News National No easy lessons for the federal coalition from NSW win

No easy lessons for the federal coalition from NSW win

Fraser Anning and Pauline Hanson are forcing Scott Morrison into an uncomfortable spot. Photos: AAP, Getty
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Not for the first time, racial prejudice and bigotry will play a significant role in the looming federal election.

Indeed, elements of the embattled Coalition government in Canberra see it as their only chance of survival.

Make no mistake, the question of the allocation of preferences to Pauline Hanson’s One Nation candidates, wherever they are running around Australia, can be framed only in this lamentable way.

Lamentable because – despite considerable evidence to the contrary – Australia sees itself as the land of the fair go, rejecting discrimination on the grounds of race, gender or religion.

Few would want to disagree with Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s assessment that the attacks in Christchurch a week before the NSW election “were tectonic events”.

Events he condemned as terrorism.

Mr Morrison told Waleed Aly on The Project: “It has reminded us, I think, of the fragility of life and how quickly hate and violence can take the most important things from us.”

Labor insiders have no doubt their state leader Michael Daley’s comments blaming Asian immigration for job losses in Sydney cost them dearly, especially as the Liberal leaking of the comments was so soon after the hate-filled massacre.

Even after the Christchurch atrocity, Senator Pauline Hanson was unpersuaded from her views that “Islam is a disease” that we need to be vaccinated against and “Australia was being swamped by Muslims”.

Ms Hanson will not support a censure next week of Fraser Anning, who came into the parliament on her senate ticket and who blamed the victims of the mosque shootings for their fate.

Senator Anning has also called for an end to Muslim immigration.

Ms Hanson’s successful candidate in the NSW Upper House, Mark Latham, wants DNA tests on Aborigines to determine their access to welfare payments.

And yet Coalition members of the Morrison government, who are endorsed under the banner of the Liberal National Party in Queensland, are arguing One Nation’s racism is less a threat to Australia than the policies of the ALP or the Greens.

The Greens would be the least racist party in Parliament, especially when it comes to refugee policy. But they are the most outspoken on the need to urgently phase out coal-fired power.

Ken O’Dowd, who holds his Rockhampton seat of Flynn by just over 1 per cent, says he would like to see One Nation “well above the Greens and Labor in my electorate”.

His colleague Keith Pitt, who holds his Bundaberg seat of Hinkler by a more comfortable 8 per cent, echoes those views, as do others in “coal seats”, such as George Christensen.

Mr Morrison says the Liberals won’t be doing deals with One Nation, but he resolutely refuses to urge state divisions to put One Nation last.

On Saturday the NSW Liberals dodged that bullet, thanks to the state having optional preferential voting, and they adopted “a just vote one” policy.

Mr Morrison does not have that luxury federally. But his unwillingness to follow his predecessor, John Howard, and insist Liberals put One Nation last undermines his pleas that he not be “pre-judged” on the issue of race and tolerance.

Mr Morrison has a blind spot here.

While arguing he has a history of good relations with Muslims, he still doesn’t hesitate to play the fear card, repeating in The Project interview his warnings that “murderers, rapists and pedophiles” are among the sick Muslim asylum seekers parliament voted to allow into the community.

A claim not supported by a reading of the Medevac Act or by its proponents.

Labor won’t let the Prime Minister off the hook.

Tanya Plibersek says he is refusing “to repudiate racism” by not repudiating One Nation.

Maybe Mr Morrison should have a chat to the scarred Michael Daley.

Paul Bongiorno AM is a veteran of the Canberra Press Gallery, with 40 years’ experience covering Australian politics.