Malcolm Turnbull has denied he contributed to the Liberal National Party’s primary vote collapse in Queensland after a Coalition backbencher apologised to voters and questioned the government’s “leadership and policy direction”.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk claimed victory on Sunday afternoon following ABC election expert Antony Green’s prediction that Labor was likely to win a slim majority of 48 of 93 seats. The LNP opposition looked to have suffered a heavy swing against it of around 8 per cent, mostly flowing to One Nation.
As the election post-mortem began in Queensland and Canberra, Mr Turnbull refused to share in the blame.
“One thing that we know from Australian politics is that Australians are very smart in the way they go about voting,” he said.
“They know the difference between a state election and a federal election.”
Campaigning in the Sydney seat of Bennelong, Mr Turnbull also mocked a reporter who asked him to comment on Mr Green’s official ABC prediction.
“How do the other media organisations feel? Should they stop counting the votes now that the ABC has called it for the Labor party? No, they actually think they should count the votes,” he said.
“Antony Green may be vindicated but let’s wait for the Queensland Electoral Commission to do their work.”
Earlier on Sunday, maverick federal Nationals MP George Christensen issued an open apology to Queenslanders who voted for One Nation, blaming the minor party’s appeal on the failures of his own federal government.
“I’m sorry that we in the LNP have let you down and now we need to listen more, work harder, stand up more for conservative values and regional Queensland and do better to win your trust and your vote,” he wrote on Facebook.
“I think a lot of that starts with the Turnbull government, its leadership and its policy direction.”
Mr Christensen has at times been a vocal critic of the Turnbull government and vowed to defy the Prime Minister by crossing the floor of Parliament to back a banking royal commission.
His northern Queensland seat of Dawson takes in the towns of Mackay, Ayr, Bowen and parts of Townsville – areas where hordes of voters appeared to swing from the LNP to One Nation on Saturday.
Despite that, the election result was also a cause for soul searching within One Nation, which were likely to win only one seat at best, according to ABC projections on Sunday.
The party lost its state leader Steve Dickson and high-profile former federal senator Malcolm Roberts also failed in his bid in Ipswich, but it may pick up the marginal North Queensland electorate of Mirani from Labor.
As attention turns to upcoming federal byelections in Barnaby Joyce’s seat of New England and in Bennelong, Mr Turnbull sought to pressure Labor’s Bennelong candidate Kristina Keneally over her past positions on asylum seeker policy.
“Kristina Keneally wants us to bring all of those asylum seekers from Manus to Australia,” he said.
“Now, believe me, right now the people smugglers are using Kristina Keneally’s articles, her statements on this, as a marketing tool to get people onto their boats to take them to sea.”
The question for Labor was “how many of those asylum seekers is she going to bring to Bennelong?”, the Prime Minister said.
Ms Keneally, a former Labor state premier whose candidacy is expected to test Liberal MP John Alexander’s margin, has previously advocated bringing refugees on Manus to Australia. Federal Labor does not support such a move.
Mr Turnbull’s comments drew ridicule from the opposition with Labor’s Penny Wong likening his rhetoric to former prime minister Tony Abbott.
“He’s even more pathetic when he tries to be Tony,” Senator Wong said.
Mr Turnbull’s comments came as thousands protested against Australia’s offshore processing regime after Papua New Guinea authorities forcibly removed refugees and asylum seekers who had refused to leave the Manus Island facility.