Which party improved its performance most on Saturday? If you only read the mainstream media, you’d think it was the LNP in Queensland, which picked up a surprise swing that saw Labor go backwards in the Sunshine State. Except, the LNP only got a quarter of a per cent swing, according to the current AEC count. And nationally, the victorious Liberal party went backwards on its primary vote by nearly 1%; in Western Australia, another graveyard of Labor hopes on Saturday, the Liberals lost nearly 2%.
So who did best? Pauline Hanson. In Queensland, One Nation secured over 200,000 House of Reps votes and a swing of over 3% — and they did it without even a tiny fraction of Clive Palmer’s $60 million in advertising, which bought him just 80,000 Reps votes in Queensland on current numbers.
That’s barely twice as many as Oswald Mosley’s racist “Conservative National Party”, which also did surprisingly well. In the Senate in Queensland, One Nation got a smaller swing on a higher vote, and secured just under 10%, which will likely be enough to return bug-eyed conspiracy theorist Malcolm Roberts to the Senate. Nationally, the swing to One Nation in the House of Reps was 1.69%, the highest of any established party. Mosley is currently on 63,000 votes nationwide as well.
Not that you’ll know this from the mainstream media: some quite senior political journalists were only discovering yesterday that the swing in Queensland hadn’t been to the LNP, but to ON and Palmer first, despite it being clear even early in the count on Saturday night. Rashida Yosufzai at SBS has been the only journalist to detail One Nation’s success. As Yosufzai noted, ON had also turned in a remarkable effort in the NSW seat of Hunter, where Hanson’s candidate boasted “the damage that One Nation did down here is now going to be talked about around the country for weeks.”
Most of those votes appear to have come from former Labor voters, not LNP voters. The LNP more or less held steady in Queensland, but receive a strong preference flow from ON and Palmer candidates. This is the worst possible outcome for Labor, which had been expecting to pick up disgruntled LNP voters directly. Instead, its own voters abandoned it for ON and Palmer candidates and didn’t even preference Labor.
Nor have the media really grappled with the implications of this. Hanson could not have faced a more difficult election environment: the disgrace of having her party revealed as treacherously seeking foreign help to undermine our gun laws, brawling with political rivals in Parliament House, conspiracy theories about the Port Arthur massacre, the scandal around Steve Dickson and a wealthy rival pumping tens of millions into advertising to compete with her. This is a party that appears to have gone out of its way to alienate all but the lunatic fringe of the far right — and yet she still emerged with a serious chunk of the vote.
Then there’s Oswald Mosley, who will not return to the Senate he briefly defiled with his presence. But more than 40,000 Queenslanders were happy to vote for candidates of an openly fascist, misogynist and homophobic party. Factor in the Palmer vote and you have nearly 14% of Queenslanders ready to support right-wing and extremist candidates; the Katter Party, which once hosted, then dumped, Mosley, picked up another 2.5%.
The LNP and Morrison will be delighted that their preferences flowed their way rather than back to Labor. The LNP will feel vindicated in its decision to preference One Nation ahead of Labor despite their efforts to subvert the Howard-Fischer gun laws. But when one in seven voters support far right candidates, there’s something more sinister than ordinary electioneering going on.
Hanson and her ilk have long had a business model of exploiting xenophobia and resentment, but for most of the last 20 years she has been excluded from the political mainstream by a tacit agreement between the major parties. The media and a desperate Coalition allowed her back in in 2016, and now she’s used that toehold to legitimise herself and her party’s core values of bigotry and hate.
As we’ve already seen with Mosley, others, even more rancid, will follow in her wake as the restrictions around what is considered acceptable and decent in politics erode before our eyes and we become inured to open racism in politics again. The media, however, appears to have little interest in what is stirring on the far-right fringe or the dangers it poses.