A long road to freedom: How the Freedom Ride for Aborigines changed Australia forever

safaAustralia was awakening from its long self-satisfied slumber in the 1960s. While Robert Menzies’ slavish pro-Empire views still reigned in Canberra, its young educated citizens began to tap into the worldwide zeitgeist of student protest. Racism was a flashpoint. The imprisonment of Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King were the spark for a civil rights demonstration outside the US consulate in Sydney in 1964. Students garnered great publicity for their cause by burning a Ku Klux Klan cross and clashing with police.

But some people starting asking the disturbing question: why weren’t these students campaigning against racism at home in Australia? Overseas newspapers pointed out the hypocrisy of student riots against US issues while their country still held dear to the White Australia Policy and denied Aboriginal rights. The Ceylon Observer noted “we coloured folk” could settle in the US but not in Australia. The Observer called on the students to probe their own lack of “coloured neighbours”.

They may not have been neighbours, but Aboriginal rights groups were active in pointing out Australia’s failure to adhere to the UN Declaration of Human Rights. The international censure was embarrassing to Canberra but was immaterial to state governments who “managed” Aboriginal issues at home. It was this disconnect that led Aboriginal organisations to seek constitutional change.

Student interest in these issues was muted by the lack of Aboriginal people on campus. That changed when Charles Perkins and Gary William won scholarships to the University of Sydney in 1963.  Williams was part Bundjalung, part Gumbaynggirr from northern NSW with a family history of activism while Perkins was an Arrernte-Kalkadoon man and already an experienced public speaker and political leader as vice president of the Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines (FCAA).

The genesis of the freedom ride came with a committee for action on Aboriginal rights at the university on National Aborigines Day, July 8, 1964. A well-intentioned leaflet with the inscription “Poor bloody Abos!” still showed the students had much to learn about Indigenous affairs. A meeting heard how children were being locked up in Walgett for trivial offences and how the constitutional change campaign was going, with a protest of 500 students outside parliament house the following day.

Perkins then took on the leadership to look at further options, one of which was a freedom rider bus through NSW and Queensland. Perkins instinctively saw how good a freedom ride would be for television with its need for short grabs and dramatic visuals. Freedom rides began in Jamaica in 1957 as a tool to remove the tax on cycling but were better known from the rides in southern US in 1961. The publicity around the arrest of 300 American freedom riders trying to desegregate buses had immediate success and made the news across the world including Australia. Perkins wanted to bring this idea of non-violent direct action home to shine a light on discrimination in NSW country towns.

The Australian rides took another half a year to organise and it wasn’t until February 12, 1965 that a white touring bus arrived at the university. Twenty-nine students boarded alongside a banner of Student Action for Aborigines which led to it being known as the SAFA bus tour. Perkins was aboard and Williams would join later, and there was one other Aboriginal man, lay preacher Gerry Mason. A key rider was Darce Cassidy a student who recorded everything for the ABC while on leave until he was ordered to disembark at Moree when his leave expired.

The students decided to conduct a social survey of Indigenous people they would meet along the way. The questions would ask about attitudes as well as housing conditions, water, sewerage and electricity and it helped SAFA when they sought permission from the NSW Aborigines Welfare Board to enter the stations and reserves they controlled. These boards were tasked with assimilation of Aborigines into the wider community, though they were frustrated by white townsfolk who wanted to keep Aborigines out and public utilities like schools, cinemas and pools segregated. Aborigines who didn’t live in the reserves lived in squalid shanty-towns or ‘yumbas’ next to the town.

The bus planned to visit ten towns: Wellington, Gulargambone, Walgett, Moree, Boggabilla, Tabulam, Lismore, Bowraville, Kempsey and Taree, a trip of 2300km. Ann Curthoys was one of the riders and she wrote the best memoir of the ride called “Freedom Ride: A Freedom Rider remembers”. Curthoys was a left-wing student, influenced by her mother’s student activism, and she had already written on Indigenous issues.

After an overnight stop in Orange, the students did their first survey in the shantytown at Wellington. The hot, dusty shacks were a shock for the wealthy middle-class students.  They found employment was scarce and social services non-existent. Perkins went into a pub he heard discriminated against Aborigines. Bar staff were reluctant to serve him but eventually did after a conference with the manager. The bus eventually left for Dubbo that evening with no consensus for further action in Wellington.

