nation preferences in these key rural Queensland seats, Morrison has allowed the National Party to preference One Nation and so avoid One Nation retaliation and thus receive One Nation preferences.

The overall strategy of Scott Morrison and the LNP in relation to One Nation preferences therefore is to maximise seat retention. Putting One Nation last in Liberal seats avoids voter backlash in metropolitan seats. Accepting One Nation preferences in National seats allows the Nationals to receive One Nation preferences and hopefully retain rural seats.

So, in the LNP tradition, the One Nation preferencing strategy is all about strategy and tactics: retaining seats whilst attempting to mollify One Nation voters as far as possible while trying to distance themselves from certain far right views of Pauline Hanson.

Milestones In LNP / One Nation Preference Deals

March 1997 – One Nation Formed.

One Nation immediately attracts 9% of the national vote, 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 22.7% 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 The Liberal’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. 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 One Nation

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

LNP are-run their 1998 Federal Election strategy and put One Nation last. One Nation responds by putting “all sitting Members last”, whether LNP or ALP. LNP lose power to ALP.

While some consider that the “One Nation last” strategy was germane to the LNP losing power as One Nation retaliated by putting sitting LNP members last, professional psephologists rate the effect of One Nation preferencing as relatively minor in this particular election.

As Antony Green. Australia’s premier psephologist, demonstrates in this paper for the Western Australian Parliamentary Library, Green preferences to the ALP were clearly decisive in delivering seats to the ALP  whereas the effect of One Nation preferences was much more limited. It was, actually the effect of the LNP losing Primary votes to One Nation which was the much bigger concern.

The 2001 WA election was conducted in the climate of a large general swing against the LNP which would have led them to lose power regardless of One Nation preferencing. In fact One Nation preferences split evenly between LNP and ALP, but flowed a little less strongly to the LNP than would otherwise have occurred in the absence of the “sitting members last” directive.

Nevertheless, even though the actual One Nation preferencing effect was minor, WA Liberals decided that the party had suffered materially by putting One Nation last and hence resolved to avoid repudiation of One Nation on the future.

2002-2015 One Nation Temporarily 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. The deal is limited to selected seats. The Libs are trying to sandbag Lower House seats and so retain government whilst conceding Balance of Power in the Upper House. They are also avoiding assisting One Nation to win seats in the Lower House.

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, including Malcolm Turnbull, 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 and  intended to reduce backlash.

2019 – NSW State Election

The rightward shift of the political centre and the long-standing ‘don’t criticize Pauline’ strategies of the major parties have normalized One Nation and the LNP is able to quietly accept One Nation preferences without raising serious objection in the community. The party attracting most attention vis-a-vis Preference Deals is the Shooters, Farmers and Fisher’s Party (SFF) who support watering down Australia’s gun control laws. NSW Liberal Premier and former Prime Minister John Howard criticizes the ALP for running selective preference deals with the SFF.

2019 Federal Election Campaign

One Nation’s conspiratorial views on Part Arthur in the wake of the Christchurch Massacre disgust large segments of the electorate who once again perceive One Nation as possessing certain unacceptable far right views. The Liberal Party are forced under community pressure to put One Nation behind the ALP, but Prime Minister Scott Morrison does not compel the National Party to do the same. This bifurcated position within the Coalition crystallises the tactical nature of the LNP approach to One Nation preferences, showing that the LNP is uninterested in an ethical approach to dealing with One Nation.

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

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[1] Hanson alludes to a statement made by former NSW Premier Barry Unsworth as providing insight into government intentions to stage a gun massacre in Tasmania.

[2] Hanson did go very close twice to regaining parliamentary office in this period. In 1998 Hanson was unlucky to suffer a drastic redistribution in her seat of Oxley which cut the seat in half. Hanson stood for the seat of Blair and was the leading candidate on Primary Votes, gaining 36%, but was prevented from winning the seat by being put last on preferences by the major parties. Also, in 2015 Hanson went within 114 votes of winning Lockyer in a Queensland State Election

[3] Thanks to Kathryn Murphy for this lovely word “locution” which so aptly encapsulates the artfully deceptive phraseology of Scott Morrison in this matter

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