Former WA premier Colin Barnett.

In a recent statement to the ABC’s AM, former premier of WA Colin Barnett said that a preference deal between the Morrison government and One Nation would be “incredibly foolish.”

Barnett speaks from experience. The infamous preference deal made between One Nation and his long-reigning Liberal government is remembered as monumental blunder.

The deal involved One Nation giving their preferences to the Liberal Party in the lower house in return for Liberal preferences in the upper house.

It was seen as a betrayal by One Nation’s constituents, as well as many of their candidates. There were resignations and withdrawals.

For Barnett, who arrived at the deal like a sick cow into a standing stock, it hinted at his end and his powerlessness.

It was a deal struck by the party’s higher-ups, and spoke to the great disconnect between the east coast wonks and those on the ground in WA. Not just for the Coalition, but One Nation too.

Three One Nation candidates won seats in the upper house: Colin Tinknell, Robin Scott, and Charles Smith.

Barnett continued his comments on preferencing One Nation saying: “based on the experience it would be very damaging to have any sort of deal with One Nation and I would strongly advise against it.”

The 2017 election was a historic catastrophe for Barnett, who had guided WA through the boom with all the tact of a robber-baron piloting a burning blimp.

The deal with One Nation isn’t what did him but it allowed an Iannuccian farce to play out in the foreground while Rome burned.

Way back in 2017, on the campaign trail, Barnett described the deal as “a sensible and pragmatic result”, saying it would “give a buffer to some of our seats under challenge.”

“As I’ve said consistently throughout this campaign,” he continued, “for the Liberal Party, our opponent is the Labor Party, that’s what we’re after. So my task is to defeat the Labor Party and hopefully continue what I think is a very good government.”

Ah, but there is hope, and then there is Hanson.

PHON began to kick up controversy before the campaign was even underway.

One Nation candidate Lawrence Shave was in the proverbial tanning bed after advertising for “bikini baristas” on a Facebook page called “Backpacker Job Board”. Pilbara candidate David Archibald called single-motherhood a “lifestyle choice” for the perennially slack in an issue of Quadrant.

Then there was Pauline herself, who crash-landed in WA like an experimental sky-cycle, praising Vladimir Putin and pooh-poohing claims that Russia was somehow involved in the recently downed MH17. “Everyone’s done something,” she said.

She then went on to question the efficacy of vaccinating children.

“This is a desperate, sneak political deal to try and save Barnett’s hide,” said then opposition leader and current Labor Premier Mark McGowan.

“Understand this all West Australians: if you vote for One Nation, that’s a vote for the Liberal Party, and if you vote for the Liberal Party, that’s a vote for One Nation.”

National’s leader Brendon Grylls was reportedly “fuming”.

The alliance with Hanson ran the usual gamut of chicanery and shit-flinging. Hanson was soon implying that One Nation could force Barnett to quit if her party held the balance of power.

“They just can’t stand Barnett!” she said of West Australian voters in a Facebook live video starring herself and upper-house candidate Colin Tincknell.

She wasn’t wrong. Even broken clocks are right twice a day.

It is hard to determine the extent to which the tentative alliance lent itself to Barnett’s woeful defeat.

As a West Australian voter myself, I doubt the One Nation deal would have changed the final result much, at least for Barnett. His defeat was due to his bungling of the biggest resource boom in recent history, a series of flailing infrastructure projects, dodgy deals with a private contractor and a general air of contempt.

But the preference deal joined him and Hanson at the hip, which may have done more damage to complicated right-wing political alliances than it did to the opinions of the average punter.

None of this was helped by the shadiness of PHON’s  internal machinations.

One Nation’s WA campaign is remembered as a rort.

Candidates were charged $150 just for the interview process to become candidates. Those who made it through to the final round arrived at a meeting in Perth only to be verbally informed that they would be billed between $3000 and $5000 for campaign expenses.

The greenhorn candidates (one of whom was 20) were expected to recruit, mobilise, and pay for their election materials, with no help from the party’s head office.

The result was a campaign that played out like someone farting “Ride of the Valkyries” into a bassoon.

What was left in the wake of the WA election was an annihilated Coalition and a disintegrated One Nation that, despite itself, managed to ride that preference deal to three seats in the upper house.

So, Colin Barnett is right to caution the federal government when it comes to preferencing and One Nation. It was, after all, Barnett who dismissed a reporter in the lead-up to his own defeat, smirking with trademark aloofness, the same that would be his undoing:

“For goodness sake, you’re getting spooked by Pauline Hanson.”

Peter Fray

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