Han­son’s gun sights on Queens­land.

The Saturday Paper - - Contents | The Week - Paul Bon­giorno

Two weeks ago, be­fore the hor­ror of the Las Ve­gas mas­sacre, Pauline Han­son took a cam­era to a Sun­shine Coast shoot­ing range. There she was, hav­ing “the best day I’ve had for about 20 years” tar­get shoot­ing with two hand­guns, fir­ing one “like Dirty Harry”. “Don’t mess with me,” she added. “Just make my day.”

In her sights are seats in the im­mi­nent Queens­land state elec­tion, par­tic­u­larly the parts of that state iden­ti­fied as “de­liv­er­ance coun­try”. Twenty-one years ago, the fiercest re­sis­tance to John Howard’s Port

Arthur gun crack­down came from the Sun­shine Coast hin­ter­land. Gympie gun shop owner Ron Owen led the charge. Han­son is hop­ing to plug into the re­sent­ment that has sim­mered since. She is not alone. Bob Kat­ter’s out­fit, Kat­ter’s Aus­tralian Party, is af­ter the same vot­ers.

There is a strong con­vic­tion that out­side of Bris­bane and the in­creas­ingly ur­ban con­glom­er­a­tion that is the Sun­shine and Gold coasts, guns swing votes. They are “a free­dom is­sue”, as Kat­ter pro­claimed af­ter tough re­stric­tions were im­posed on the Adler lever­ac­tion shot­gun. Han­son, too, strongly op­posed the tem­po­rary ban and the sub­se­quent tougher lim­i­ta­tions on that weapon. For her, the is­sue played nicely into the nar­ra­tive of the “big par­ties” act­ing as op­pres­sive, out-of-touch “big broth­ers”. But the hor­ri­fied world­wide re­ac­tion to the lat­est Amer­i­can ob­scen­ity could mean gun-tot­ing pol­i­tics has just about run out of luck.

Han­son is still push­ing hers. She’s promis­ing her One Na­tion party will “stop mak­ing crim­i­nals out of li­censed gun own­ers”. She pro­poses to make it much eas­ier and cheaper to ob­tain li­cences, and to stan­dard­ise all firearm li­cences to a 10-year re­newal with no in­crease in fees. She also wants to make tar­get am­mu­ni­tion for off-duty po­lice shoot­ers tax de­ductible.

Noth­ing would have pleased her more than the re­ac­tion of one of her Face­book ad­mir­ers: “You and Don­ald Trump go hand in hand, you want the same things. He loves Amer­ica, you love Aus­tralia. You want no bad for us, he has the same.” Han­son is a Trump ad­mirer and iden­ti­fies as a sim­i­lar dis­rupter. She is def­i­nitely play­ing to the same sen­ti­ment, in which world­wide es­tab­lished po­lit­i­cal par­ties are los­ing sup­port. And if last week­end’s Sky News ReachTEL poll is any guide, it is work­ing a treat for her. Her vote in the Sun­shine State was at 18 per cent, with 30 per cent of vot­ers giv­ing their first pref­er­ences to in­de­pen­dents or mi­nor par­ties. The LNP and La­bor saw their vote crash­ing since the last elec­tion.

This dy­namic is wor­ry­ing the big par­ties and be­ing closely watched in Can­berra. Na­tion­ally, it is not quite as dire yet. The re­cent Newspoll had 20 per cent of vot­ers look­ing else­where for their votes.

Un­like Don­ald Trump, though, Han­son was not quick to com­ment on the Las Ve­gas atroc­ity. Three days af­ter the tragedy she had said noth­ing, in stark con­trast to her quick con­dem­na­tion when those iden­ti­fied as Is­lamic ter­ror­ists have stuck in Bri­tain or on the Con­ti­nent. As pres­i­dent of the United States, Trump had no op­tion but to re­spond. In a na­tional ad­dress, he con­demned the Ve­gas gun­man as “pure evil”. And in a throw­away line, on his be­lated way to hurricane-rav­aged Puerto Rico, said law­mak­ers would dis­cuss the is­sue of gun laws “as time goes by”. Per­haps even Trump has twigged that the need for some tight­en­ing rather than loos­en­ing of guns laws is be­com­ing im­pos­si­ble to ig­nore.

If any­one is go­ing to be wedged by the gun is­sue here, it is the Lib­eral Na­tional Party in Queens­land and the Na­tion­als in Can­berra. On the Adler ban, some Na­tion­als joined Han­son in the se­nate, vot­ing against it. But LNP strate­gists are scep­ti­cal of the ReachTEL poll, es­pe­cially its 52-48 two-party-pre­ferred re­sult their way. They don’t doubt Han­son spells trou­ble for them, but say that pri­vate polling in Bud­erim, held by Han­son’s state leader, MP Steve Dick­son, an LNP de­fec­tor, shows the seat will come back to their party. A Sun­shine Coast Daily poll a few months ago backed that find­ing. We’ll see. La­bor hard­heads have no doubt many seats in the elec­tion, likely to be held in Novem­ber, will be tight three-way con­tests that could leave La­bor or the LNP fall­ing short of a ma­jor­ity.

Maybe with an eye to Queens­land, Mal­colm Turn­bull was very wary of run­ning with the ball of even tighter gun laws in Aus­tralia. In a cou­ple of in­ter­views, he was given the op­por­tu­nity. On ABC Ra­dio, he said they were al­ready very tight. “They are among the strictest in the world. They’re ob­vi­ously – again there’s no place for set and for­get in any area of na­tional se­cu­rity – but the laws are al­ready very strict.”

Turn­bull’s three-month na­tional gun amnesty ended a week ago. Twenty-five thou­sand guns were handed over in the first two months, un­der­scor­ing his boast that he is do­ing every­thing to keep the kind of guns “that were used by this killer in Las Ve­gas off the streets”. Un­like 21 years ago, there was no $304 mil­lion na­tional buy­back scheme, which led to 650,000 firearms be­ing de­stroyed. The Aus­tralian Crim­i­nal In­tel­li­gence Com­mis­sion doesn’t think the lesser num­ber now is be­cause John Howard’s ef­forts were a de­fin­i­tive suc­cess. It es­ti­mates there are up to 600,000 il­le­gal guns in the com­mu­nity. La­bor’s Bill Shorten is call­ing for the amnesty to run un­til the end of the year. He wants life sen­tences for gun smug­glers, too. New South Wales Greens MLC David Shoe­bridge is urg­ing Turn­bull to push harder for a na­tional firearms reg­istry, “So we know just where the guns are.”

The Las Ve­gas tragedy pushed the “en­ergy cri­sis” out of the head­lines and gave added ur­gency to Turn­bull’s Thurs­day Coun­cil of Aus­tralian Gov­ern­ments meet­ing to dis­cuss crowd se­cu­rity at ma­jor events and even more laws sac­ri­fic­ing civil lib­er­ties in the name of thwart­ing ter­ror­ism. But Shorten is not for wedg­ing – if, in­deed, that is this prime min­is­ter’s pur­pose, as it was for his pre­de­ces­sors Howard and Tony Ab­bott. La­bor wants to “re­as­sure Aus­tralians” that it takes a bi­par­ti­san ap­proach to good ideas about keep­ing Aus­tralians safe.

Else­where, it looks as though Turn­bull’s vol­un­tary postal sur­vey on same-sex mar­riage will re­turn the re­sult he wants and def­i­nitely needs. For one thing, the Aus­tralian Bureau of Sta­tis­tics says an es­ti­mated 57.5 per cent of vot­ers have al­ready re­turned their bal­lots, with four weeks still to go. New­gate Re­search polling for the mar­riage equal­ity cam­paign, and Es­sen­tial Re­search, has found a ma­jor­ity who have voted say they have voted “Yes”. If noth­ing else, the turnout looks to be head­ing for a cred­i­ble 70 per cent.

But it is by no means cer­tain that the opin­ion polls have got it right, with mil­lions still to vote and the fact that in the pri­vacy of the en­ve­lope vot­ers may find it’s “Okay to say ‘No’ ”. The risk for the “Yes” camp is that the polls could feed com­pla­cency and rob them of a win, let alone a con­vinc­ing one.

There was a scathing as­sess­ment of the whole ex­er­cise by for­mer prime min­is­ter Bob Hawke mid­week. The old La­bor warhorse said the sur­vey was the

“worst eco­nomic de­ci­sion by a prime min­is­ter since Fed­er­a­tion”. He said it “cost 122-bloody-mil­lion dol­lars

... on a process that can’t pro­duce a re­sult”. Only a vote in par­lia­ment can do that, un­like in a con­sti­tu­tional ref­er­en­dum. Just think, Hawke said, what could have been done with that money for clos­ing the gap on Abo­rig­i­nal dis­ad­van­tage or “health and so on”.

As prime min­is­ter in 1988, Hawke spent the equiv­a­lent of $75.4 mil­lion on four ref­er­en­dum ques­tions, none of which suc­ceeded. But if any had, they would have im­me­di­ately be­come part of con­sti­tu­tional law.

Iron­i­cally, the worst re­sult was recorded for the one that wanted to ex­tend re­li­gious free­dom. That was ve­he­mently op­posed by the Lib­er­als, led by se­nior shadow min­is­ter Peter Reith and a young aux­il­iary Catholic bishop in Mel­bourne, Ge­orge Pell. Pell went on na­tional TV to add a church voice to the “No” cam­paign, a strik­ing con­tra­dic­tion of the de­mands made by some of his epis­co­pal mates now, us­ing the lack of free­dom of re­li­gion guar­an­tees as a rea­son to deny same-sex­at­tracted Aus­tralians their civil rights.

But the pro­tracted cam­paign, and the shrill­ness and ug­li­ness of it at the edges, is an­noy­ing vot­ers. It is also putting at risk peo­ple whose pri­vate lives have be­come ev­ery nark’s busi­ness. Es­sen­tial Re­search found a cou­ple of weeks ago that while a ma­jor­ity are in favour of re­spect­ing the dig­nity and rights of same-sex cou­ples, 49 per cent do not back the postal sur­vey as the best way to deal with the is­sue.

Some Lib­eral and La­bor back­benchers are re­port­ing com­ing face to face with just that sen­ti­ment from an­gry con­stituents. The mes­sage: Why aren’t you do­ing your job and sav­ing us all this tire­some ar­gu­ment? Pauline Han­son has plugged into it. Cu­ri­ously quiet on the sub­stance of the is­sue, she says peo­ple are sick to death of it.

The Queens­land elec­tion will be an­other lit­mus test of her po­lit­i­cal po­tency. One Na­tion’s poor state poll re­sult in Western Aus­tralia dam­aged Han­son na­tion­ally – now rid­ing at just 8 per cent sup­port in Newspoll. The big boys and girls in Can­berra will be hop­ing for a repeat.

But it’s very pos­si­ble they won’t get it.


PAUL BON­GIORNO is a colum­nist for The Satur­day Pa­per and a reg­u­lar com­men­ta­tor on the ABC’s

RN Break­fast.

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