Senator Pauline Hanson enters the House of Represenatives for the address of Prime Minister of Singapore Lee Hsien Loong arrives to the Parliament of at Parliament House in Canberra on Wednesday 12 October 2016. Photo: Andrew Meares Photo: Andrew Meares Pauline Hanson’s One Nation has been drawing voters from the left and the right. Photo: Andrew Meares
Labor senator Malarndirri McCarthy with senator Pauline Hanson after the One Nation leader’s first speech in the Senate. Photo: Andrew Meares
Senator Pauline Hanson’s One Nation party has become a protest party, according to Professor Ian McAllister. Photo: Andrew Meares
One Nation voters are not who you think they are.
Working class, worried about job security and living in outer urban or inner regional seats, One Nation voters are as likely to be traditional supporters of Labor, as of the Coalition.
While the focus has so far been on the damage the outsider party causes to the right, its impact on the left also has the Labor Party worried.
Ian McAllister, Professor of Political Science at the n National University and co-director of the n Election Study, said the voters lured by One Nation in 2017 were different to those who first followed the Pauline Hanson drum beat almost 20 years ago.
Where policy once enticed, now protest reigns supreme.
“This time around it is different and they are drawing their support almost equally from Labor and Coalition voters,” Professor McAllister said.
“If you look at the sorts of issues that people who are voting for One Nation actually think are important, they are all over the place.
“Essentially, this time around, it is a protest party – and it is soaking up the protest vote, rather than a vote from people that want to vote for it for a particular policy platform.”
While urban areas remain largely immune to the big swings, those living on the wrong side of a two-step economy, on the outer reaches of cities or in regional towns, have lost faith either Labor or the Coalition will bring about change.
“They are unhappy with the major parties,” says Professor McAllister of the new One Nation voter. “Weak economic performance is one reason – there is a very strong correlation with that – so these tend to be people who don’t believe the government can do very much about improving their economic position, they feel very economically insecure.”
“They have a very high level of distrust in politics and that is quite noticeable.
“They are disillusioned with career politicians, they don’t think they are working in their best interests – there is a series of things going on in there.”
This, says Clive Bean, Professor of Political Science at the Queensland University of Technology, was just as much a problem for Labor as it is for the Liberals and Nationals.
“To some extent, there are characteristics in them [One Nation voters] that are reminiscent of Labor voters – people who are perhaps concerned about security – job security as well as ethnic and cultural security,” he said.
“Those kind of factors mean there is an appeal there to Labor voters just as there is to Coalition voters and even though it is characterised as a new right populist party, which makes you think it will take from the right of the Coalition, there is an appeal across the spectrum, which makes it a lot more unpredictable.”
The upcoming Queensland election, expected to be held in September or October this year, is being viewed as a barometer of the wider national mood by both parties.
Publicly, Labor has maintained its opposition to One Nation. The Queensland Labor government, which is under the greatest immediate threat from the surging One Nation vote, has ruled out any preference or governing deals with the minor party.
But Queensland Labor has benefited from the turning tide – both Herbert and Longman fell to Labor at the 2016 federal election on the back of One Nation preferences. While deals have been ruled out, Labor has capitalised on the “send the Turnbull government a message” mood, and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has noticeably switched to an ” first” rhetoric in recent months, particularly while speaking in the very regions now under threat.
But with voters switching off from the major party messaging, in favour of sending a message of their own, Labor has found itself fighting for the same hearts and minds as the Turnbull government, while attempting to batten down its own heartland.
“I think there is disillusionment around the two major parties and we need to demonstrate how progressive politics and progressive governments can deliver for working people,” Labor MP Pat Conroy said.
His electorate of Shortland, which takes in part of the NSW Hunter region, and its coal mines, is primed for a swing to One Nation. There, the mood rises and falls with the economy.
“Labor voters who might say they will vote for One Nation do so because they don’t think a Labor government supports them economically,” he said.
“It is usually not about social issues, it is about economic issues – they might be pro-protection, they might feel like the industrial relations system is not supporting workers enough and things like that.
“So what they need to see is a Labor government that is actually delivering for working people and that is why it is so important that we tackle things like inequality and fair trade deals – and penalty rates. Demonstrating that we are looking after working people is the best way to sway these people to vote for us again.”
Cathy O’Toole, who won the seat of Herbert on the back of a protest swing against the Turnbull government, after years of economic stress, is aware the pendulum swings both ways.
“I think part of the issue is that in those areas, and my area is one of those, where unemployment is really high, job security is not good, people are very concerned about the fundamentals of survival. Their major concerns are about ‘is my job secure, or can I get a job, can I afford to put food on the table, pay the mortgage or the rent and pay my kids school fees, or keep them at school’. They are the issues that seem to be typically around those voters and why they seem to be reaching out,” she said.
“I understand that and I think for Labor it is about understanding that those people are worried about their well-being and the well-being about their family.
“And I think we need to be very clear in the messages and the messages that we give to people.”
Ms O’Toole said she believed the current mood was based on “frustration”.
“I get the frustration and for us it is about being really clear, that we are giving simple and succinct messages that address their concerns. And they are concerns,” she said.
“…I think you would ignore it at your own peril. You have to be aware of all the players on the landscape, you can never sit complacently – you have to be really focused and I think it is a wake-up call.”
Ms O’Toole said a focus on policies – and who One Nation’s would harm – was crucial.
“It is not about doing a character assassination on a human being, that is certainly not what it is about,” she said.
“But it is about comparing and contrasting her stance and her party’s stance on policy and where Labor stands.
“The world is changing.”
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