Courting One Nation
BY ANTHONY BENBOW
PERTH — Before the 1998 federal election, Western Australian Liberal Premier Richard Court described the One Nation party as having "racist policies which have no place in the Australian political system". One Nation was placed last on the Liberal/National Coalition's how-to-vote card. On October 24, with a state election looming, Court changed his tune.
"One Nation is a pretty interesting organisation. They were accused of being racist, but they are running an Aboriginal candidate in the Kimberley. They have obviously gone through a lot of change", Court said. Preference deals between the Liberals and One Nation for the WA election could not be ruled out, he added.
One Nation WA vice-president John Fisher was surprised to hear that his party had changed. "Our basic policies are still the same", he told ABC radio on October 25. One Nation Kimberley candidate Irene Wyborn, a member since 1997, also denied much had changed.
A look at One Nation's printed material and its web site reveals that it still thinks that Australia's problems will be solved by restricting the rights and resources available to those who already have next to nothing — abolishing ATSIC and turning away refugees being two examples.
What has changed in WA is not One Nation's racist policies but the Coalition's electoral chances.
Over the last 12 months, the WA government has presided over a scandal in the finance broking industry that has seen thousands of people, including many retirees, lose savings and investments. The state's health system is in crisis. Action by nurses, doctors and support staff led to the resignation of the health chief.
The road-building mania that saw $400 million sunk into the Northbridge tunnel is continuing, and as a result Court's government is under fire from an army of local community groups angry at planning decisions that have rode roughshod over community needs. The government's partial backdown over the Leighton Beach development is the most recent example of this pressure. The Belltower — the government's monument to itself on the Perth foreshore — stands as a fitting symbol of Court's wastage.
The ALP — with new policies supporting workplace agreements and still refusing to drop support for mandatory sentencing — is relishing the prospect of a state poll. Labor needs 11-seat swing, something that has never been achieved in WA before.
Even with the buckets of cash from the recent privatisation of WA's gas utility and freight railway system to pork-barrel with, Court knows that victory for the Coalition will be difficult. A One Nation preference deal could shore up support, particularly in rural areas, and help Court to win narrowly.
The Nationals do not share Court's new-found enthusiasm for One Nation. WA National Party leader Hendy Cowan flatly ruled out a deal and said One Nation would be placed last on its how-to-votes. The ALP, Greens, Australian Democrats, Democratic Socialists and left independent Neil Gray will also place Hanson last.
Even Prime Minister John Howard has urged the WA Liberals to put One Nation last. But Court is refusing to announce preference decisions "until nearer the election". A deal with the Liberals could result in One Nation being elected to the WA Legislative Council, most likely in the Mining and Pastoral region.
Pauline Hanson was in Perth on October 29. Her address to around 150 people at a One Nation rally in Perth's northern suburbs was disrupted by a noisy counter-demonstration of anti-racists. Police arrested two of the protesters.
Hanson remarked that she had not experienced such protests since the last federal election. Protests against Hanson and her allies — Court included — are likely to grow.
[Anthony Benbow is the Democratic Socialist candidate for state seat of Fremantle. Phone (08) 9433 6790, (08) 9218 9608 or email <firstname.lastname@example.org> to get involved.]