Senate Shenanigans

Will cross-bench problems affect One Nation in #qldvotes?

by Professor John Wanna

With just under a week left to run in this Queensland state election, Pauline Hanson’s One Nation (PHON) have mounted a challenge to the major parties, especially in regional Queensland and outer-metropolitan seats skirting Brisbane to the north, west and south-east. It’s the same territory in which they garnered support the last time they wrecked the party for the institutionalised parties in 1998.

However, One Nation now has a significant presence in Canberra, and ostensibly look in better condition than in 1998 when those 11 elected MPs who came down to Brisbane were effectively a rabble of independent candidates filled with bizarre conspiracy theories.

Pauline Hanson has already had difficulties in managing her new Senate ‘team’. She fell out with the non-senator Rod Culleton (or he with her) and looks to be cool with his replacement Peter Georgiou. She seemed to get on well with Malcolm Roberts (except for not being able to spell his surname), until he was disqualified, but was less enamoured with his staff who she thought disloyal. Now she, or her chief adviser James Ashby, has upset the new senator from Queensland Fraser Anning.

Anning’s unorthodox entry into the senate saw him being expelled by press release within an hour of him being sworn in. He is now an independent senator who shares all of One Nation’s values and policies, but is not prepared to belong to the party proper, although he will continue to sit with them on the cross-bench.

Will these instances of disarray translate into a wavering of support for One Nation’s 61 candidates standing for election to the Queensland Assembly? I don’t think anyone who votes for One Nation thinks they are voting for a smoothly honed political machine, quite the contrary. Many are voting One Nation as a protest against the major parties, and want to shake up the system. Hansen, like Donald Trump in the US, behaving erratically.

One Nation’s fortunes in Queensland may be more to do with their own policy pronouncements in sensitive regional seats.

Queensland has always depended on mining since the discovery of gold in Gympie in the mid-nineteenth century. But mining and political support for mining ventures, has become a divisive issue overshadowing the present campaign. Labor struggles to get a coherent message out on mining despite being beholden to the CMFEU.

One Nation are not opposing the $16.5 billion Adani Galilee Basin coal mine project hoping to win over regional votes in seats around Mackay, Rockhampton, Gladstone and even Bundaberg. There are many electorates along this coastal strip where One Nation can do well especially in Bundaberg, Burdekin, Mirani and Keppel.

However in the Darling Downs, west of Brisbane, One Nation are taking a very different attitude to the expansion of the New Acland mine near Oakey. While locals have mounted a spirited defence of the project, including the mine owners, CMFEU, local councillors and landowners, One Nation’s opposition to the expansion could hurt its chances of maximising its vote in four key local seats. One Nation is hoping to lock in support from the ‘lock the gate’ local protesters who are opposed to using good farmland for mining projects and who fear the consequences of contamination after the mine closes or moves on. They are building a reputation for sticking up for the farmers. Seats in the mine’s corridor include the tight contest for Lockyer, the two Toowoomba seats, but also in Condamine and nearby Southern Downs and Nanango — the last three seats are among the safest LNP’s seats on paper.

One Nation have also made pronouncements about infrastructure priorities, transport and traffic congestion, road upgrades, cost of living issues such as the rise in electricity bills and support for taxi-drivers, but their statements appear a little idiosyncratic and intermittent. Like the LNP, the One Nation party is concerned about regional unemployment, youth crime and chronic drug-use in communities where job opportunities are limited.

The shenanigans facing One Nation in Canberra are not likely to carry much weight in the Queensland election among those constituents most likely to vote for her anyway. They are not particularly interested or concerned by such goings on. Although, having said that, a few One Nation colleagues, such as ’Mr One Nation’ Jim Savage running in Lockyer, described Fraser Anning’s decision to leave the party on his first day as ‘a dog act’. But he rebuffed suggestions from an ABC radio journalist that Anning’s defection would affect the Queensland poll saying it was a federal issue that Pauline Hansen would take care of. He did not believe One Nation was committing mutually assured self-destruction. Their problems may be that the fledgling protest party is trying to appeal to two mutually exclusive rural constituents — farmers who want their agricultural land protected from miners, and mining ventures creating regional employment beyond their mining leases.

It still remains the case that intending One Nation voters are more likely to vote for the party as a protest against the others, and the lacklustre campaigning of the major two parties will help play into this sentiment. After all, when one Lockyer voter was asked in a vox pop a question about Pauline Hansen, he claimed not to know that she was not standing for the state election nor that she was already in federal parliament. Emotive sentiments not unwelcomed occurrences are likely to sustain One Nation’s level of support. But Hansen and her advisers will have to be careful not to shoot themselves in the foot, as she did in the Western Australian state election where she caused controversy over her comments embracing anti-vaccination.



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).