Malcolm Turnbull has put himself on a collision course with elements of his party by refusing to rule out preference deals with One Nation, despite the rout of the Western Australian Liberals at Saturday’s state election.
While the record swing, which delivered Labor’s Mark McGowan government in his own right, was largely driven by state-based factors, the preference swap was blamed by both the Liberals and One Nation as a factor in their respective poor performances.
With more than two thirds of the vote counted, Labor was on track to win 40 of the state’s 59 seats while Colin Barnett’s Liberals, who suffered a record 16 per cent primary swing against them, look set to be reduced to just 19 seats.
The result leaves Tasmania and NSW as the last two state Liberal governments in Australia.
Most of the swing went to Labor which received a 9.7 per cent primary swing while One Nation underperformed with just 4.7 per cent.
This was not enough for a lower house seat and may only see the minor party gain one Upper House seat when it was confident of up to five seats and the balance of power.
One Nation leader Pauline Hanson said the preference deal “definitely damaged us” because to voters, it looked as though One Nation was betraying its anti-establishment platform by supporting the government.
“We are going to really have to have a good look at this,” she said.
On the other side, the deal, in which the Liberals preferenced One Nation in the Upper House in return for lower house support, backfired by angering moderate Liberals.
With a state election due in Queensland later this year, and the next federal election about a year after that, there were calls on Sunday, including from Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce, for the Coalition to never again do deals with Senator Hanson.
But Mr Turnbull was backed by some members of the Queensland Liberal National Party, who argue One Nation was a much more potent force in Senator Hanson’s home state than WA, and would not rule anything out.
“The next federal election is more than two years away and all preference divisions will be considered by the party organisation closer to an election,” Mr Turnbull said.
He said the WA election result was “overwhelmingly’ a result of state factors, such as the end of the mining boom, and the “it’s time” factor in that the Barnett government was striving for a third term.
Federal Finance Minister, senior WA Liberal and party powerbroker Mathias Cormann defended the preference deal as being motivated by internal polling that showed as few as 29 per cent were prepared to vote Liberal.
“All throughout the campaign it has hovered at the 29 per cent-to-31 per cent at state level. If we wanted to minimise losses, maximise our chances of holding onto seats, we needed to be able to source preferences and clearly, these weren’t going to come from Labor and the Greens,” he said.
“The election result last night has been a long time coming. It is not unexpected. All of the published and internal polling indicated that this was the way it was going to go.
The Nationals, who are not in Coalition in WA, performed well despite the Liberal decision to preference One Nation ahead of them in the Upper house.
Mr Joyce said the deal had been a “mistake” because it confused voters of both parties, as well as the Nationals. One Nation had had ” a shocker” and the Liberals a “bad day at the office”.
“It’s in the Liberal Party’s interest to be close to the National Party and it’s in the National Party’s interest to be close to Liberal Party and it is in both interests not to be close to anybody else,” Mr Joyce said.
“They talk to different constituencies but people see them as a team and on election day you should just stick to that idea.”
But one senior member of the Queensland LNP said Mr Turnbull was right to keep options open, saying Queensland was very different.
It was One Nation’s spiritual home and had many more large regional centres in which One Nation was popular.
“Don’t look for too many lessons from WA that are applicable to Queensland,” he said.
Internally, others were distancing themselves from the preference deal, indicating vigorous discussions lay ahead.
Liberal MP Tim Wilson tweeted: “Shouldn’t follow Putin-fawning PHON. We are not PHON-lite. We are Liberals, and proud of it.”
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten cited the recent decision to cut penalty rates as a factor. He, too, urged Mr Turnbull to rule out doing any further deals with One Nation.
“He is the national leader – I’ve ruled it out, he should do the same,” he said.
Mr McGowan picked up where Mr Barnett left off by vowing to keep haranguing Canberra for a larger share of the GST revenue. WA’s share fell to as low as 30¢ in the dollar because it was penalised for its mining royalties.
Senator Cormann said the government had give WA $1 billion in extra grants but to change the whole formula would create problems elsewhere because another state would lose out.
“In relation to GST sharing arrangements, we did as much as we could in an appropriate fashion, bearing in mind that a national government has the responsibility to act in the national interests.”
He played down the GST’s impact on the result.
“This was a big issue in the lead-up to the last federal election and we won 11 out of 16 seats [in WA], 54.7 per cent of the two-party preferred,” he said.
“This is an issue in WA, no doubt about it. By the same token, we have to be realistic on what a national government can do in relation to these sorts of issues and the timetable is determined by what happens with the GST sharing arrangements moving forward.”
Mr McGowan also cited the preferences deal as a factor.
“People want politicians with principles and who will act in the public interest. I don’t think the Liberal Party and One Nation deal was principled or was acting in the public interest and I think West Australians saw through that,” he said.
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