Queensland LNP torn on One Nation preferences as Turnbull rules out doing a John Howard

The growing appeal of Pauline Hanson's One Nation has left the Queensland LNP with a dilemma Photo: Lisa Maree Williams
The growing appeal of Pauline Hanson's One Nation has left the Queensland LNP with a dilemma Photo: Lisa Maree Williams

Queensland's LNP is facing a dilemma over how to handle One Nation preferences, as it attempts to balance contrasting views from its city and country members in the face of a growing threat from the outlier party.

And Malcolm Turnbull is unlikely to help them solve it, with the Prime Minister shying away from issuing a John Howard-style decree to preference One Nation last, as conservatives struggle to combat Pauline Hanson's appeal without alienating a shared voter base.

It has left the LNP with a conundrum, as it publicly refuses to rule out any preference deal.  Internally, party sources say, debate continues to rage between the potential gains a preference deal could mean in regional and rural electorates and the possibility of a backlash that same deal could bring from south-east voters.

"There are those who see it as a Faustian bargain and those who see it as the saving grace," one senior LNP member told Fairfax Media.

"I just wouldn't want to be [leader] Tim Nicholls at the moment.  He still hopes he can win it on his own, but not everyone believes that."

Earlier this week, News Corp reported West Australian Liberals were breaking with a long-held party tradition, set by Mr Howard in 2001, to place One Nation last on the ballot, and potentially as high as second, ahead of that state's election on March 11.

Complicating the matter for Queensland is the redistribution of the state's electoral boundaries, which will add an additional four seats to the state's unicameral parliament.  A draft decision on where those seats should go is due by the end of February, with the major parties holding out on revealing their election strategies until they have a clearer idea of what they could potentially be fighting for.

With the last two years of polls showing neither the Palaszczuk Labor government or the LNP having won a majority of voter support, One Nation is being looked at as a potential king-maker by regional LNP MPs.  Four former LNP MPs have since joined One Nation, including sitting Buderim member Steve Dickson, who has since been named state leader, giving the party a presence in the state Parliament, and putting pressure on the LNP leadership team to win over potential One Nation voters.

"Our regional members will revolt if we put One Nation last, because Labor wouldn't put the Greens last and it's seen as the same voter base," another LNP member said.

"But then there is the risk that it drives down the city votes.

"It was easier in 2001 – people used to be embarrassed about admitting that they voted for One Nation, but then they would go into the sanctity of the ballot box and do it.  Now, people are not afraid to say they support Pauline Hanson, even if they don't agree with everything she says.  Which means they'll vote for her.

"The feds are facing the same dilemma."

Since the election, Mr Turnbull has danced around criticising Senator Hanson or One Nation, with the crossbenchers needed to ensure the success of government legislation in the Senate.

He offered his state colleagues no help in resolving their own dilemmas in dealing with the party, only saying "preference allocation is a matter for the party divisions"
when asked about WA's decision to break from the "put One Nation last" edict.

Queensland Labor is doing all it can to capitalise on the LNP's discomfort, while attempting to hose down criticism it created the One Nation risk when it changed the state's voting system from optional preferential to compulsory preferential in a bid to cut off a threat from the Greens party in its inner-city stronghold.

That has left both parties without the "just vote one" tactic that Peter Beattie used to defeat One Nation in 2001.

Queensland is due to return to the polls by early 2018, with most expecting an election by late this year.

This story Queensland LNP torn on One Nation preferences as Turnbull rules out doing a John Howard first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.