19 December 2016
The rise of Pauline Hanson really shook Australian politics in the 1990s. Although merely one newly-elected Federal MP at a time when the Liberal-National Coalition had a huge parliamentary majority, she said things that drew both support and criticism from all over the country – to the point where she seemed to setting the political agenda. The Coalition was somewhat split over how to respond to her, but the Labor Party absolutely refused to tolerate her, even she shared the old-fashioned beliefs of some Labor people in protecting jobs in manufacturing from cheaper imports, among other things.
Hanson was in Federal Parliament for only one term before losing her seat, and over the next two decades she tried, time and again, to win seats at numerous elections. People stopped taking her seriously after a while, but she never gave up, and this year she made it back, shocking the political establishment – again.
But going back to her first period in Parliament, her high point might well have been June 1998. By then she’d set up her own political party, and had candidates running in a state election in her home state of Queensland. Although not a candidate herself, she had quite an influence on that Queensland election. Candidates from her party ended up winning eleven seats, out of eighty-nine, in State Parliament.
I’m inclined to argue that ghosts from that election in 1998 surround the fortunes of not just Hanson but the major political parties as well. Hanson’s party effectively imploded in the following years, and those eleven MPs in Queensland ended up leaving, with two of them making it back as Independents. But Hanson effectively split the Coalition, and she caused some problems from Labor, because many traditional Labor voters actually liked Hanson, even though Labor MPs wouldn’t tolerate her.
The troubles for the Coalition, which in Queensland had the Nationals dominating the Liberals while the Liberals dominated the Nationals elsewhere in Australia, stemmed from a divide between urban voters who couldn’t abide her and rural voters who were largely attracted to her. Indeed in that 1998 election in Queensland, the Coalition chose to direct preferences to Hanson’s candidates ahead of Labor, and this was partly to blame for the Coalition’s troubles in relation to her. Labor declared that Hanson’s candidates would be put last at election time, but countless Labor voters ignored this and either voted for them or directed preferences to them.
The Hansonites won six seats from Labor, and five from the Nationals. To offset the losses to the Hansonites, Labor won six seats from the Liberals, one of which was a seat lost in a by-election two years earlier. The Nationals also lost a seat to an Independent, namely Peter Wellington. With neither Labor nor the Coalition having the numbers to govern alone, Labor managed to take office with the support of Wellington, which was enough because Labor had forty-four seats – one seat less than needed for a majority.
It was argued that Labor won seats from the Liberals because urban voters were angry with the Coalition’s decision to direct preferences to the Hansonites. But I’m not convinced that this was the case, at least considering which seats Labor won from the Liberals.
Labor’s gains from the Liberals were Barron River, Greenslopes, Mansfield, Mount Ommaney, Mundingburra, and Springwood. Barron River was near Cairns, Mundingburra was in the Townsville region, and the others seats were in Brisbane.
But the Liberals hadn’t held these seats for long. Apart from Mundingburra, these were seats which Labor lost to the Liberals at the previous election, in 1995. A year later, Labor lost Mundingburra to the Liberals in a by-election. In other words, Labor’s gains from the Liberals in 1998 amounted to little more than a reversal of seats lost to the Liberals one election earlier. If Labor in 1998 had won seats which the Liberals had held prior to the 1995 election, I’d believe the idea of Labor gaining from urban Liberal voters’ anger over Hanson – but that didn’t happen.
Mind you, it was in later years when Queensland’s urban voters revolted against the Coalition’s directing of preferences to Hanson’s candidates. While the Liberals were against doing so, the Nationals were divided over it, and Labor went on to score a massive election win in 2001.
These ghosts from 1998 come into my mind when considering the prospect for the next Queensland election, especially with Hanson’s return to the political stage. The next Queensland election might happen next year. The power of Hanson will go under the spotlight once more.