One Nation role will usher in a protracted battle over free trade
A minority LNP government can’t expect an easy ride
Queensland politics is many things but it is never dull. Indeed, the state will end up in messy, protracted post-election negotiations that will entertain the nation if Labor falls short of a majority in two weeks.
A campaigning Pauline Hanson this week demanded a central Queensland casino be built on luxury Great Keppel Island off Rockhampton as part of One Nation’s price for supporting a Liberal National Party minority government. Labor has ruled out governing with the support of One Nation under any circumstances.
Minority government is not easy. Not only does a prime minister or premier have to deal with the idiosyncrasies of their own party and parliamentary colleagues but also the policies of the minor party or individuals guaranteeing the government supply on the floor of the parliament.
This requires a superhuman effort demanding the wisdom of Solomon and the determination of Sir Edmund Hillary. New Zealand’s new Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, is about to find out just how difficult a juggling act this can be.
In two weeks, Queensland Opposition Leader Tim Nicholls may be facing the same challenge as there are only two likely outcomes to the Queensland election: a minority LNP government backed for supply by Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party or a majority Labor government.
My first government in 1998 was a minority government made possible by a genuine independent MP, Peter Wellington. Negotiations to form government took two weeks after the election. However, in government I was lucky; my ministers had to deal with one sensible MP.
Nevertheless, if individuals or interest groups did not get their way with my government they then went to the independent. It was a drawnout process.
So what would a minority Nicholls LNP government look like and what would its major challenges be?
Nicholls has said there will not be a coalition with One Nation and therefore no One Nation ministers in his cabinet.
This means his shadow cabinet would largely form the ministry, although if former Newman government minister David Crisafulli wins the seat of Broadwater over Labor’s Peter Flori it will be difficult to leave Crisafulli out.
On One Nation policies, Nicholls will find challenges on gun laws and the Citizens Initiated Referendum. But his biggest challenge by far will be economic policy, especially free trade. It is easy for Hanson to be a populist politician campaigning for trade protectionism but there are consequences. If ever there is a nation in the world that should be strongly in favour of free trade it is Australia.
With a population of only 24 million we do not have the domestic consumer demand of the US, Europe or China. We have to export to grow and, indeed, to survive economically. We rely on international tourism and export most of our sugar, beef and minerals — the four cornerstones of the Queensland economy.
This was highlighted dramatically this week by an economic modelling report commissioned by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade that found Australia is at risk of losing 270,000 jobs and between 1.8 per cent and 2.2 per cent of gross domestic product from a worldwide roll back of free trade.
Across 30 years, Australian families have benefited by an increase in income of $8500 a year because of trade liberalisation.
Australia is close to starting negotiations on a free trade agreement with the EU and is working with Japan to fire up the 11-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership regional trade deal. I strongly supported John Howard’s push for the free trade agreement with the US, including meeting US officials in Washington with Mike Rann, then premier of South Australia.
Premier Nicholls will not be able to remain silent or slow when it comes to free trade. Queensland’s economy depends on it.
Free trade and economic policy will be the battleground between any Nicholls LNP minority government and its One Nation backers.
It is easy for Pauline Hanson to be a populist politician campaigning for protectionism but there are consequences