28 October 2016
The return to parliamentary life of controversial political figure Pauline Hanson has shocked many across Australia. Just as her arrival in politics twenty years ago caused a major stir, her return after losing her seat and several unsuccessful attempts to come back has caused another stir. Probably the bigger stir has been the fact that she’s got brought three people with her, albeit from different states.
The Hanson saga touched on concerns that countless people had about many issues, most significantly immigration and Aborigines. Because people felt that politicians generally weren’t willing to address these concerns, a vacuum in politics was created, and Hanson stepped into it. And most of us know what happened after that.
But in light of Hanson’s return, and the prospect of a rise in her popularity with that, there might be speculation about her prospects at coming state elections. In my opinion, those prospects are mixed.
Hanson clearly has a great degree of popularity in her home state of Queensland. But this mightn’t necessarily translate into seats when Queenslanders vote in their next state election, which is due in early 2018. Mind you, the next election could be earlier because Queensland doesn’t have fixed parliamentary terms, so it’ll come whenever the Premier of the day sees fit to call it.
Ironically, although support for Hanson is likely to be stronger in Queensland than in other states, the lower levels of support for her in other states could in fact translate into seats at election time.
The thing to remember about the Queensland Parliament is that it has eighty-nine seats, made up of one member per seat. This means that a candidate will only win a seat if he or she wins a majority of the vote in that seat – not just more votes than any other candidate in that seat, but more than every other candidate in that seat put together. Minor players, be they minor party candidates or Independents, rarely have enough voter support to win seats under those circumstances. This therefore makes winning seats a big ask for minor players, certainly in Queensland but also at times elsewhere.
The Queensland Parliament also has only one parliamentary chamber, whereas its counterparts in other states and at the national level have two chambers. In all other parliaments, there’s one chamber made up of single-member seats, and another chamber made up of multi-member seats. The former requires candidates to win a majority of the vote, but the latter has candidates elected if they win a certain proportion of the vote, rather than strictly a majority, in any given region. The Queensland Parliament doesn’t have the latter.
Minor players can win seats more easily when they only have to win a proportion of the vote in any given region. This arrangement applies to the Senate in Federal Parliament, to which Hanson was elected. It also applies to the dual-chamber parliaments of both New South Wales and Western Australia, where support for Hanson was strong enough for her people to win Senate seats in both states. This is why I tip Hanson’s mob to win seats in Western Australia when that state’s next election happens, early next year. Although NSW won’t go to the polls for a few years yet, Hanson’s mob could win seats there if support remains strong.
Going back to the coming state election in Queensland, minor players won’t win seats without strong support in relatively small areas, such as a group of city suburbs either close to each other or clumped together. This isn’t easy to achieve.
In talking about small areas, no disrespect is meant regarding the political party set up by Federal politician Bob Katter, which holds two seats in State Parliament. Geographically, those seats are large ones, situated in the state’s north. But they’re large only because the population across the north is relatively small and spread out, and parliamentary seats ideally should have as near as possible to an equal number of voters. On the other hand, in major cities with large populations, parliamentary seats are naturally smaller.
Also, despite holding two seats, Katter and his party don’t really have enough support outside Queensland’s north to win seats elsewhere. Similarly, the Greens don’t have enough support anywhere to win seats in Queensland, even in inner Brisbane, and I don’t expect them to win seats at the next Queensland election.
On the other hand, support for Hanson might just be strong enough for her mob to win seats. Certainly when Hanson was first on the political scene, her mob had enough clustered support to end up winning eleven seats in Queensland at a state election in 1998, which really was a shock. But those eleven MPs subsequently broke away from Hanson’s mob, and most of them lost their seats at the next election, which came in 2001.
The prospects for Hanson and her mob really depend on how they play their cards, at least in relation to the next Queensland election. They’ll have to decide whether to work to win a few seats where their vote appears strongest, or to field candidates everywhere and lessen their chances of winning seats. The return of Hansonite candidates to the Queensland Parliament might happen, but mistakes could see them split again.