The first stop in the morning after Dubbo was Gulargambone where whites and Aboriginal homes were separated by the Castlereagh River. Curthoys said the Gulargambone reserve was a “sobering experience” with poor housing too close to sewerage outlets and the rubbish dump. Diarrhoea, eye sores and skin sores were common. Aboriginal people said the police ran the reserve and whenever there was trouble they would arrest the usual suspects before beating them up at the station.  Again, despite the problems, the students felt Gulargambone was not the place to demonstrate.

They moved north to Walgett in Gamilaraay and Yuwaaliyaay country. Cheap Indigenous labour kept Walgett profitable but whites were alarmed at the black population moving into their town, and there was rigorous segregation. Dimly aware of the town’s history, the students arrived at 7pm and settled in at the Anglican hall. They decided their target here would be the RSL club, a hallowed institution but one which refused to admit Indigenous people in Walgett, including Aboriginal ex-servicemen.

The following morning the radio reported the planned picket of the RSL at noon. The Anglican Minister was unhappy but the students were insistent and he reluctantly agreed to let them stay another night. The students drew up a banner saying “Good Enough for Tobruk. Why not Walgett?” One bystander at the RSL cried out “Who the hell do you think you are?” while others jeered. Eventually Perkins spoke and a public debate broke out. The picket last seven hours with a crowd of 350 people. The locals were angry at these city boys with long hair and girls with short skirts telling them how to run their town. But it ended peacefully and the group eventually returned to the hall around 9pm. There they were in for a shock.

The church minister, claiming to be shocked they were a mixed sex group with alcohol, decided to fire them out. His real reason was in a letter he wrote a month later: “our dark friends are just not like Europeans” he wrote. At 10pm the students reluctantly boarded the bus and were followed out of town by 200 local black and white people. Some 10km out of town a grazier’s son named Joey Marshall tried to run the bus off the road. They went back to Walgett to report the incident and confronted a mob of drunks outside the police station at midnight. With the situation turning ugly, a remarkable black woman named Pat Walford emerged from the crowd and harangued the white men. “There’s a lot of white fellas that go looking for gins here at night,” she said. “It hurts you white people in Walgett to see the whites from Sydney up here and do that to  you, doesn’t it?” Walford’s threat to name the “gin jockeys” worked.  The white women turned on their men and crowd disintegrated. Shaken and excited, the students moved on to Moree.

When people look back on the Freedom Ride today it is Moree they remember. Moree was in the heart of Gamilaraay country and its rich soil made it prosperous for sheep, cattle and wheat. Tourism was increasingly important and a council decree made the artesian thermal baths, adjacent swimming pool and memorial hall off-limits to “full blooded or half-caste aboriginal natives”, a decision council defended as “vital to the town’s prosperity”. The segregation spread to cafes, cinema, hotels and even the hospital, and the town was known as Australia’s Little Rock, for the Arkansas symbol of small-town racism in the US.

The students arrived in Moree after a long overnighter and did a survey. They met businessman and ex-councillor Bob Brown, who opposed segregation and paid a political price losing office, but found most locals reluctant to talk. The Sydney media arrived to cover the confrontation when the students would picket the pool. The picket didn’t attract much interest and the students were frustrated when they tried to take six Aboriginal kids inside. After a crowd gathered, the mayor and police agreed they should be let in.

There was 300 people at the public meeting that followed. The atmosphere was hostile with some shouting ‘Aborigines are dirty and lazy people’ and the students shouting back locals were ignorant and prejudiced. At the end the meeting surprisingly voted in favour of desegregating the pool though most people abstained. The students left Moree but promised to return if there was any trouble.

The Sydney papers reported the students had cracked the colour bar in Moree but the local press said racial discrimination was exaggerated. The students pressed on. They conducted a survey in Boggabilla where they found police harassment and the need for better housing and sanitation. They went on to Warwick in Queensland to avoid a bureaucratic £250 road tax for an intra-state journey.

They were heading to Tabulam near Lismore when they heard news from Moree. The pool manager decided the ban would not be lifted on Aboriginal people for hygiene reasons.  The bus returned to Moree despite the Mayor warning they would only cause harm. They gathered kids from the mission and went to the pool. Perkins sought tickets but was refused. The Mayor arrived as a hostile gathered around the students. The stand-off went on for hours. Under orders from the Labor state government, police refused to remove the students. The abuse was turning physical with whites throwing rotten eggs and tomatoes. Police asked for the pool to be closed before the Mayor finally offered to rescind the colour bar. The delighted students agreed to leave but needed a police escort to the bus and they escaped to Inverell.

