Is the LNP-ONP coalition heading for a train wreck?

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Pauline Hanson with ex-Liberal Steve Dickson (image via abc.net.au).

Entering into a coalition with One Nation may be tempting for Queensland's LNP but will likely be a poisoned chalice destined for spectacular collapse, writes Professor John Quiggin.

WITH a Queensland election due in the next 12 months and the usual journalistic speculation about an early election, the Liberal National Party (LNP) will soon be faced with the decision as to whether to formalise its coalition with the One Nation Party (ONP).

At a minimum, that would mean an exchange of preferences. But given that the LNP doesn’t look like winning a majority in its own right, it will be difficult to avoid the question of a possible coalition government.

I’ll offer the LNP the unsolicited advice that it would be better, both morally and in terms of long-term self-interest, to lose honourably than to win with Hanson.

Obviously, Hanson is in the ascendant right now — a fact that has apparently been recognised with an invitation to Donald Trump’s inauguration. In Queensland, the issue has been sharpened by the recent defection to One Nation of LNP member Steve Dickson. Looking at the 2015 results for his electorate, I’d say that it’s quite likely that LNP preferences will end up deciding the outcome of the next election — that is, after Greens preferences, the LNP will be behind both Labor and Dickson. This may be true in some Labor held seats also.

In these circumstances, the temptation to formalise the existing nod-and-wink deal will be great. But, there are some very big costs. Hanson draws on much the same electoral base as Palmer and Katter (and her own 1990s voters) and there is quite a bit of overlap in rhetoric. But, unlike Palmer and Katter, Hanson is an overt racist. 

That’s why the preference deals made in the 1998 election, over the objections of then-leader Rob Borbidge, were such a disaster. Another deal will cement the view of the LNP as being willing to chase the racist vote whenever it can see a momentary advantage in doing so. And this time, the federal Liberal and National parties, which steered clear of Hanson last time around, are equally implicated.

Of course, if you think – as does William Bowe (the Poll Bludger) at Crikey  that it’s entirely clear that Hansonism is a more potent and enduring force than Katterism or Palmerism, it might be argued that the LNP has no alternative. Indeed, rightwing parties everywhere are facing this dilemma and most of them have chosen an alliance with, or (in the case of Trump) surrender to, racism rather than accept electoral defeat.

But the evidence suggests that the usually sharp Poll Bludger has called this one wrong. Scarcely a week has gone by without one of Hanson’s MPs or candidates making the headlines for all the wrong reasons, often leading to a hasty withdrawal of endorsement. And, in a repetition of the last go-around, Hanson has already alienated her core supporters, relying instead on dubious political operators who’ve made the Liberal Party too hot to hold them. Last time it was David Oldfield, who got a cushy seat in the NSW Upper House for his trouble. Now it’s James Ashby (and, I guess, Dickson).

Given all this, I don’t see any reason for Hanson’s second go to last any longer than her first — or Palmer’s. Rather, I think we’ll see the same history of defections and splits playing out in short order. Even if an LNP-ONP coalition government were to secure a majority in Queensland, victory would be a poisoned chalice, with a promise of years or decades in opposition to follow.

I don’t know whether this analysis extends to the various demagogic parties of the right that have emerged in recent years. They mostly depend pretty heavily on individual leaders, who are virtually certain, in the circumstances, to be pretty dubious characters. The general track record of such individual vehicles has been one where early success (if it happens) is followed in relatively short order by ignominious collapse. I hope the same is true this time around.

This article first appeared on Professor John Quiggin's blog at johnquiggin.com. You can follow John on Twitter @johnquiggin.

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