Last October, in a principle stand, liberal federal director Andrew Robb committed his party to placing Queensland Independent politician Pauline Hanson below Labor on how-to-vote cards. Ever since, Liberal politicians and officials have been avoiding the issue. Mr Robb’s “absolutely” response, which matched a commitment from Labor national secretary Gary Gray, sounded unequivocal but no other Liberal has found a similar strength of voice.
Now Liberals are gathering support to force a decision on the party. At issue is how the major parties will treat Ms Hanson, and her One Nation candidates, at the next federal election. The Liberal, National, Labor and Australian Democrat leadership agree her crude mix of populism and simplistic opportunism can do real harm to Australia if she is taken too seriously by our regional neighbours. The fear is that her rhetoric will lead a loss of economic jobs and the consensus is she should not be re-elected.
If Labor and the Coalition agree to place Ms Hanson below each other on how-to-vote cards, the Member for Oxley will find it almost impossible to win a seat. Senior Liberals, including Victorian Premier Jeff Kennett and former prime minister Malcolm Fraser, want their party to make an early decision. Mr Kennett said Liberal preferences must be designed to minimise Ms Hanson’s chance of re-election. Prime Minister John Howard and Mr Robb’s successor, Lynton Crosby, demur. They avoid a decision by saying it is an issue for the Queensland branch, which claims it is too early to make such decisions.
It may well be usual to make a pronouncement on preferences so long before an poll, but what is being sought is a principled stand. The likely reality is that the conservative parties, especially the Nationals, want to see final fields of candidates and study the latest polling before they do something which might give their opponents an otherwise unattainable prize. It is also why Labor refuses to say it will put West Australian Independent Graeme Campbell below the Liberals in the seat of Kalgoorlie despite his views being just as unacceptable as those of Ms Hanson. Labor’s stand on Ms Hanson would carry more moral weight if they did the same in the West.
The account of the 1996 election in the new book The Victory makes it plain the Queensland Liberals disendorsed a recalcitrant Ms Hanson only after gaining approval from Mr Howard and Mr Robb. The Prime Minister should take a stand on this fundamental question now. It would send a powerful, much needed signal to voters and our regional neighbours about Ms Hanson’s standing. If not, he could be pushed into doing so by other powerful Liberals