The media response was huge with international coverage. Moree’s North West Champion called the students “misguided juveniles” and “troublemakers” but the Sydney press hailed Perkins as the articulate leader of the Freedom Riders. The Canberra Times said the students had made everyone think and talk about the “way we treat our Aborigines and half-castes”.

The Ride still had one more week to go. They stirred more hornets’ nests in Lismore, Bowraville, Kempsey and Taree but weariness was setting in among the students.  They continued the surveys, there were pickets at segregated venues, there was rural hostility, there was urban interest in the media but nothing matched the Moree touchstone. The bus driver quit at Grafton after the Moree dangers but another was found.

Lismore was surprisingly positive. Perkins was now a celebrity and the Riders were a media event. Locals were at pains to show Lismore was not racist. Bowraville, however, was a different matter. The area was riddled with sullen discrimination and they found it a “nasty, brutal place”. The survey results were shocking and the students decided to challenge the segregation at the cinema. But when the bus arrived, the cinema owner hastily put up a sign saying “No Pictures Tonight”.

The media was again mixed with praise in Sydney and hostility locally but the students felt they had failed as the segregation continued after they left. It was much the same in Kempsey where they were not welcome. The Macleay Argus called them “a busload of half-baked young men and women, probably unparalleled in their own conceit and impudence”.  No Aboriginal leader would meet them and the students did their surveys in the rain. The Kempsey pool also practised discrimination but when the students repeated their Moree tactic they failed and left the town. The Freedom Ride was ending in disappointment.

The last day of the Ride took the students to the Aboriginal settlement at Purfleet near Taree. There they spoke with people at the reserve for a half hour and pushed on to Sydney. They expected a big media reception on their return but there was nothing. However Perkins made the front page of the SMH the following day. “This small group of students has created a new dawn of hope for my people,” he said. He was right, the reverberations of the Freedom Ride carried on through the years.

Last week relatives and survivors followed in their footsteps on the 50th anniversary of the Ride. It was appropriate Charles’s daughter Rachel Perkins was part of this year’s tour. Unlike in 1965, the Mayor of the flashpoint town of Moree is welcoming the new visit. The Riders had tapped into deep and unspoken racism that affected not just the small towns but all of Australia. In no small way it paved the way for the success of the referendum two years later that allowed the Commonwealth to override State inaction.

Towns like Moree and Walgett didn’t change overnight but they could no longer openly flaunt their racist attitudes. The Freedom Ride was a stinging challenge to Australia and bigger than those who participated in it. As Curthoys said, it stimulated a new kind of Aboriginal politics with far-reaching consequences. The Freedom Ride, she concluded, held out the promise nothing could be quite the same again.

Plenty of blame to go around with Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan

I’m sorry for the families of Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan as they deal with the protracted agony of the judicial killing of their sons in Indonesia. It must especially bitter to them to see their sons hang for heroin while jurisdictions across the world loosen laws on marijuana.

But that is the law of Indonesia, which has not changed in recent times, and it was something Sukumaran and Chan knew when they committed the crime. The other seven in the Bali Nine identified themselves as mules and Sukumaran and Chan as the ringleaders. The pair would have known as ringleaders they would likely lose their lives if they were caught. Therefore, and despite the tragedy of their reform since the death sentence was imposed, the position they now find themselves is almost entirely their own fault.

But neither Australia nor Indonesia are coming out of their likely deaths with any great degree of glory. Lee Rush, the father of one of the mules, also knew the consequences of what his son Scott was about to do and warned the Australian Federal Police at least 10 weeks before the Nine left the country. The Bali Nine drugs were for the Australian market, so the men had no contraband on them as they left the country.  An AFP suit told the media the fact that Indonesia had the death sentence was not a consideration in their thinking of how to solve this particular crime.  “You’ve got to realise this is what the AFP does,” the suit said. I wonder what Lee Rush would have said if he was there to hear what they do.

It add begs the question: if this is what the AFP does, why hasn’t its employer the Australian Government offered to change it as a way of dealing with a justice system it does not like? The lack of action undermines Julie Bishop’s call for people to boycott Indonesia (and not Bali – that was the media’s addition). Indonesia is well aware of Australia’s double standards and is right to ignore it in its calculations.

But Indonesia is not spotless either. The law has been in place for decades but the execution chambers were empty for six years before new President Jokowi decided being strong on the death penalty would be popular electorally. He did not have the gravitas of former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to personally intervene and grant clemency in the absence of sound law.

