WA state election: Liberals’ deal with One Nation may come back to bite them


Narelle Miragliotta, Monash University

Elections are colourful affairs, and the March 11 state election in Western Australia is no exception. What is bringing particular clamour to this election is the resurgence of One Nation.

Pauline Hanson’s party has certainly made its presence felt. The party is contesting 35 of the state’s 59 Legislative Assembly seats, and fielding 17 candidates across the six upper house regions. According to the polls, it is also the third-largest party in electoral terms. The most recent Newspoll has One Nation’s primary vote at 13%, well ahead of the Nationals (5%) and the Greens (9%).

It is little wonder, then, that the Liberals finally ended speculation by announcing a preference deal with One Nation. The Liberals will direct preferences to One Nation upper house candidates in regional seats. In exchange, One Nation will direct lower house preferences to Liberal candidates ahead of Labor candidates.

While the Liberals’ preference deal with One Nation is the first of its kind since John Howard took the decision as prime minister to place One Nation last on the Liberal how-to-vote card at the 2001 federal election, it is not likely to be the last. Over the past six months or so, the Liberals’ anti-One Nation resolve has been fraying.

In spite of catastrophising in some quarters, the preference deal is important for the Liberal-led government’s chances of re-election. The party’s first preference vote is at 30% and its two party preferred vote is 46%. ABC election analyst Antony Green estimates that “a swing of between 2.2% and 10% against the Liberals would produce a minority government”. In the face of a resurgent Labor Party, such a swing is possible.

The Liberals’ partners in government, the WA Nationals, are the most grievously affected by this deal. Some commentators estimate it could cost them their five upper house seats.

But the Nationals can hardly be surprised by the Liberals’ decision. Although the relationship between the two parties is often civilised, it also has a long history of strife.

In recent years, tensions between the parties were re-ignited when, prior to the 2008 WA election, the Nationals declared they would not be seeking a coalition but a partnership with the Liberals.

The Nationals leveraged the fact that neither major party had attained a parliamentary majority to negotiate a deal that provided for 25% of all state royalty payments to be set aside for re-investment into a royalties for the regions program. While the Nationals eventually agreed to support the Liberals, there was no doubt that the Nationals were seriously entertaining the prospects of doing a parliamentary deal with Labor.

A more traditional coalition arrangement was resumed following the 2013 state election, but the relationship between the two parties showed signs of strain by August 2016. The return of Brendan Grylls – the architect of the 2008 parliamentary agreement – to the Nationals’ leadership, and the unpopularity of the Barnett government, marked the return of a more assertive Nationals party.

Under Grylls’ leadership, the Nationals have been less than willing to commit to a new alliance with the Liberals. Grylls has indicated that support for any minority government would be contingent on the Liberals agreeing to support an increase in the lease rental fee on BHP and Rio Tinto from 25c to $5 a tonne on Pilbara iron ore production. The Liberals oppose this.

Consequences of the deal for the Liberals

The preference agreement carries some risk for the Liberals.

It is not entirely clear whether One Nation preferences will flow in a manner consistent with the party’s how-to-vote card. In part this is a question of whether One Nation has the infrastructure to deliver on the agreement.

A successful how-to-vote card strategy requires a party presence at polling booths on election day. The major parties struggle to cover all of their polling booths, so One Nation is likely to struggle too.

There is also a question mark over whether One Nation supporters will actually follow the party’s how-to-vote card recommendations, even if given one.

If the party’s voter base is anything like some of One Nation’s candidates, there is no reason to think that the preference deal will be widely supported. Already one of the party’s highest-profile candidates, Margaret Dodds, has rejected the deal on the basis of policy differences with the Liberals and concerns about the lack of consultation over the agreement.

Even if a significant proportion of One Nation preferences help to secure the Liberals’ return to government, the deal will cost the Liberals when the incoming upper house members take their seats in May.

While lower house preference deals are difficult for parties to impose on their supporters, there is greater certainty on preference flows for the upper house. Proportional representation, combined with above-the-line voting, makes it highly likely that most of the Liberal surplus preferences will find their way to One Nation’s upper house candidates.

This greatly increases One Nation’s prospects of holding the balance of power in the Legislative Council. Should this happen, the Liberals’ plans to partially privatise the state’s electricity utility in order to pay down soaring debt will not be realised. One Nation is staunchly opposed to the privatisation.

So while the Liberals’ decision is “pragmatic and sensible” in the short term, it might seriously compromise the party’s legislative agenda should it be returned to office.

The Conversation

Narelle Miragliotta, Senior Lecturer in Australian Politics, Monash University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

One Nation has now been ‘normalised’ in the Liberals’ firmament of political players


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The decision by the Western Australian Liberals to do a preference deal with One Nation will bring some ripples for Malcolm Turnbull.

