Blink and you might have missed him. The Prime Minister briefly entered the West Australian state campaign bearing gifts but copping a lot of flak.
His 24 hours in Perth – his first visit in six months – saw the locals disgruntled over their share of the GST carve-up and not exactly oozing gratitude for the $100 million on defence projects over 20 years, or the $1.2 billion on a controversial road freight project.
In two radio interviews, Malcolm Turnbull was ribbed for giving the state the cold shoulder. He explained he has been pretty busy since the election.
The PM didn’t say that identifying too closely with a losing Liberal campaign wouldn’t help revive his own languishing stocks.
The WA poll due in three weeks is proving highly significant for national politics on several fronts. Not the least is the deal a desperate Liberal Premier Colin Barnett has done to secure preferences from Pauline Hanson’s One Nation party at the expense of the Nationals.
Opinion polls for many months have suggested a substantial swing against the government. And even a friendlier Reachtel poll at the weekend which had the government and Labor now line-ball doesn’t mask that a big swing is on.
Liberal patriarch John Howard, who 20 years ago used his prime ministerial authority to ensure Liberals, state and federal, preferenced One Nation last, has come around.
Campaigning in Perth, Mr Howard told reporters he would do the same thing were he in Mr Barnett’s position. All the indications are that similarly desperate Liberals in Queensland and federally will too, now the dam has been breached.
But there is a big danger in the ploy. It further legitimises Ms Hanson and her racist and bigoted policies. And make no mistake, she doesn’t resile from either when it comes to the immigration intake and to Muslims.
While Mr Barnett and senior federal Liberals such as Arthur Sinodinos say One Nation has changed this doesn’t bear close scrutiny. Ms Hanson herself doesn’t agree.
If applied, her policies would seriously undermine our successful and wealthy multicultural nation.
One Nation is running at 11 per cent, according to Reachtel. It is not out of the question that if the vote continues to grow, Liberal preferences could elect One Nation MPs.
Labor’s Tony Burke says support for One Nation began to decline after Mr Howard took his hard line. It can only increase if Mr Turnbull keeps praising Ms Hanson for supporting in the Senate “important legislation, including important legislation that effects Western Australia”.
A closer look at the Reachtel poll shows a substantial whack of the vote the Liberals have lost since the last election has gone to One Nation. Not all of it will come back as preferences.
Not helping the Liberals’ cause is the bind the Prime Minister is in over the GST. His Perth media inquisitors were miffed he hadn’t delivered on a promise made six months ago to spell out how big the floor will be for the state’s share.
It is currently running at 30 per cent. Mr Turnbull in one interview floated 75 per cent, only to back down later and put 60 per cent on the never never, or at least not until 2020.
He pointed out, as Prime Minister, he can’t favour one state over another without all the states agreeing.
He said that’s why Western Australians need to vote back Mr Barnett because he has credibility with the other premiers and “nobody, believe me, is better able to stand up for Western Australia … to win the day for Western Australia”.
The problem is, Mr Barnett has made it clear he intends to stand down in favour of his deputy, Liza Harvey, during the next term.
And then there is the matter of electricity privatisation. The Liberals are alone in championing that, despite experience on the eastern seaboard that shows flogging off these assets has led to higher electricity prices, not lower ones.
Mr Turnbull prefers to blame renewable energy and to ignore the evidence provided by the heavily coal-fired power states of Queensland and New South Wales.
The PM has no plans to return to Perth anytime soon.
Paul Bongiorno AM is a veteran of the Canberra Press Gallery, with 40 years’ experience covering Australian politics. He tweets at @PaulBongiorno