There is a political problem for Jokowi, however. The same electorate that wants the foreigners hanged, wants its own people repatriated from death sentences on foreign shores. Last week the Jakarta Post said the government has just vowed to secure the release of 229 Indonesian on death row across the world.  This, only a few weeks after Indonesia hanged a Brazilian, a Malawian, a Vietnamese and a Dutch citizen as well as some of their own.

Australian communications minister Malcolm Turnbull called on Jokowi last night to show “strength” by not killing the Australians. But if he really wants to communicate he needs to acknowledge his government’s hypocrisy before pointing out others.

Closing the gap to 2030

Closing_the_Gap_2015_coverIt was the anthropologist Bill Stanner who described Australia’s attitude to its Indigenous people as a “great history of indifference”. Stanner was speaking in 1963, just after Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islanders (hereafter ATSI) got the vote.

That decision began to bring Indigenous people into the Australian story, a process accelerated by the 1967 referendum that ensured “Aboriginal” people (ATSI people) were counted in the census and that the Commonwealth would have a role to play. One of the instigators of the referendum, Faith Bandler who died yesterday aged 96, wasn’t Indigenous but her polyglot Melanesian-Scottish-Indian background was emblematic of a new Australia that was gradually looking beyond the coattails of empire for inspiration, and prepared to dig deep for the descendants of its original inhabitants.

The story of Australia over the last 50 years has been one of an attractive, open, vast and vibrant country with great wealth and freedom, attracting people from all around the world., myself included. The conditions of ATSI people has greatly improved in that time but because they were starting from such a low ebb, they remain adrift of the general population in most statistical markers. That difference is stark to anyone not indifferent to Indigenous affairs. Their place on the census allowed economists to easily measure the state of the gap while Commonwealth involvement gave the problem a much needed national focus.

In March 2008, that great Svengali Kevin Rudd used his commanding popularity as prime minister to coax his new Australian Government and its Opposition in signing the Close the Gap Statement of Intent. Rudd hosted the Indigenous Health Equality Summit which committed to closing the health equality gap between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and non-Indigenous Australians by 2030.

The rationale behind the move was a dichotomy revealed by the UN Human Development Index which ranked Australia third in the world off the back of its mining boom. The score ranked Australia highly on such matters as life expectancy, employment, health and other indicators. Yet there was a nagging underside to that good figure. The life expectancy of an ATSI person was 17 years less than the Australian average.

The gap was a stark reminder of a great divide in Australia across education, incoming, housing, mental health, chronic disease, child and maternal health, access to health services and more. According to the Close the Gap campaign steering committee, the gap led to an immense and unnecessary burden of suffering and grief for ATSI people. For the rest of us, it was a “scar on an unhealed past” and a “stain on the reputation of the nation”.

Those scars and that stain, remind us why there is a gap in the first place and the impact is felt by the states as well. Victoria and Queensland got on board the Statement of Intent in 2008, WA in 2009, the ACT, NSW and SA in 2010. WA and NT have not yet signed up but the committee recognises that states have as big a role to play as Canberra. They are the ones who spend the Commonwealth tax dollar on health and education.

But it is Commonwealth who takes the lead, producing the Closing the Gap report since 2008. In this issue as in many others Rudd overpromised and underdelivered yet there has been much progress in seven years. The improvement is hard to see because while Aboriginal health has improved, the health of the general community is also improving. Thus we are failing to “close the gap” fast enough.

It is women who are bearing the brunt of the problem. In the last five years, Indigenous life expectancy has gone up by 1.6 years for men but just 0.6 for women. Both sexes still die 10 years earlier than non-Indigenous people, so the good thing is the gap has narrowed by seven years since 2008 and is a reminder that closing the gap takes a lot of continuous effort and time. That was shown in a similar experiment in New Zealand where it took 20 years to improve Maori life expectancy by four years.

Prime Minister Gillard never quite had the same focus as Rudd on Indigenous Affairs. She guided a minority government through a myriad of controversial issues but ATSI legislation never floated to the top of her term. In her final closing the gap report of 2013 she claimed victory on access to remote pre-schools admitted there was still a “massive and unacceptable” standard of living gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

Last year was the first Closing the Gap report of the post-Labor era. Like John Howard before him, Tony Abbott put great store in what he called “practical reconciliation” (in essence what this means is ruling any talk of self-determination off the table.) Again, like in the Labor years, the report spoke of the “stark reality of health inequality” and called for measures to reduce smoking rates, improve maternal and children’s health and to make inroads into chronic disease.

