Pauline Hanson

George Bush Sr called it “the big mo” — the magical political property of momentum, in which popular support and media publicity drive a mutually reinforcing cycle leading ultimately, in Bush’s case, to the presidency.

It abandoned PM Malcolm Turnbull some time ago, reducing an initially promising prime ministership to his present state of hostage at the hands of hostile elements on his own side.

Nor can Opposition Leader Bill Shorten meaningfully claim to have momentum on his side, despite a respectable election result last July. Indeed, the only time federal Labor has done more than tread water in the two decades since the Hawke-Keating era was in the five minutes of political sunshine it enjoyed during Kevin Rudd’s first stint in the leadership.

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The force in Australian politics who truly has the wind in her sails is Pauline Hanson, who finds the times suiting her in ways she could scarcely have imagined during her first spell in the national limelight.

Hanson’s latest breakthrough came on Friday, when Steve Dickson’s defection from the Liberal National Party gave her party its first seat in the Queensland Parliament since 2009.

Hanson claims other MPs have approached her with the same idea in mind, and while there may be an element of hucksterism to this, it would make all kinds of sense if it were true.

For one thing, there’s been something of a tradition in recent years of Queensland LNP members defecting to minor parties.

Shane Knuth, Aidan McLindon and Ray Hopper made the switch to Katter’s Australian Party before it was crowded out at the 2013 federal election by the Palmer United Party, which then became the defecting Queensland conservative’s destination of choice, for a time claiming Alex Douglas and Carl Judge among its number.

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This may not seem a terribly promising scorecard, given that only Shane Knuth is still around — and the chances are that he could just as easily hold his rural seat of Dalrymple as an independent.

However, it’s entirely clear that Hansonism is a more potent and enduring force than Katterism or Palmerism, to the tellingly limited extent that those terms could be said to mean anything.

More than a few LNP members would be casting their minds back to One Nation’s sweep of 11 seats at the state election of 1998, and calculating whether joining the party might be a better bet than beating it.

For a sense of who might be most vulnerable, a very clear guide is available courtesy of the results from last year’s Senate election, at which Pauline Hanson and Malcolm Roberts were elected from a statewide party vote of 9.2%.

There are a range of reasons the party would expect to do better than that at the next state election: its 16% support according to the most recent opinion poll, an established record of outperforming its poll ratings at the ballot box, and the dozens of candidates it already has in place to do the leg work at local level, in contrast to the shoestring campaign it ran last year.

The state election is due early next year, but there has been speculation that Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk will go early, partly to get in ahead of what is likely to be an unfavourable redistribution.

Going off the boundaries that exist currently, the table below draws on Senate polling booth results to identify the 10 seats most at risk for each of the two major parties.

Clear at the top of the list for the LNP is Lockyer, which covers the rural areas between Ipswich and Toowoomba.

Pauline Hanson herself ran here at the January 2015 election, and came within 114 votes of knocking off LNP member Ian Rickuss.

The seat was among the 11 won by One Nation in 1998, and one of only two that stayed with the party at the next election in 2001.

Hanson’s pulling power as a candidate will not be a factor this time, but nor will that of Rickuss himself, since he has announced his intention to retire.

There is little to separate One Nation support among the remaining seats on the LNP list, three of which are held by frontbenchers (Deb Frecklington, Stephen Bennett and Andrew Cripps).

But while direct support for One Nation tends to be strongest in traditional heartlands areas for the Nationals, the party faces the catch that preferences will be directed against them by Labor.

The other side of this coin is that they may be better placed to win seats at Labor’s expense, since the LNP is clearly preparing the way for a preference deal with One Nation.

It was the same story in 1998, when six of One Nation’s 11 seats were won from Labor, who were able to make good the difference by winning as many seats from the Liberals.

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Labor’s danger areas include the two seats that cover Hanson’s old stamping ground of Ipswich, where the threat is intensified by the weakness of the LNP, since the One Nation candidates will have a low bar to clear in overtaking the LNP and scooping up their preferences.

Also at risk are cabinet ministers Bill Byrne in Rockhampton and Leanne Donaldson in Bundaberg — perhaps especially the latter, since she faces One Nation’s most outwardly impressive candidate in Jane Truscott.

An irony for Labor is that the flow of One Nation preferences stands to be strengthened by the abolition of optional preferential voting, which Queensland has had since an earlier Labor government introduced it in 1991.

This was achieved through a legislative sleight of hand that caught a furious LNP by surprise, and was plainly pursued with the intention of increasing preferences to Labor from the Greens.

Not for the first time, a too-clever-by-half government stands to be bitten on the backside by a self-interested electoral reform failing to play out the way it envisioned.

If so, the hope for Labor will be that the LNP’s cosying-up to One Nation on preferences will drive city voters to Labor in decisive numbers, just as they did during former premier Peter Beattie’s golden years in the decade after 1998.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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