First came the tears, then chaos wrapped in rumours as the refusal of One Nation’s Brian Burston to quit the Senate threatens Pauline Hanson’s power to dominate the crossbench and shape government policy.
The standoff produced a flood of tears on Thursday when Ms Hanson discussed the latest rift in her party on national TV.
Senator Burston is refusing to even consider standing down from his Senate seat despite Senator Hanson kicking him out of the federal party and demanding his spot so she can name a replacement.
The crisis started when Senator Burston publicly revealed his plans to vote for the government’s company tax cuts, after Senator Hanson reneged on a deal to back them.
If he continues to reject the demand and remains in the chamber as an independent, as Canberra insiders expect, Senator Hanson’s crucial three-vote bloc in the upper house will shrink to two, vastly undercutting her influence.
Meanwhile, Senator Burston is said to have approached the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers party in NSW through an intermediary.
The party didn’t want him, AAP reports, and Senator Burston claims he wasn’t aware of the approach.
On top of that, there are reports ex-Labor leader Mark Latham has been invited to replace Senator Burston – a rumour he refuses either to confirm or deny.
“I no longer have confidence in in you as an officer of Pauline Hanson’s One Nation party,” Senator Hanson’s letter says.
“You describe yourself as loyal to me and now I ask that you demonstrate that loyalty to me by giving up your seat in the Senate to enable the party to appoint a replacement NSW senator.”
But Senator Burston remains adamant he is isn’t going anywhere.
“I will not be resigning from One Nation and I most certainly will not ever be resigning from my Senate position,” Senator Burston told 2GB radio on Friday.
“I certainly will not be standing aside for Pauline to put in a crony that’s a yes-man or woman.”
Rubbing salt into his estranged leader’s wounds, Mr Burston emphasised the chaos that has been a characteristic of One Nation since the resurgent party became a major player.
“I’ll be one of the other 23 people who have either walked or been sacked,” Senator Burston said.
“I’ll be 24 out of 30 – not a good record.”
In an emotional interview on Thursday night, Senator Hanson said she was deeply hurt by Senator Burston’s decision to vote for the government’s corporate tax cuts.
Liberal Democrat David Leyonhjelm said Senator Burston discussed forming an alliance with him and former One Nation senator Fraser Anning.
Former Labor leader Mr Latham won’t confirm if One Nation has asked him to replace Senator Burston.
“I’ve been approached by representatives of four different parties wanting me to run in the Senate,” Mr Latham told the Nine Network.
“I’m not going to be talking about private conversations.”
Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said it was not in the government’s interest for One Nation to split, especially over the crucial tax cuts.
“It would be preferable if all three One Nation senators remained committed to the consensus that we reached,” he told Sky News.
Senator Burston said he believed he was entitled to stay on as a One Nation senator, and that if Senator Hanson disagreed she would have to sack him.
“She’s entitled to cancel my membership and that would make me an independent … that’s her call,” he said.
“I will not be resigning from One Nation and I will certainly never resign my Senate position.”
If Senator Burston were to quit, he would be the third One Nation senator to do so in this term of Parliament, following Rod Culleton and Senator Anning.
That would leave Pauline Hanson with only one One Nation colleague – Senator Peter Georgiou.