The government is correct to hope that Pauline Hanson’s backflip on her backflip on company tax cuts — now opposed again, One Nation’s original position — won’t be her last. Hanson’s reversal isn’t due to any ideological reason or based on evidence — such as, for example, the fact that the Trump corporate tax cuts are flowing almost entirely into share buybacks and dividends — but because of the looming by-elections, and particularly that in Longman.
Well, “looming” isn’t really accurate, because the government is delaying holding them as long as politically possible, leaving voters in each of those seats, plus Tim Hammond’s seat of Perth, without representation. But let’s not worry about the political system adding still further to the sense of disempowerment within the electorate, that’s neither here nor there. So not really looming. Underlooming, maybe.
Hanson’s backflip is due to a quiet side-campaign waged by Labor ever since Hanson backed the company tax cuts in exchange for a two-bit apprenticeship program. Bill Shorten sought to turn that decision ($80 billion, top end of town, big banks etc) into a millstone round her neck. When Shorten was supposed to be in trouble because his vow that his party was squeaky-clean on citizenship had spectacularly blown up in its face, and with a poll showing Labor — having only won the seat in 2016 on One Nation preferences — losing Longman, Hanson cockily wrote to him demanding that Labor put the Greens last in its preferences. Labor, of course, puts One Nation last as a matter of principle.
Shorten didn’t miss a trick in seeing Hanson’s letter as an opportunity rather than a threat. He publicly replied saying that One Nation would be put last. But he started with “I know you are under a lot of pressure following your decision to support the Prime Minister’s $80 billion tax handout to multinationals and the big banks.” And he returned to the tax cut again and again throughout the letter. With a particular jab about “$17 billion to the big banks.”
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Imagine that line, day after day, between now and day of the by-election, with every royal commission hearing revealing yet more astonishing bastardry by the banks. $17 billion versus taking the house of a blind cancer sufferer who can’t talk properly. $17 billion versus charging dead people fees. $17 billion versus lying to the regulator about deliberately ripping customers off.
It sunk into even the thick skulls of One Nation that that was going to be toxic. Cue backflip.
Longman was supposed to be a loser for Shorten, and chances are it yet will be. But for now the first victim is Turnbull’s Trump-style unfunded handout to big companies. It’s another small demonstration of how effective the perenially underestimated Shorten is. In the longer-term, though, don’t be too sure. Once Longman is out of the way — sometime in January 2019 at this rate — the pressure will be off Hanson and she can backflip again, presumably this time negotiating something a bit more worthwhile than a pissant apprenticeship program in exchange for her support. Or, if Mathias Cormann (another much-underrated politician) can devise something shiny that takes Hanson’s fancy and that gives her cover for the $17 billion jibe, maybe even before then. You turn if you want to. The lady’s much for turning.