One Nation poised to be 'kingmaker'

One Nation leader Senator Pauline Hanson and Queensland One Nation leader and member for Buderim Steve Dickson attend a barbecue at Sippy Downs, Buderim, Queensland, Saturday, November 11, 2017. (AAP Image/Glenn Hunt)
One Nation leader Senator Pauline Hanson and Queensland One Nation leader and member for Buderim Steve Dickson attend a barbecue at Sippy Downs, Buderim, Queensland, Saturday, November 11, 2017. (AAP Image/Glenn Hunt)

Pauline Hanson christened the start of her Queensland election campaign with champagne.

Not the real stuff, obviously, but a $6.95 number from a bottle shop chain that wouldn't give anyone any cause to accuse the One Nation leader of being out of touch with her constituency.

"I have always connected with the people, that's what the politicians haven't done," Hanson told the media pack assembled to watch her smash the bottle on the side of the 'Battler Bus' last week.

The bus set off on Monday. By the end of the week it had trundled through Buderim, Yeppoon, Gladstone, Mackay and Rockhampton on its mission to convince the people of Queensland to vote for a party whose head surfs a wave of anti-political sentiment despite having been an intermittent career politician for two decades and sitting in a parliament that represents everything she claims to loathe.

"The people of Queensland couldn't even tell you who their senators are," Hanson said, neatly side-stepping the fact she is the state's highest-profile senator while repeating her message about the out-of-touch nature of politicians.

And although most people couldn't pick cabinet ministers George Brandis or Matt Canavan out of a lineup, they flock to Hanson and her message of returning politics to the people, a call that has resonated since she first swept onto the national stage in the late 1990s and is now more apt than ever.

When Queenslanders go to the polls in a fortnight's time they will be taking part in the biggest test One Nation has faced since Pauline Hanson made her triumphant return to the Senate just over one year ago.

Labor Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk??? is fighting to stay in power only one term after Queenslanders dumped Campbell Newman and his Liberal National government following a series of harsh cuts to services and jobs.

In that time there has been Brexit and the election of Donald Trump, two mighty disruptions that have played to Hanson's anti-establishment, anti-expert rhetoric.

Since last year's federal election, Hanson's popularity nationally has doubled.

In Queensland it continues to climb. A Galaxy poll conducted last weekend found the party's vote has risen from 15 per cent to 18 per cent in the past three months, while support for the Liberal National Party has fallen to 32 per cent. The Labor vote was unmoved at 35 per cent.

Queensland Labor senator Murray Watt says One Nation's role in the state cannot be underestimated.

"One Nation is a very real presence in this campaign. I completely believe that. If they're getting 18 per cent state wide that means they're getting up to or over 30 per cent in some areas," he said.

"We're two weeks out from election day but there's a very real prospect of them winning many seats. It's no exaggeration to say they will win seats and they stand a very real chance of being part of the next government in Queensland."

Palaszczuk has said she would not do a deal with One Nation, even if it meant losing government.

Liberal National opposition leader Tim Nicholls has promised he would not form a coalition with One Nation or offer ministry positions, but he has left the door open to preferencing the party on a seat-by-seat basis.

One Nation is relishing the thought of the major parties knocking at its door to form government.

As One Nation's state leader, Steve Dickson, puts it: "It's like drinking water. Without it, you die. At the end of the day, you're going to have to come and have a drink. We're holding all the water."

One Nation is fielding 61 candidates in the election and although Hanson won't put a number on how many she thinks will be successful, she believes the result will eclipse One Nation's previous high-water mark in 1998, when it won 11 seats and nearly 23 per cent of the vote.

At the time, it meant the party had gained a higher percentage of the vote than any other third party at state or territory level since Federation.

"This is going to be one hell of a campaign because I think the people of Queensland are fed up with the major political parties ... I think it is time for One Nation and honestly, I think this is going to be bigger than 1998," Hanson said.

One Nation is campaigning on a combination of power prices, the cost of living and jobs. Its centrepiece, so far, has been promising a new coal-fired power station for northern Queensland.

"We need to address our electricity costs and changes in the state," Hanson told Sky News during the week. "If you get the electricity prices down, you're helping pensioners, ordinary mums and dads, small business owners are going to benefit from it ... People are struggling, they're really struggling."

The party is also concerned about youth unemployment, the closure of TAFEs and foreign ownership.

But, Hanson says, "the biggest issue is people want honesty and trust from their politicians". "They're sick and tired of lies and rhetoric. I'm not about that. What you see is what you get. I'm not going to go out there and promise you the world and then not deliver."

Come November 25 and one party will have to form government - and polling to date suggests it will, again, be a minority government.

Palaszczuk governs with the support of Peter Wellington, an independent in the state's 89-member unicameral legislative assembly.

Paul Williams, a senior lecturer in politics at Griffith University, says One Nation is on track to pick up at least six seats and will be the "kingmaker" come election night.

"This election is almost the perfect storm - parts of western Queensland have a strong anti-Islamic sentiment and everyone is anti-political correctness, even if they can't define it," Williams says.

Queensland is also the only state where more people live outside the capital city, a factor that works in One Nation's favour. While Brisbane and much of the south-east is not sympathetic One Nation territory, regional centres such as Rockhampton, Gympie, Bundaberg, Cairns, Mackay and Townsville are. All were - or will be - stops on the Battler Bus tour.

"Much of regional Queensland still wishes it was the 1950s," Williams says.

Michelle Landry holds the federal seat of Capricornia for the Turnbull government. It takes in Rockhampton, Yeppoon and some outlying suburbs of Mackay.

Rockhampton is, she says, "a major battleground" for her party when it comes to staring down One Nation.

"People need to understand Pauline Hanson isn't going to be premier. She's a federal senator," Landry says. "You don't hear boo from the candidates. It's all about her, whereas it should be about the candidates in that area."

That is true, but tell that to the people who flock to see Hanson wherever her bus takes her.

Labor sees the blurring of federal and state lines as working in its favour. It is doing everything it can to remind people how Hanson and One Nation behave when they are in Canberra being professional politicians.

"They vote with [Prime Minister Malcolm] Turnbull 85 per cent of the time. By voting with Turnbull they have cut $2 billion in family support and it's Hanson's votes that have made it easier for employers to bring in 457 [foreign worker visa] workers," Watt says.

But, he warns, people should think carefully before experiencing the sugar rush of a protest vote.

"People might think 'politics is a mess, this is my way of protesting' [by voting One Nation]. Exercising that protest vote that way comes at a price."

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This story One Nation poised to be 'kingmaker' first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.