30 January 2017
Defections in politics have often killed careers off. Those who’ve followed politics and elections for longer than me would know of countless instances of politicians, mainly from major political parties, defecting to minor parties or just quitting to sit as Independents, only to lose their seats when elections have come. When politicians defect, they’re either having to stand on their own two political feet or joining mobs with weaker organisations than what they leave behind.
I can remember a few politicians leaving major parties for minor parties, and losing at subsequent elections. I even remember such politicians serving as Independents between switches, and ultimately becoming Independents again.
Such thoughts came into my head earlier this month, when I heard about the defection of Queensland politician Steve Dickson to the mob of controversial figure Pauline Hanson.
Dickson is a former minister who’s been in State Parliament for many years, representing the Liberal National Party in a region on the Sunshine Coast, north of Brisbane. But this month he announced that he was joining Hanson’s mob, amid preparations for a general election due next year, although it’s been suggested that the election might actually take place this year.
Having shaken national politics after winning a Senate seat in a Federal election last year, thus ending a long run of unsuccessful election runs which followed a brief period in Federal Parliament in the 1990s, Hanson clearly intends to shake the political scene more.
There are echoes of her parliamentary stint from the 1990s in her presence on the scene now. Back then, she had enough support across the country, and in Queensland in particular, to form her own political party, which ended up winning seats at an election in that state in 1998. But Hanson’s party imploded after that, with all bar a few MPs from 1998 coming back at the next election, in 2001. The party continued to exist in name, but was largely ignored. By then, Hanson had lost her seat in Federal Parliament, and tried numerous times to win seats at different elections, before her success last year.
Her parliamentary return has revived interest in her and her mob, and people are talking about what impact she’ll have on elections in various states, especially Queensland.
And the defection of Dickson will help her, to some extent, because she’s now got a voice in the Queensland Parliament, which is already fragile because crossbenchers hold the balance of power there. The Labor Party has governed in Queensland since the last election, in 2015, after obtaining crossbench support, and the LNP is trying to return to office. Somehow, despite this fragility, Labor has managed to govern without too much trouble – and it has to govern responsibly, because even the slightest hint of improper behaviour can prompt crossbenchers to withdraw their support, thus tipping Labor out.
But will Dickson make it back to Parliament at the next election as a Hansonite, if I could describe him that way? My suspicion is that he won’t make it back.
Support for Hanson doesn’t seem to have been overly strong in Queensland’s urbanised south-east, taking in not just Brisbane but the Gold Coast to the south of it and the Sunshine Coast to the north of it. Hanson’s support has largely been in regional areas, and while Hansonites won a couple of seats on Brisbane’s fringes in 1998, they seemed to be in poorer areas than elsewhere. And the Sunshine Coast, where Dickson is based, doesn’t strike me as a region of battlers, even though it has many retirees who seem very supportive of Hanson. I think that Hanson’s mob could win seats, but not around there.
The relative lack of support for Hanson on the Sunshine Coast makes me predict regret as likely after Dickson’s switch to Hanson’s mob. Dickson’s career will probably end as a result of his switch. The strength of his personal vote, regardless of which banner he runs under, might be the only thing to save him when Queenslanders cast their votes.