The WA Liberals have their backs against the wall – for them it’s a matter of the Barnett government desperately trying to survive against the Labor tide.

The embattled premier, Colin Barnett, said the move was “unusual, but it is a practical, pragmatic decision by the Liberal Party, because what we’re out to do is to retain government”.

And as Liberal senator Linda Reynolds told Sky: “One Nation has got a lot of support here in Western Australia”.

But inevitably, not just because of One Nation’s policies but because of the history of the Liberals’ attitude to the controversial party, the WA embrace will be challenging for Turnbull to handle. When he campaigns in the state poll, he’ll have to deal with questions about it.

The deal harms the WA Nationals who, though a different beast to their eastern cousins, and in an alliance rather than a coalition with the state Liberals, are nevertheless definitely part of the Nationals’ “family”.

Under the deal, as reported by the WA Sunday Times, the Liberals would preference One Nation above the Nationals in the upper house regional seats, in return for One Nation preferencing against Labor in the lower house. This could cost the Nationals seats and help One Nation to win the balance of power in the upper house.

Deputy Prime Minister and Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce observed cryptically on Sunday that: “Always as times grow cold … new friends are silver but old friends are gold”. It’s a fair bet it won’t be his last word on the subject. In response to earlier talk of the plan he predicted it would bring “another blue in WA”.

The WA deal will only be the start of the story. In Queensland the latest Galaxy poll has One Nation on 23% at state level, with an election likely later this year.

Federally, the Liberals are running the line that Hanson and her party are different these days.

Cabinet minister Arthur Sinodinos told the ABC on Sunday: “They are a lot more sophisticated; they have clearly resonated with a lot of people. Our job is to treat them as any other party.

“That doesn’t mean we have to agree with their policies. When it comes to preferencing, we have to make decisions – in this case a state decision, not a federal decision – based on the local circumstances.”

Compare the tone to Turnbull’s attitude before the federal election when he was asked whether he’d agree Pauline Hanson was a “known quantity in Australian politics” and “can you rule out negotiating or horse-trading with her”.

“Pauline Hanson is, as far as we are concerned, not a welcome presence on the Australian political scene. You’ve got to remember she was chucked out of the Liberal Party,” he said.

As soon as Hanson arrived in parliament with her Senate team Turnbull changed his tune. They had talks. Hanson was chuffed. When Turnbull was recently asked about the mooted WA preference deal he dodged the questioning but did note that federally: “We respect every single member and senator”.

One also has to remember that thanks to Turnbull running a double dissolution, Hanson won four Senate seats and a significant slice of the upper house balance of power.

In an ordinary Senate election she would have ended up with just her own seat. Turnbull would argue the double dissolution has made it easier to get legislation through – even though it is a tortuous process that will bring its failures – but in terms of boosting Hanson’s clout and profile the cost has been significant.

Even if she had had only one Senate seat One Nation might have surged in WA and Queensland, but her federal weight has helped – regardless of the antics of her now ex-WA senator Rod Culleton, who has been tossed out of the parliament.

One Nation, because of its power, has now been “normalised” in the Liberals’ firmament of political players, something likely to stick in the craw of their more “small-l” supporters. The Liberals are afraid of the populist party, but the days of denouncing it holus-bolus are gone.

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https://www.podbean.com/media/player/zf38q-677342?from=yiiadmin

The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Queensland Galaxy: One Nation surges to 23%<


Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

A Queensland Galaxy poll has One Nation surging to 23%, up 7 points since early November. One Nation’s gains have come at the expense of both major parties, with the Liberal National Party (LNP) on 33% (down 4), Labor on 31% (down 4), and the Greens steady on 8%.

While Labor maintains a steady 51-49 two party lead, the high non-major party vote makes this result a guesstimate. No fieldwork dates or sample size are given, but this poll was presumably taken between Tuesday and Thursday with a sample of 800-1000.

Of the three established parties, the Greens have been least affected by One Nation’s rise, indicating that demographics that vote Green are the least likely to swing to One Nation.

At the 1998 Queensland state election, One Nation won 11 of the 89 seats on 22.7% of the vote. If their vote in this poll were replicated at the next election, due by early 2018, One Nation would probably win a similar number of seats, and be likely to hold the balance of power.

Despite One Nation’s surge, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk’s ratings are still positive, with 41% approval (down 3) and 37% disapproval (down 2), for a net rating of +4. However, Opposition Leader Tim Nicholls’ ratings have slumped a net 8 points to -12.

Federally and in other states, One Nation’s polling has met or exceeded their previous peaks from 1998-2001. It is no surprise that Queensland, which had the highest One Nation vote in 1998, is better for them than other states.

