Symp­toms of panic in Pauline’s Se­nate stoush

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - NEWS -

Pauline Han­son’s tears of rage on live TV last week her­alded a fa­mil­iar col­lapse into histri­on­ics for her One Na­tion party.

But her melt­down also of­fered a glimpse into the panic of the Lil­liputian protest par­ties that have dom­i­nated the Se­nate cross­bench since Clive Palmer burst onto the scene in 2014.

They haven’t cap­i­talised on the 20 per cent dis­af­fected vote up for grabs to cre­ate a co­her­ent third force in pol­i­tics, and they fear their mo­ment has passed.

The un­seen hand in all of this is Fi­nance Min­is­ter Mathias Cor­mann, the Coali­tion’s af­fa­ble Se­nate whis­perer, who painstak­ingly has won over the cross­bench with su­per­hu­man courtesy and has ne­go­ti­ated through a good slab of gov­ern­ment pol­icy. No one has a bad word to say about him.

The same can­not be said for Han­son.

“She has her moods,” sneers Se­na­tor Brian Burston, the lat­est of a long line of male loy­al­ists spec­tac­u­larly dis­carded by the Iron Lady from Ip­swich.

Once so close he moved into the same apart­ment build­ing in Can­berra as Han­son and her gay live-in chief of staff James Ashby, 39, now they com­mu­ni­cate by press re­lease. The es­trange­ment, which be­gan six months ago with a se­ri­ous of small slights, ex­ploded in a Please Re­sign let­ter from Han­son sent to Burston on Fri­day a few min­utes be­fore 2GB host Ben Ford­ham read it on air.

Burston, 70, a boil­er­maker and deputy mayor of Cess­nock be­fore he joined the Han­son bandwagon two decades ago, now calls the party “I Na­tion” and says Han­son thinks she’s “pres­i­dent for life”.

“It’s very sad,” he says. “But it’s all self-in­flicted on her part.”

Their sim­mer­ing an­tipa­thy came to a head last week af­ter Han­son welshed on her deal with Cor­mann to pass the $35.6 bil­lion cor­po­rate tax cuts.

“We all shook hands on the deal, a list writ­ten down on pa­per, the big­gest deal for a cross­bench Mathias said he’d ever ne­go­ti­ated … He’s a very clever man. We went through the deal in de­tail with Mathias, and we fully un­der­stood what the deal was,” Burston says.

That was March. Then, two weeks ago, Burston was “blind­sided” to read in the news­pa­pers that Han­son had changed her mind.

He says he never agreed to the back­flip and had sent a text mes­sage to Ashby at 8.46pm on May 21, say­ing: “We need to have a face-to-face re the com­pany tax cuts. I am not com­fort­able reneg­ing on a hand­shake deal we made … We will lose our cred­i­bil­ity if we walk away from this.”

Ashby, know­ing the bomb­shell to be un­leashed in The Aus­tralian the next day, men­tioned noth­ing in his re­ply: “I think it’s a good idea for you to all have those dis­cus­sions.”

For Burston it was the last straw. He de­cided then to defy Han­son and hon­our his prom­ise: “My word is my bond. That’s the way my father brought me up.”

Han­son’s mirac­u­lous res­ur­rec­tion at the 2016 elec­tion had given her four sen­a­tors and the Aus­tralian gov­ern­ment on her leash.

Now there are two, Han­son, 64, and sparky Peter Ge­or­giou, 44, the ac­ci­den­tal WA se­na­tor who re­placed his brother-in-law, her dis­qual­i­fied first pick, ex farmer Rod Cul­leton, with whom she has also fallen out.

Han­son is back with the pack, and to get the eight votes he needs to pass leg­is­la­tion, Cor­mann can by­pass One Na­tion al­to­gether for the first time since the 2016 elec­tion. If Burston hooks up with David Ley­on­hjelm, Cory Bernardi, and the other re­cent One Na­tion escapee Fraser An­ning, that makes their loose con­ser­va­tive/ lib­er­tar­ian al­liance the most pow­er­ful group­ing.

No won­der Han­son fell apart with Ford­ham on Sky News on Thurs­day, at­tack­ing Burston as a “back­stab­ber”.

“She seems to make a habit of this,” says Han­son’s orig­i­nal men­tor, croc­o­dile hunter John Pasquarelli, 80, who wrote the “swamped by Asians” maiden speech in 1996, but was dis­carded soon af­ter for David Old­field, who be­came her chief of staff and lover.

“Long­man is the test,” he says from Thai­land. “If she crashes that’s al­most game over.”

“I love Pauline,” Burston says. “She’s a fab­u­lous girl. I was the most loyal bloody sup­porter … But Ashby is the prob­lem.

“When I first got elected I was al­ways by her side at press con­fer­ences. Now who’s there? It’s Ashby. He’s an­other David Old­field out to con­trol her.”

About six months ago, he and Ge­or­giou started be­ing “ex­cluded from de­ci­sion-mak­ing”. Then Han­son re­fused to en­dorse them for the next elec­tion.

“Which one of you two could lead the party if I wasn’t here?” she said.

Burston sus­pects Han­son was talk­ing to for­mer La­bor leader Mark Latham about tak­ing his spot on the NSW Se­nate ticket.

Latham, who joined Ley­on­hjelm’s Lib­eral Democrats a year ago, will only say he’s been “ap­proached by four dif­fer­ent par­ties to run in the NSW Se­nate”. His fam­ily is un­en­thu­si­as­tic about a re­turn to pol­i­tics, though he doesn’t rule it out for ever.

“The mi­nor par­ties, four or five of them, are fish­ing from the same pond,” he says.

“Put­ting them to­gether is like herd­ing cats.”

Latham quips that the per­son who could com­bine the protest par­ties of the right as a sin­gle force could “solve the Mid­dle-East cri­sis”.

Mean­while, Cor­mann, who has more in com­mon with The Ter­mi­na­tor than his ac­cent, al­lowed him­self an un­char­ac­ter­is­tic ges­ture of tri­umph last week when he tweeted “I’ll be back” over a car­toon of him­self, all beaten up, one red eye glow­ing.

If he does get the com­pany tax cuts through, he de­serves the No­bel Peace prize.

Pic­ture: Kym Smith

The Iron Lady from Ip­swich Pauline Han­son.

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