Donning the mantle of John Howard

by Professor John Wanna

Mar 28 · 4 min read

In relegating Liberal preferences for Pauline Hanson’s One Nation (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 seats 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.

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 today, 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.

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.



Professor John Wanna is Sir John Bunting Chair of Public Administration at the Australia and New Zealand School of Government (ANZSOG). He holds a joint appointment with Griffith University and Australian National University (ANU), Canberra.

Author of over fifty books, Professor Wanna is a regular political commentator on TV (ABC, SBS, Sky, Channels 9 and 7) and the print media (The Australian, The Courier-Mail, The Saturday Paper, the Australian Financial Review, and The Conversation). He regularly appears as an Australian politics expert on other media outlets (Bloomberg, the New York Times, the Daily Mail, AFP, Reuters, Fairfax media).

The Machinery of Government

Independent analysis from Australia's best political scientists and policy researchers focusing on policy, elections and governance.


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Independent expert analysis and insights from Australia’s best political scientists and policy researchers.

The Machinery of Government

Independent analysis from Australia's best political scientists and policy researchers focusing on policy, elections and governance.

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