Pauline’s preference plan not a smart one

 

KUDOS to Pauline Hanson for making what appeared to be a genuine attempt to connect with marginalised Australians during the Silly Season.

On the last day of last year the One Nation founder set up a "Lonely Hearts New Year's Eve" hotline on which marginalised Australians could reach out. And folk duly called one of Hanson's 16 lines to vent on topics ranging from disability funding to child custody. Any strategy that closes the gap between electors and elected has to be a good thing. And, while Hanson is expediently looking to build grassroots electoral support from the exercise, this type of populist indulgence is benign, and could actually work in her favour.

But one tactic doomed to failure is Hanson's tit-for-tat insistence on preferencing neither of the major parties in a state election that's now fewer than 300 sleeps away.

Senator Pauline Hanson’s preference plan in Queensland will hurt her party. Picture Kym Smith
Senator Pauline Hanson’s preference plan in Queensland will hurt her party. Picture Kym Smith

One Nation will instead trade preferences with Katter's Australian Party in north Queensland and leave preference allocations in other seats up to individual voters. That's a departure from the 2017 election where Hanson urged voters to number all sitting Labor and LNP MPs last.

Hanson's angry action is petulant payback for Scott Morrison's decision to pull preferences from Hanson before May's federal election after senior One Nation personnel were filmed dealing with America's National Rifle Association. But the federal National party argued Queensland's LNP should be allowed to trade preferences with Hanson in regional seats because the LNP there is actually a National party unbound by Liberal rules. However,

Morrison appeared reluctant to dump One Nation in April and, even a week before polling day, he said the Greens were a greater threat to Australia than Hanson. Given the way Hanson dudded Morrison in November over the PM's trade union Ensuring Integrity bill, one wonders what ScoMo thinks of PaHa now.

One thing is certain: any blood between Hanson and the LNP has long since soured - Hanson's only friends are now found in the minor and micro parties on whom she must rely for preferences.

And that brings us to the folly of Hanson's decision to run an open how-to-vote card. Why? Because that will hurt One Nation far more than the LNP. Put simply, LNP voters, like Labor's, follow how-to-vote cards loyally. By contrast, One Nation voters - who like nothing better than to stick two fingers up at being told what to do - are highly unpredictable.

 

Stephen Andrew won the seat of Mirani in 2017 after the LNP preferenced One Nation over Labor.
Stephen Andrew won the seat of Mirani in 2017 after the LNP preferenced One Nation over Labor.

 

For example, in the north Queensland seat of Mirani - won by One Nation's Stephen Andrew at the 2017 state election - more than three-quarters of LNP voters followed then-leader Tim Nicholls' advice to preference One Nation ahead of Labor. Just over 20 per cent put Labor ahead of One Nation.

Had the LNP instructed its voters to preference Labor, Palaszczuk candidate Jim Pearce would probably have retained the seat.

Compare that to Hervey Bay - just north of Maryborough and another seat strong for One Nation - and the story is very different. Hervey Bay was one of just 12 seats where the LNP told voters to place Labor ahead of One Nation. Given One Nation finished third, LNP preferences didn't ultimately matter, but Nicholls' rebuff should have infuriated One Nation voters. It didn't. Almost three-quarters of One Nation voters in Hervey Bay still preferenced the LNP's Ted Sorensen. Had they punished the LNP as expected, Labor would have won the seat. The story is similar across Greater Brisbane. In Lytton on Brisbane's bayside, just over a quarter of One Nation voters preferenced Labor in 2017. But in Murrumba on Brisbane's northern skirts, almost 40 per cent of One Nation voters bucked the trend and endorsed Labor's Stephen Miles. The point is clear: now that relations between the two parties have ebbed to a new low, One Nation voters' unpredictability will hurt One Nation more than the LNP.

Sometime during the October campaign LNP leader Deb Frecklington will almost certainly instruct voters to number One Nation lower than Labor. Happily for Premier Palaszczuk, the vast majority of LNP voters will follow that advice and save Labor in the seats where the LNP runs third. Conversely, Hanson voters will spray their preference around like a fire hose, with up to half preferencing the Government and, again, saving Labor seats. Hanson could have extended the hand of friendship to the LNP and levered some sort of preference deal. But now her sulkiness will almost certainly see One Nation removed entirely from state parliament.