disaffected voters

The revelations by Al Jazeera about the extent to which One Nation was willing to seek foreign money from the extremist National Rifle Association to help it weaken Australian gun laws is a potential solution to one of Scott Morrison’s biggest problems.

Morrison will be hounded by the One Nation preference issue all the way to the election, with LNP MPs making clear over and over that not only do they not want One Nation preferenced last in Queensland but in some cases — like that of Ken O’Dowd — they want the racist party preferenced well above Labor and the Greens. Every day will be Groundhog Day for Morrison, forced to walk away from media conferences when journalists start asking about preferences.

Now, One Nation puppeteer James Ashby and Queensland Gauleiter Steve Dickson have given Morrison an out that a bold, clever prime minister would seize. In their pandering to the National Riffle Association — a violent, extremist US group with proven ties to the Putin regime — for support in using the balance of power to water down gun laws, One Nation has demonstrated its determination to do anything to wreck John Howard’s gun control laws that have prevented dozens of massacres and thousands of deaths over the last 20 years.

If One Nation’s racebaiting, Islamophobia and hate speech aren’t sufficient for the Coalition — and evidently it is not — then surely an assault on the legacy of John Howard will be. No Coalition MP could surely stand by a group committed to using money from foreign extremist groups to water down the greatest achievement of the Howard-Fischer coalition government.

If Morrison moved quickly, he would outflank both the LNP and Barnaby Joyce, who has been complaining about gun laws since the NSW state election saw the Shooters Party pick up two seats and hold a third. They’d be stuck with having to defend One Nation and its NRA mates and their efforts to destroy the legacy of John Howard.

It would solve the problem of One Nation preferences for Morrison and showcase him as exactly the anti-extremist he now claims to be post-Christchurch, despite his long history of “addressing” Islamophobia (including his newly revealed 2014 proposal for arbitrary mass internment of asylum seekers on valid visas). It would also be hailed, correctly, as a bold and brave move to overrule the out-of-touch reactionaries within his own ranks — something Malcolm Turnbull was never able to do.

Except, there’s the rub — Morrison has even less authority than Turnbull did. There’s a real risk such a bold move would prompt defiance from LNP MPs and from pro-Joyce Nats, many of whom have given up on the government and just want to save their own seats. The ensuing blow-up could do more damage to Morrison than the steady bleeding the One Nation preferences issue will do to him over the course of the next eight weeks.

What’s different now, however, is that the preferences issue is going to be even more in the spotlight than it was before. Morrison must surely condemn One Nation and insist John Howard’s gun laws legacy will never be watered. But to do so immediately invites the question of why, if they’re so awful, are his own colleagues planning to preference One Nation? There’s no escape from the dilemma except through boldness.

If Morrison did want to take action elsewhere, one option he could pursue would be the addition of the National Rifle Association to Australia’s formal list of terrorist organisations, all but one of which are Islamist terrorists.

Under existing laws, the government can list an organisation as a terrorist group if it is “directly or indirectly engaged in preparing, planning, assisting or fostering the doing of a terrorist act.” The NRA’s widespread support for enabling ready access to firearms and watering down gun control laws to make it easier for terrorists to access powerful weapons easily easily fits indirect assistance. Given the tens of thousands of Americans killed by firearms every year, the NRA is the greatest friend jihadists have ever had.

What do you think the PM should do? Send your thoughts to [email protected]

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey