News Politics Australian Politics Federal Election 2022 George Christensen secures $100,000 retirement bonus
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George Christensen secures $100,000 retirement bonus

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Even if he does not – and he absolutely will not – get elected to the Senate in May as the No.3 candidate for One Nation in Queensland, George Christensen still walks home the winner of a $100,000 taxpayer-funded prize.

Mr Christensen said on Wednesday that he ought to have joined One Nation “a long time ago” given the philosophical split between him and his former Liberal-National party on issues such as vaccinations.

There was no more reason to suspect, he later said, that joining the far-right party’s Senate ticket could help secure a potential claim to a substantial payout.

In a revealing moment at Wednesday’s One Nation press conference, Mr Christensen spoke modestly about his chances of being the party’s third Queensland senator.

He said that he would consider his political mission accomplished if he brought over enough votes to help his new party secure two seats in the upper house on May 21.

At that point, party founder Pauline Hanson intervened to upbraid the journalist who had used words such as “unwinnable” to describe Mr Christensen’s tilt.

“Oh, that negativity. I tell you what, if I had your negativity, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” she said.

“Don’t underestimate the support of One Nation and don’t underestimate the fact that the people out there are fed up with the major political parties.”

Mr Christensen’s move to play down expectations is understandable.

One Nation’s third Senate seat will be won only, ABC election analyst Antony Green reckons, if its share of the Queensland vote rises to at least 28 per cent of the vote – and, more realistically, to 35 per cent. Last election, One Nation managed less than 9 per cent.

But the contrast between the attitude of One Nation’s newest candidate and the conviction of its founder underlines questions about whether it’s really belief that has motivated Mr Christensen.

Watch George Christensen's surprise announcement

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Strange incentives

A “resettlement allowance” (handed to MPs who lose elections or are given the boot by parties) and the circumstances of Mr Christensen’s sudden resignation seemingly provided a strange incentive for the Queensland MP to make a quixotic bid for election with One Nation, lose and make a show of it.

The allowance was introduced in 2006 to help MPs facing sudden changes in career trajectories to offset the costs of finding a new job, or new skills. 

Eligibility has always been for only those MPs who did not choose to stand down from the parliament; only those facing an involuntary change to career plans that did not involve allegations of public misconduct need apply.

For new MPs, the benefit pays three months’ salary or more than $52,000; those who have served a full-term or three years in the lower house or the Senate become eligible for a second allowance, or benefits totalling $105,000.

Mr Christensen’s sudden decision to step down last April and the unusual party dispute that followed could provide some insight into his decision to defect to One Nation.

Amid growing attention to his views on vaccinations, Mr Christensen said he would not recontest his Queensland seat of Dawson, citing disillusionment with “broken politics”.

Perhaps because of his acute disillusionment, Mr Christensen never did withdraw the paperwork, which still had him as the officially endorsed Liberal-National candidate for Dawson.

Cynics suggested on Wednesday that a belated recognition that he had dudded himself out of more than $100,000 by leaving quietly best explained the unusual dance that followed.

A party mess

Paperwork for Mr Christensen’s LNP candidacy remained lodged with the party months after he bade voters farewell.

As The Australian reported at the time, LNP officials declined to comment after a local branch in Dawson formally requested that the party organisation tear up his nomination forms – something Mr Christensen did not seem willing to do himself

But on Wednesday he found time to tell News Corp that he expected to be able to show parliament proof the Queensland party had shown him the door, meaning the compensation had no bearing on his new political turn.

“I would be entitled to that anyway, so this [Senate run] is happening regardless of that issue,” Mr Christensen said.

“I’ve already had conversations with the clerk of the parliament.”

The MP said there were records that local branches had asked party officials to formally tear up his nomination form. It is not clear, however, that he has evidence that the party ever followed through.

Mr Christensen has never provided a full explanation for how he seemingly made such a mess of his exit from parliament and the LNP.

But if he was ever in a protracted negotiation with party officials, the ace up his sleeve would be his immense personal vote in Dawson.

Even as he was engulfed by scandal as the “member for Manila” and revealed to have been under investigation for multiple trips to the Philippines, Mr Christensen recorded a more-than-handy 10-point swing towards him at the 2019 election.

If he had chosen to contesting his old seat as an independent, it would have been a frightening prospect for the Coalition in Queensland during a tight contest.

Mr Christensen has always denied criminal wrongdoing; his wife is from the Philippines; he said on Wednesday that they had been separated by COVID border closures.

But statements by Queensland LNP figures following Mr Christensen’s shocking and confusing announcement on Wednesday suggest goodwill from his former party was fast running dry.

“It’s a desertion,” said Matt Canavan, a Queensland senator and former minister who had counted Mr Christensen among his friends.

Even for a man still caught up in the power of his political reawakening, Mr Christensen could still yet find time to feel grateful that he has inadvertently secured himself a plan B.