This year is much the same. Seven years in, the committee wants greater focus on access to primary health care services to detect, treat and manage Indigenous health conditions. They say they have evidence to suggest Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services gives the best bang for the contested government dollar, providing wide-scale and quality access to health services.

The committee supports the federal government’s priorities of education, employment and community safety. But they also have concerns. They want the Closing the Gap strategy to have a “clearer connection” with the Indigenous Advancement Strategy. Education, employment and community safety lead to good health but good health is also important to driving education, employment and community safety. Health services is the bigger employer of Indigenous people so increased investment will lead to increase employment.

The year 2030 remains the target and by then we should see a further shrinking of difference between black and white. But “the gap” must remain a priority well beyond then. Indigenous injustices, shielded by settler indifference for 180 years, cannot be wiped away in a few health service schemes of a single generation. There must be a continued multi-partisan commitment to the removal of the gap for ATSI people as populations. But integration or assimilation is not the complete answer. There must also be a commitment to support the space for a gap so that ATSI people remain as distinct peoples with their own culture and languages, regardless of their health and employment outcomes.

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 events took place in the last two days that are arguably closely related, 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. Journalists in the Canberra press gallery believe the father of the house was sacked because he badly 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 two likeliest contenders Malcolm Turnbull and Julie Bishop kept their powder dry, but the 39 MPs that voted for a spill of the leadership positions revealed a deeply wounded leader.

Abbott, as everyone knows, 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”. Philip Ruddock was the most senior adult in that government, an apparent moderate who oversaw spectacular success in implementing John Howard’s draconian anti-immigration policies to widespread electoral acclaim.

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

I met him once at the races in Roma and I liked his bonhomie and charm. He is well connected as the former chief of staff of Barnaby Joyce and a good businessman having run a successful 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 object is purely to form an electoral quota and its shape and scope is not dissimilar 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 a Palaszczuk government to be formed after the election 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 major thorn in both their sides. Labor would be delighted that the 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) just held on, defeating Hanson by 114 votes on two-party preferences.

In other words, Hanson was just 59 changed votes away from getting a shot at the balance of power with independent Tony Wellington. I was disappointed with the result and wanted Hanson to get in, if only to liven the place up, but I admit I would have been nervous to give her such a shot at power.

While the election was in play, the left-wing Hanson haters all 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. Sitting here 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 general wide approval, will encourage her to have another go in the area. She told me she has already 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 perhaps a run at Lockyer Valley Mayor.

There are three reasons why that won’t happen. Firstly, she said herself, that won’t happen. 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 herself couldn’t be one of the 59 votes she needed to turn the election around) but legally that is impossible in the council election unless she moves house. Thirdly she ran with the blessing of the current Lockyer Valley Mayor Steve Jones, a feisty old-style conservative figure linked to his relative Alan Jones, but one who hates the LNP and one who particularly detests Ian Rickuss. As a local journalist, 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 due by September 2016. Unlike Lockyer, she lives in Wright and can already count on a good vote from the Lockyer Valley. Beaudesert and the Coastal fringe will be more of a challenge but her public profile and 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 their party how to vote card and put Hanson ahead of Rickuss. Also federal elections are not optional preferential like Queensland so voters have to vote all the way down the line.

Wright, of course, is held by Buchholz, a fierce supporter of Tony Abbott. Abbott, of course, was John Howard’s point man who ensured Pauline Hanson’s arrest and imprisonment for electoral fraud, a case ultimately 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 just as disastrous for Abbott (assuming he is still Prime Minister and not just a dead man governing) as it would be for Labor.

Election drags on in Lockyer and Queensland

On the night of the Queensland election, I ran a live blog at the Gatton Star website. In an evening of swings, movements and fast-moving drama, I eventually called it as a win for Ian Rickuss in Lockyer and a defeat for the LNP in Queensland. I got some matters wrong in the short term, including the outcome of Lockyer, though it looks as if I will be ultimately proved correct in the coming week.

