Why is One Nation so keen on a ‘Pre-Nup’ in Queensland?

Professor John Wanna

Pauline Hanson’s One Nation (Queensland) leader, Steve Dickson, announced on Monday a list of five ‘deal breakers’ that his party would insist upon in any post-election agreement with either of the major parties. The announcement was made the day after Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk called the election. In essence, Steve Dickson has chosen to lock in his party, very publicly, to a list of demands that any prospective ‘partner’ has to agree to in order to win his party’s support in an electoral aftermath where neither major party has enough seats to govern alone.

This is a very brave unconventional move from a very unconventional party. His ‘deal breaker’ list is a sort of political ‘pre-nup’ — a preparatory arrangement concerning agreed terms or the subsequent distribution of ‘assets’ by two parties before an approaching marriage. In this case the ‘assets’ are policy proposals which Dickson wishes to make unconditional.

New Zealand has just gone through the same process with NZ Labour coming to terms with Winston Peters New Zealand First party, but the big difference here is that Peters bargained for most of what he got after the election, although limiting migration and regional development were his special priorities.

Dickson’s list is somewhat idiosyncratic, and in magnitude or importance.

  1. Abolish the $5.4 Cross-River Rail project that will connect Brisbane’s southern suburbs through to Albert Street and eventually to Central Station. The planning is well underway, and contracts to build have been signed. One Nation’s concerns relate to the costs of the project, its claimed urgency and the opportunity costs of not doing something else instead. The party cites the report by Infrastructure Australia (a frequent critic of rail projects) that the rail connection is not necessary and not warranted by likely passenger demand until around 2030. Another problem highlighted is that the current Labor government is only putting up around half the funds, and hoping a generous subsequent federal government will hand over the remainder of the necessary funds (this would be a federal government advised by Infrastructure Australia). The recent Victorian Labor government led by Daniel Andrews pulled out of the $5.3 billion East-West Link tollway at a cost of $1.2 billion in lost funds and compensation. The same would be likely to occur in any scuppering of the Cross-River Rail link.
  2. One Nation is mounting a defence of taxi drivers by wanting Uber drivers and other ride-share drivers to have to pay the same insurances and charges that taxi operators must pay (and probably have similar police/character clearances for drivers). This is a big issue for established taxi operators but not a big issue for anyone else; and the proposal would quickly find opposition rising from users of ride-share vehicles.
  3. The third demand is for the state to allow the introduction of medicinal cannabis. This is curious. The Public Health (Medicinal Cannabis) Act 2016 passed state parliament on 12 October 2016, and commenced on 1 March 2017. Steve Dickson appears to want to expand the provisions of the bill to make medicinal cannabis more affordable. Hardly a ‘deal breaker’!
  4. Withdraw from the Safe Schools Project in state schools. The program ostensibly aimed at treating others with respect and reducing the incidence of bullying in schools, was widely criticised by conservative voices as pushing indoctrination and non-hetero sexual orientations. I am not sure this program was widely used in Queensland schools, and it could easily be replaced by an alternative and maybe less controversial set of programs. While opposition to the Safe Schools has become an act of faith for the conservatives, it is hardly a major point of contention for the other mainstream parties. The program could easily be rebranded to satisfy One Nation’s request.
  5. The party is hanging out for a purely populist measure — freezing the pay of MPs over the next parliament. This will get a big ‘hurrah’ from many of the general public, who mostly feel MPs are vastly overpaid, have no prospect of earning so much in any other walk of life, and do not deserve further pay rises. Although payment to MPs is framed by statute, and currently set by the Independent Remuneration Tribunal, they can be detached from these arrangements. MPs salaries are related in a pattern-bargaining way to other politicians’ salaries (and benefits) in other jurisdictions, and there are many cross relationships with the judiciary, public service executives and statutory office-holders. Any prospective partner could agree to this demand if it were desperate enough to form government at One Nation’s beck and call. Their ministers and backbenchers would be fuming, but other compensations are possible — such as increased allowances, travel perks, spouse perks etc.

One Nation have also expressed preferences for a new coal-fired power station in North Queensland (possibly near Townsville), the abolition of payroll tax (which largely only very big employers have to pay, not small businesses), and investing $400 million in expanding the Mt Lindsay highway which connects Brisbane to Beaudesert but then goes nowhere and ends on the state’s border with NSW. They have further committed to a major dams program — of both expanding the capacities of existing dams and building a network of new ones. One Nation have also announced that they will cut the number of MPs down from 93 to just 45 in another bout of populist downsizing, but then called for the re-introduction of an upper house that will somehow ‘contain’ executive government. The net result might be a similar number of politicians in the state, but split across two houses.

Finally the party still has a romantic attachment to the idea of introducing citizens’ initiated referenda (as did the independent MP Peter Wellington), a constitutional policy which New Zealand has adopted but largely ignores in practice. In theory it reinforces direct democracy by allowing people to let off steam over issues that concern them but don’t get attention from professional politicians (such as death penalties, freeing up gun laws, tax reductions on land, banning certain religious garments or places of worship etc.), but often these schemes merely pander to the prejudices of people and cause problems for political systems that could otherwise be avoided.

Many voters will praise Dickson for being so up-front with his demands, but others will question the wisdom of laying out all your demands so far ahead and prior to the election itself. Harder-heads will question what happens to these demands if Steve Dickson no longer holds his seat after 25th November and, if One Nation do hold the balance of power, which policies will really be ‘deal breakers’ with either side of the political aisle.



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).