Did the former PM just declare the Coalition had jumped into bed with One Nation? Sure sounded like it to me. Picture: Kym Smith Hanson deserves Liberal preferences: Abbott
Did the former PM just declare the Coalition had jumped into bed with One Nation? Sure sounded like it to me. Picture: Kym Smith Hanson deserves Liberal preferences: Abbott

Abbott just gave election away: How he's set them up to lose

OPINION

JUST a few months ago, a Liberal leader handed an election to Labor after making one simple mistake.

And now, never one to be outdone, Tony Abbott may have just done the same thing.

The line that most commentators and political watchers took from the former PM's baiting speech at Pauline Hanson's book launch (that's a whole other story), was Mr Abbott's remark about his old foe - that she was testament to the adage "you are always better the second time around".

Mr Abbott could well have been talking about himself, and many have inferred he was.

But if you managed to pay attention to Mr Abbott's speech before that cryptic line forced you to, you may have realised he had already taken on a leadership role and thrown the Coalition into a disastrous election campaign.

Mr Abbott preceded his shocking and dangerous comment with a caveat: "Obviously, I only want people to vote for the Liberal and National parties."

But then came the bombshell.

"We have to face up to the reality, and the reality is the only way the Coalition can win next election is if we are able to harvest Hanson preferences," he said.

Did the former PM just declare the Coalition had jumped into bed with One Nation? Sure sounded like it to me.

He went on to heap praise upon the minor party's controversial and fiery leader, saying the government "would not have been able to pass any legislation in this current Parliament but for the constructive work of Pauline Hanson and her team of senators".

"I think it's only right and proper that good and constructive conduct be rewarded," he said.

That right there? That sounds suspiciously like an offer to return the preferencing favour.

The idea that Queensland Liberal leader Tim Nicholls and Pauline Hanson were a team cost the LNP big time. Picture: Jono Searle/AAP
The idea that Queensland Liberal leader Tim Nicholls and Pauline Hanson were a team cost the LNP big time. Picture: Jono Searle/AAP

Mr Abbott of course shouldn't make these declarations and preference decisions on his own - he admitted in his speech it's an issue for the party's current leadership. Even though he appears to relish in the practice, it isn't the backbencher's place to declare the party or Coalition's positions on such things.

And considering what happened after a state Liberal branch just last year failed to distance itself from One Nation, it's not a stance the party would in good sense consider adopting.

The actual Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, has now been forced into a position where he will have to reassure voters the Coalition is not teaming up with or relying on Senator Hanson and her party.

As well as likely convincing a portion of Coalition voters that Pauline Hanson is a government partner, Mr Abbott has opened the floor to Opposition Leader Bill Shorten to do the same thing.

Mr Shorten now has the opportunity to trumpet the exact message his Queensland counterpart Labor Premier Annastascia Palaszczuk did at the recent Queensland state election, which helped her hold on to government.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk used the state Liberal leader’s ties to One Nation to snatch support from LNP voters. Picture: Tracey Nearmy
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk used the state Liberal leader’s ties to One Nation to snatch support from LNP voters. Picture: Tracey Nearmy

In that devastating vote for the Liberal National Party (Queensland's answer to the Coalition), the party's leader, Tim Nicholls, refused to distance himself and his party from One Nation's influence.

The minor party was expected to have a major impact, and though he was asked dozens of times in the lead-up to the November vote, Mr Nicholls never once took the opportunity to declare whether or not his party would accept the support of One Nation if they needed it to form government.

His silence allowed Labor to convince the rest Queensland's voting population that a vote for the LNP was a vote for One Nation.

In the days leading up to the vote, the Premier, geniusly, appealed directly to Liberal voters, pleading with them to just this once vote for Labor - "Because a vote for the LNP is a vote for One Nation."

It worked. Better than anyone expected. Labor got its majority government, the LNP lost the election and Mr Nicholls lost his job. One Nation didn't do well either.

In his remarks on Tuesday, Mr Abbott has allowed the Australian Labor Party to seize on the exact same issue, and send panic through millions of voters of all stripes.

Abbott's remarks will be rejected and questioned by his party's actual leadership, but just like Mr Turnbull's grip on power, the PM's authority and transparency on the One Nation relationship will be questioned and doubted.

Malcolm Turnbull will have to once again convince voters that what Tony Abbott says isn’t what goes. Picture: Kym Smith
Malcolm Turnbull will have to once again convince voters that what Tony Abbott says isn’t what goes. Picture: Kym Smith

Additionally, to a not insignificant portion of voters, it doesn't matter what Mr Turnbull has to say.

Five minutes of listening to talkback radio or scanning the comments section of any political news site will tell you - Coalition voters are so deeply divided there may as well be two parties with two leaders, even if one side may be significantly larger than the other.

There are the deeply conservative Abbott loyalists, still bitter at the leadership for stripping their beloved leader of his rank, and then there are the there are Turnbull-backing, order-loving Coalition voters who aren't in it for sniping and undermining.

This division clearly creates a mess for Mr Turnbull. The only advantage he gets is that the two groups votes are pooled - at the end of the day he gets the backing of those who would prefer not to have him as the PM because they couldn't stand to see their preferred stripped of his last scrap of power, and miss the (incredibly slim) chance to see his "second time around".

But his messages also get confused and often contradicted by the man who has become an opponent on his own team.

Mr Abbott may be proven right in suggesting the only way the Coalition can retain government in the leadership is with One Nation preferences, but the friendship could also be what costs the party its primary vote.

While he's forgiving past grievances and repairing his relationship with Senator Hanson, the party who could really benefit from the friendship, is Labor.

 

elizabeth.burke@news.com.au | @lizeburke

 


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