My focus was on the seat of Lockyer, which contains the town of Gatton and the Lockyer Valley council area as well as an odd panhandle that extends across south of Ipswich and north of Jimboomba. The constituencies of the two parts of the electorate don’t have much in common and there are no direct roads linking the two.
In the 1980s this was a safe Nationals seat under Tony Fitzgerald (no, not THAT Tony Fitzgerald) and Ian Rickuss, now 60 years old, has held it for the LNP since 2004. In between, however, One Nation won the seat twice, in 1998 and again in 2001 under different candidates, both of whom left the party while in office. But Rickuss has made the seat his own (apart from 2006 when he just edged out Labor’s John Kelly), winning the seat comfortably in three other elections.

That changed this time round when he was challenged by another 60-year-old. Pauline Hanson is two months older than Rickuss but looks a lot younger. Yet she has been around longer than Rickuss and is far more in the public eye. Hanson has been one of the most well known figures in Australian politics for almost 20 years.

Ipswich Labor councillor Paul Tully (who sidelines as an impressive election analyst) remembers Hanson from her short days as an Ipswich councillor in 1994. Hanson was hard-working and concentrated on local issues not federal ones, recalls Tully, but she lost office in a snap 1995 local election when the borders of Ipswich changed. She rocketed into wider public conscience in 1996 when she won the safe Labor federal seat of Oxley.

Hanson ran as a Liberal who was not expected to win. She was disendorsed for comments she made arguing against special assistance for Indigenous people. She won the seat in a huge swing and expanded on her beliefs in her notorious maiden speech. Hanson entered parliament as an independent but her folksy populism and demonisation of minorities struck a chord with voters who felt abandoned by the political classes.

Hanson lashed out at Asians and Aboriginals and multiculturalism and the big end of town and there were many who believed she was “just saying what others thought”. The big parties and their followers in the media called her views reprehensible but their attacks just brought more supporters into her tent.

Her controversial statements, and her instantly recognisable redhead look, brought her intense media scrutiny, examined thoughtfully in Margo Kingston’s book Off the Rails. That book was set in the chaotic 1998 election where Hanson, now a party leader of One Nation, abandoned Oxley and ran for the more rural seat of Blair. That election followed the Queensland election where One Nation took 20% of the vote so Hanson was riding a wave at the time.

Hanson won the popular vote in Blair with seven thousand votes more than the Liberal’s Cameron Thompson, however Thompson would win on Labor preferences. A similar story ensued when Hanson ran as a senator for Queensland in 2004 where a Liberal, Russell Trood pipped her for the final seat, again on Labor preferences.

Fast forward 11 years and history seems to be playing itself out in the same way a third time. Her announcement in December in a farmer’s field at Crowley Vale that she was standing for the seat of Lockyer attracted the most media I’ve seen at an event in the Lockyer Valley and the only time I’ve seen Sky News here.

She was happy to play on her celebrity status and immediately garnered warm praise from people across the electorate who saw her as the perfect anti politician. Hanson painted herself as the farmer’s friend and as someone who would fight for ordinary people. Any time I wrote a story about her, the feedback was electric, intense – and mostly favourable.

When I put out an opinion poll of the candidates, she took 41% of the 2000 people that voted. My poll was unscientific and I didn’t think it amounted to a winning lead (for starters, I had no idea whether poll voters were in Lockyer or not) but it was clear to me she would do well in the election. This was something the ECQ failed to pick up, and in their calculations they thought it would be a race between Rickuss and his Katter Party Dave Neuendorf, who was runner-up in 2012.

Hanson did a preference deal with Neuendorf, who is also on KAP’s state executive. She picked up the majority of Neuendorf’s 2000 votes and also did with out of the Greens and PUPs 1000 votes.

But she wasn’t expected to pick up Labor preferences and that’s why on election night I called it for Rickuss. Labor preferenced One Nation last in whatever seat they ran candidates in. Their candidate in Lockyer Steve Leese did well in the election, polling 7500 votes finishing third only 500 votes behind Hanson, herself 2000 behind Rickuss.

But over the following couple of days, it was clear Labor voters weren’t following the script and almost 70% preferenced Hanson ahead of Rickuss. It looks as if that figure will see her fall just short again. As of close of counting on Friday, Rickuss leads by 183 votes with 91% counted and his lead has steadied around the 200 mark for several days. Labor say they placed One Nation last because of its racist views but that is nonsense. Race was not an issue in the election and One Nation’s policies were indistinguishable to the Katter Party which Labor preferenced ahead of the LNP.

