Scott Buchholz and Pauline Hanson: why Queensland politics matters to Canberra

Pauline Hanson chats with a voter in Gatton (photo by Amy Lyne).
Pauline Hanson chats with a voter in Gatton (photo by Amy Lyne).

TWO closely related events took place in the last two days, one in Australian federal politics and one in Queensland.

In federal politics the shenanigans (a lovely word meaning mischief that sounds as if it should be Irish and probably is via Tammany Hall) of #libspill week, ended with its first victim: chief whip Philip Ruddock. Canberra’s press gallery believes the father of the house was sacked because he miscalculated the size of the backbench rebellion in the party room.

The spill did not reveal who was ready to step into Tony Abbott’s shoes. The likeliest contenders Malcolm Turnbull and Julie Bishop kept their powder dry, but the 39 MPs voting for a spill of the leadership positions revealed a deeply wounded leader.

Abbott is a fighter and like the Black Knight will claim his troubles are just a flesh-wound and he has the wherewithal to continue to provide “adult government”. Ruddock was the most senior adult in that government, a moderate who successfully implemented John Howard’s hardline anti-immigration policies to electoral success.

He was never close to Abbott and he was made a scapegoat yesterday losing his position to his deputy Scott Buchholz. Very few people outside of Canberra and a small part of south-east Queensland have heard of Buchholz, an amiable man, though not a deep political thinker.

I met him first at Roma races and liked his bonhomie and charm. He is well connected as Barnaby Joyce’s former chief of staff and a businessman who ran a transport company out of Toowoomba for 18 years.

He is also the federal member for Wright, a seat with a ridiculous shape (looking a bit like Iceland) that bolts together Beaudesert and the Gold Coast hinterland with the Lockyer Valley, with mountains dividing these dissimilar communities and no direct roads between them.

Its shape and scope is similar to the equally absurd Queensland seat of Lockyer, which almost played a big part in deciding the fate of the Queensland Government.

It took 13 days for Palaszczuk to form government and it took 12 days for Lockyer to be declared. Labor won the election and the LNP won Lockyer but if Pauline Hanson had got in, she would have been a thorn in both their sides. Labor would be delighted low profile incumbent LNP party outsider Ian Rickuss (who had a hate-hate relationship with Premier Campbell Newman, but will be more in with Springborg) held on, defeating Hanson by 114 votes on two-party preferences.

Hanson was just 59 votes away from getting a shot at the balance of power with independent Tony Wellington. I wanted Hanson to get in, if only to liven things up, but I would have been nervous to give her such a shot at power.

While the election was in play, the left-wing Hanson haters got their knickers in a twist in moral panic and castigated Lockyer voters for their “stupidity”. It was hypocrisy on a grand scale from people who believe Abbott supporters are always blaming the voters for bad polls. In Lockyer it was easy to see her appeal, and she grabbed votes from the left, the centre, and the right.

Hanson is a serial candidate and her near success in Lockyer, and wide approval, will encourage her to have another go. She told me she has signed up as a volunteer with a crisis care centre in Laidley. Her first shot at another campaign would have been the council elections of 2016 and a run at Lockyer Valley mayor.

There are three reasons why that won’t happen. Firstly, she said herself, she won’t run. Secondly, she is ineligible, living across the border in Scenic Rim council area. It didn’t matter in the state election, “where she put her head down of a night” as she put it (though it meant she couldn’t be one of the 59 votes needed to turn the election around) but she must live in the seat to run in the council election. Thirdly she ran with the blessing of Lockyer Valley mayor Steve Jones, a feisty old-style conservative linked to his cousin Alan Jones. Steve Jones hates the LNP and particularly detests Ian Rickuss. I’ve had my ups and downs with Steve Jones, but Hanson is unlikely to want to cross him if she can help it.

A more likely strategy is for Hanson to run for Wright in the next federal election in September 2016. She lives in Wright and can count on a good vote from the Lockyer Valley. Beaudesert and the coastal fringe will be a challenge but her rock star appeal in the electorate may get her over the line.

Labor preferenced her last in Lockyer and are likely to do so again in Wright. But 60% of Labor voters ignored the how to vote card and put Hanson ahead of Rickuss. Federal elections are not optional preferential like Queensland so voters have to vote all the way down the line.

Wright is held by Buchholz, a fierce supporter of Tony Abbott. Abbott was Howard’s point man who ensured Pauline Hanson’s arrest and imprisonment for electoral fraud, a case overturned in the Court of Appeal after Hanson served three months in prison.

Hanson hates Labor, but has good motivation to hate Tony Abbott more. This is why Abbott has shored up Buchholz’s position with a promotion. A minority government in the 2016 election with Hanson in Canberra would be as disastrous for Abbott (assuming he is still Prime Minister and not just a dead man governing) as it would be for Labor.

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