Faced with the challenge of defending the Western Australian Liberals' decision to do a preference deal with One Nation at the expense of the WA Nationals, the government had a number of options. Declare it was a matter for the WA Liberals. Defend the deal as being all about keeping Labor out of power, a more important objective. Admit that the Turnbull government had made a fundamental break from the position of the Howard government and accept One Nation as a legitimate presence in politics.
Instead, it decided to accuse Labor of, in effect, being as bad as the WA Liberals by benefiting from One Nation votes. Invited to comment on the WA deal in question time, Turnbull was first given cover by Speaker Tony Smith, who ruled the question out of order despite the opposition -- which had clearly done its homework -- pointing out the question was almost exactly the same as one asked of and answered by John Howard in 2000. When Smith could no longer provide cover, the government's initial tactic was to claim that Labor MPs Cathy O'Toole (Herbert), Emma McBride (Dobell) and others were elected on One Nation preferences.