What Labor’s how to vote card really showed was they feared Hanson even more than an LNP plodder and didn’t want her involved in any negotiations to form government. The new LNP leader Lawrence Springborg (a likelihood I correctly predicted before the election, if not the result itself) muddied those negotiations by suggesting the LNP government remain in caretaker mode until a possible by-election in Ferny Grove is decided.

Labor have taken that seat and are on track to get 44 seats. With the help of Nicklin independent Peter Wellington they will have 45 seats and a majority in the 89 seat parliament. They may offer Wellington the speaker role trusting he would do the right thing with a casting vote in any 44-44 event.

The two Katter Party MPs Shane Knuth and Robbie Katter have not shown their hand yet. Bob Katter is instinctively conservative and couldn’t bring himself to support Gillard’s minority government so the likelihood is that in Queensland they will lean to the LNP. Neuendorf and his fellow executive may take a different view.

But they would be pleased Springborg is now LNP leader. Springborg is already on the same page as Katter ruling out asset sales and may also support the KAP’s policy objective of an inland highway and railway line through the Galilee Basin while scrapping Brisbane’s BAT (bus and train) tunnel which Katter contemptuously describes as existing only to get punters home to their televisions ten minutes earlier.

Springborg is also talking up the benefits of incumbency and the “caretaker government” (though it is the defeated Campbell Newman who, scarily, is still the caretaker). Springborg is betting on the Ferny Grove by-election in Ferny Grove where PUP candidate Mark Taverner was an undischarged bankrupt. Taverner took 3% of the vote but it is not clear whether his preferences went to Labor or the LNP. Labor won by about 400 votes, a margin that may convince the ECQ to call another election or the LNP to take it to the court of disputed returns.

But Antony Green argues that Labor’s Mark Furner deserves to take his place in parliament, until such a case would be heard. This would give Labor the numbers to form government.

Springborg will turn Ferny Grove into a referendum on his leadership, if it happens, and he seems to have the backing of the Courier-Mail but crucially he would be doing it as an opposition leader not as an incumbent.

Annastacia Palaszczuk argues Springborg does not have a mandate as Premier and she is right. But she must make her move to claim power this week, once the results are declared.

Annastacia Palaszczuk has shock Queensland election win

apCampbell Newman was right after all, the LNP couldn’t win without Ashgrove. He’s gone and so is his government. I was wrong and Lawrence Springborg will not be premier of Queensland in the morning, though he may be leader of the opposition.

Labor have reversed the landslide of 2012 in three years, something most people expected would take nine or 12 years. Annastacia Paluszczuk has surprised most with the strength of her performance and Labor looks like taking 45 or 46 seats – enough for government.  In her speech Paluszczuk said the election was too close to call but she clearly hoped to form government. She may wish to bring the Katter Party MPs Robbie Katter and Shane Knuth as well as independent Peter Wellington inside the tent, an experience Wellington has from his days dealing with a Labor minority government in 1998.

Paluszczuk said she had a mandate not to proceed with asset sales and she is right – the issue was toxic for the second election in a row and this time cost the LNP. The KAP is also against asset sales so maybe the new government has the opportunity to be more pro-active with assets like Energex. Labor will have to be frugal but won’t want to be an austerity government so new ways of doing things could be attractive. Campbell Newman seemed new three years ago but proved an arrogant throw back to the Bjelke-Petersen era.

Newman won government from outside parliament in 2012 and lost it and his seat in 2015. His trickery calling a January election failed badly with the electorate who had enough of him and the party he led. His opponent Kate Jones said trust had to earned not bought.

Even former Nationals premier Rob Borbidge on Channel 7 had to overcome revulsion to admit Kate Jones had done well but that Annastacia Palaszczuk had done even better and is more likely to be the next Premier ahead of Newman or any of Newman’s successors.

The LNP did the “hard yards” in government as one of many likely defeated ministers David Crisafulli said tonight. But the electorate has not thanked them for it. Instead it has taken power away from them just as ruthlessly as it stripped Labor in 2012.

This was a great cry of Good-bye Campbell.

Palaszczuk will have a short honeymoon to keep up with the Joneses but let’s give her time to prove herself. The media needs a self-imposed moratorium on ruling in/ruling out questions to contenders like Cameron Dick or Dick needs a way of shutting them up. For now he must support Annastacia Palaszczuk for her shock election win.

Sometimes unconvincing in the campaign, she did well in the debates and stayed on message. She deserves the fruits of unexpected triumph.

Mark every box when you vote

Tomorrow the breakneck speed summer election campaign comes to an end.

