Pauline Hanson has never made any secret of her admiration for Donald Trump, and her Insiders appearance on the weekend proved it extends to her approach to “facts”. And the sheer volume of questionable assertions meant one or two were bound to slip through the gaps. Host Barrie Cassidy (and, subsequently, much of the media and political establishment) called her out on her admiration for Vladimir Putin, her suspicion of vaccines, her assertion that Muslims “hate” the West and her support for the penalty rates cut. But there was no breath or column space left for a couple of other quite possibly “alternative facts.” Early on, she stated:

“If you look at what happened in the past, the Howard government changes the preferences from optional preferential voting in the 1998 election. That was the first time they colluded together, they agreed to get rid of One Nation and put us last on the how-to-vote tickets.”

We couldn’t remember any changes of that sort, so we had a little look back and couldn’t find anything. Not in the text of the Electoral and Referendum Amendment Act 1998 or the accompanying summary on the Australian Electoral Commission website. Nor was it mentioned in the ABC’s history of preferential voting. In 2013, there were articles on the subject by Antony Green and Charles Richardson, which came in response to a push from senior Liberals for a shift to optional preferential voting (note: “shift”, not “return”). Christian Kerr’s initial report on that push in The Australian mentioned the optional preferential voting introduced by Labor governments at state level (in New South Wales and Queensland), but nothing at federal level. A research paper on electoral systems from 2007 published by the Australian parliamentary library mentions optional preferences in those state jurisdictions, but again, elides the federal changes Hanson claims the Howard government implemented. We asked our resident psephologist, William Bowe, and he said:

“I really haven’t the faintest idea what she’s referring to. The history of optional preferential voting in Australia is as follows: NSW introduces it in 1981; Queensland introduces it in 1991; the Northern Territory introduces it last year; Queensland abolishes it last year. You might also say that New South Wales introduced it in the upper house in 1999, and it was introduced in the Senate last year. But that the Howard government colluded to abolish it in 1998? No, and a very odd thing for her to think, given she was elected in 1996 and then voted out in 1998, both times in the lower house under compulsory preferential voting.”

Perhaps Pauline could please explain?