Whether One Nation and similar international parties continue to surge probably depends on President Trump. As I wrote here, if Trump succeeds in revitalising the industrial midwest, far right parties are likely to thrive. On the other hand, if working class people eventually decide that Trump is opposed to their economic interests, far right parties will probably decline.

The Conversation

Adrian Beaumont, Honorary Associate, School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Christian in Bhutan Imprisoned for Showing Film on Christ


Court sentences him to three years on dubious charge of ‘attempt to promote civil unrest.’

NEW DELHI, October 18 (CDN) — A court in predominantly Buddhist Bhutan has sentenced a Christian to three years in prison for “attempting to promote civil unrest” by screening films on Christianity.

A local court in Gelephu convicted Prem Singh Gurung, a 40-year-old ethnic Nepalese citizen from Sarpang district in south Bhutan, on Oct. 6, according to the government-run daily Kuensel.

Gurung was arrested four months ago after local residents complained that he was showing Christian films in Gonggaon and Simkharkha villages in Jigmecholing block. Gurung invited villagers to watch Nepali movies, and between each feature he showed films on Christianity.

Government attorneys could not prove “beyond reasonable doubt” that Gurung promoted civil unrest, and therefore “he was charged with an attempt to promote civil unrest,” the daily reported.

Gurung was also charged with violation of the Bhutan Information, Communication and Media Act of 2006. Sections 105(1) and 110 of this law require that authorities examine all films before public screening.

A Christian from Bhutan’s capital, Thimphu, told Compass that the conviction of Gurung disturbed area villagers.

While Gurung has the right to appeal, it remained unclear if he had the resources to take that course.

Both Gonggaon and Simkharkha are virtually inaccessible. It can take up to 24 and 48 hours to reach the villages from the nearest road.

“Both villages do not have electricity,” the daily reported. “But Prem Singh Gurung, with the help of some people, is believed to have carried a projector and a generator to screen the movies in the village.”

Over 75 percent of the 683,407 people in Bhutan are Buddhist, mainly from western and eastern parts. Hindus, mostly ethnic Nepalese from southern Bhutan, are estimated to be around 22 percent of the population.

It is also estimated that around 6,000 Bhutanese, mostly from south, are Christian in this landlocked nation between India and China. However, their presence is not officially acknowledged in the country. As a result, they practice their faith from the confines of their homes, with no Christian institution officially registered.

Buddhism is the state religion in Bhutan, and the government is mandated to protect its culture and religion according to the 2008 constitution. As in other parts of South Asia, people in Bhutan mistakenly believe that Christianity is a Western faith and that missionaries give monetary benefits to convert people from other religions.

Yesterday’s Kuensel published an opinion piece by a Bhutanese woman from New York who described herself as “an aspiring Buddhist” condemning both the conviction of Gurung and Christian “tactics.”

“Although we may not like the tactics used by the Christians to proselytize or ‘sell’ their religion to impoverished and vulnerable groups, let’s not lose sight of the bigger picture, in terms of religious tolerance, and what constitutes ‘promoting civil unrest,’” wrote Sonam Ongmo. “If we truly want to establish ourselves as a well-functioning democracy, with equal rights for all, let’s start with one of the fundamental ones – the right to choose one’s faith. We have nothing to worry about Buddhism losing ground to Christianity, but we will if, as a predominantly Buddhist state, we start to deny people the right to their faith.”

While her view is representative of liberal Buddhists in Bhutan, a reader’s response in a forum on Kuensel’s website reflected the harder line.

“These Christians are a cancer to our society,” wrote a reader identifying himself as The Last Dragon. “They had crusades after crusades – we don’t need that. We are very happy with Buddhism. Once Christianity is perfect – as they always claim [it] to be, then let’s see.”

In July, the government of Bhutan proposed an amendment in the Penal Code of Bhutan which would punish “proselytizing” that “uses coercion or other forms of inducement.” (See,  “Buddhist Bhutan Proposes ‘Anti-Conversion’ Law,” July 21.)

Christian persecution arose in Bhutan in the 1980s, when the king began a “one-nation, one-people” campaign to “protect the country’s sovereignty and cultural integrity.” Ethnic Nepalese, however, protested the move on grounds of discrimination. Authorities responded militarily, leading to the expulsion or voluntary migration of over 100,000 ethnic Nepalese, many of whom were secret Christians, to the Nepal side of the border in Jhapa in the early 1990s.

An absolute monarchy for over 100 years, Bhutan became a democratic, constitutional monarchy in March 2008, in accordance with the wish of former King Jigme Singye Wangchuck, who served from 1972 to 2006. Since the advent of democracy, the country has brought in many reforms. It is generally believed that the government is gradually giving more freedom to its citizens.

The present king, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, and Prime Minister Lyonchen Jigmey Thinley, are respected by almost all Bhutanese and are seen as benevolent rulers.

Report from Compass Direct News