We go the polls, enjoy a snag and elect the MPs that will form the next parliament of Queensland. Despite the increasingly presidential style of elections, we don’t actually vote for a leader but for a member to represent local interests in George Street, and long may that continue. Yet we do have a say in who forms government.

No one can say who will lead Queensland next week. The polls suggest Campbell Newman will lose his seat in Brisbane but the LNP government will hang on (if Mr Newman does not accept this possibility, I suggest he take some remedial maths classes).  What is certain that either the LNP or Labor will form government next week, so people should remember that fact when they go to the polls, and vote all the way down the line choosing one or other of those major parties.

Yesterday we published an article on the Gatton Star which had Pauline Hanson urging voters to understand the electoral system so they can make an informed choice. I agree with Ms Hanson however I disagree with One Nation’s and Katter Party’s how to vote card. They preferenced each other only but they should have been more honest with voters and ranked all candidates 1 to 6. That way we could have judged which of the major parties they want to see in government.

It’s a shame civics is no longer taught in schools as it gives people a useful primer on how our system of democracy works. Why does that matter? Well, because, voting is compulsory for one, and secondly politicians spend our taxpayer dollars and make important decisions that affect all our lives.

You’ll have noticed our Gatton Star website top heavy with political stories over the last few weeks and I don’t make any apologies for that.

We’ve also mainly covered local issues and local seats and I don’t apologise for that either. All politics is local and we’ve been fortunate here in the Lockyer and Brisbane Valleys to have candidates who have a real passion for local matters as well as keeping an eye on what is happening across Queensland.

If I have an apology, it is to the voters of Nanango, which I afraid we’ve not covered as well as I would have liked. I said at the start of the campaign the LNP’s Deb Frecklington would retain that seat and I believed she would be a senior minister if the LNP retains power, which will be great for the wider region. Nothing I have seen in the last three weeks make me change my mind.

The other two seats are less clear cut as shown in the candidate forums in Ipswich and Gatton this week. Ipswich West polling suggests Jim Madden is about to reclaim that seat from the LNP’s Sean Choat. Mr Choat played up to his reputation as a maverick at the forum and launched a spirited defence of his time as local member. Mr Choat is likeable, approachable and young and I hope he continues to stay in politics and demonstrate his independent streak. In contrast Mr Madden and his fellow Labor candidate for Ipswich Jennifer Howard played it safe in their forum speeches knowing the seat is now theirs to lose. I would welcome Mr Madden in the new parliament as a rare Labor politician who understands rural issues and I hope he becomes an advocate for the bush in the party room and on the floor of parliament.

Over in Lockyer, the seat has become second only to Ashgrove for intrigue. Most of this can be put down to the entry of Pauline Hanson on the ballot paper. Ms Hanson has come a long way from the fish and chip shop owner in Ipswich who bagged Asians and Indigenous people to win the seat of Oxley in 1996 as a disendorsed liberal. Ms Hanson’s views these days are more mature but I disagree with her views on halal certification and multiculturalism. In the election she has steadfastly stuck to state issues apart from her people’s forum in Gatton last week where I’m afraid I was unimpressed by her fellow panellists who used the occasion to sprout conspiracy theories about climate change and the UN taking over the world.

Ms Hanson herself however I could not fault. She was gracious, thoughtful and always willing to listen to others. She is inspirational to supporters and has a great connection with the audience who listened rapt to every word she said. If I have one criticism it is her tendency for a victim complex, but she is clearly a compelling figure. I believe that Ms Hanson is playing a long game and sees herself as Prime Ministerial material.

That is a laudable ambition but the problem is she does not belong to a major party. Only a Labor or Liberal MP will become Prime Minister any time in the near future. It’s the same with Premier. So my only advice when you voting in Lockyer is this. Mark all six boxes.

Mark Craig Gunnis of the Palmer Party last. Mr Gunnis is a fly-in candidate who works for Mr Palmers and he showed great disrespect by claiming a “prior engagement” to avoid scrutiny at the Gatton forum. Mark one of the minor parties 1, 2 and 3 depending on your personal preference for Hanson, Katter’s Neuendorf or the policies of the Greens.

But think hard about your choice for 4 or 5. Will it be Labor’s Steve Leese or the LNP’s Ian Rickuss? That’s your call. But only the LNP or Labor will form government and ultimately you need to decide who you prefer. Think about that as you put pencil to paper.  That, and support your P&C by buying a snag or a cupcake.