The Turnbull government faces increased destabilisation with Queensland Nationals vowing to go rogue, including forging ahead with a commission of inquiry into the banks, in a bid to repel One Nation.
One Nation fared poorly in Queensland’s state election on Saturday, possibly picking up just one seat, but its vote in heartland seats in the state’s north and west was high enough to rattle federal Nationals MPs who believe if they do not differentiate themselves from the Liberals, One Nation will continue to encroach on their territory.
One MP, George Christensen, even blamed Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull for the result. Internal party research leaked on Sunday showed the PM was not a significant factor in the Queensland outcome.
As counting continued Sunday, Labor Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk was inching closer to the 47 seats needed to govern Queensland in her own right, and may win 48 seats. The LNP was predicted to win 39 or 40 seats. One Nation and the Greens were on track for a seat apiece, Katter’s Australia Party two seats, and one independent.
Nationals senator Barry O’Sullivan, who plans to introduce into the Senate this week a private members bill for a bank commission of inquiry, told The Australian Financial Review that Saturday’s result had strengthened his resolve to act against the banks.
He said since the Liberal and Nationals in Queensland merged in 2008 “we have become homogenous” and One Nation and others were filling the third-party vacuum the merger created.
“There’s been a clear message sent to us,” he said. “We have have to differentiate ourselves and behaviour and policy are the two ways.”
Senator and cabinet minister Matt Canavan told his federal Liberal colleagues to expect the Nationals to behave more independently between now and the next federal election.
“This is confirmation for me of how important it is at a federal level to have a strong Nationals Party, hopefully with Barnaby Joyce re-elected in a week’s time, and we’ve got to get out there and show people why we fight for them,” he said.
Senator O’Sullivan’s bank push has the support of Labor and the minor parties. He still needs two Nationals MPs in the lower house to cross the floor and that has become more likely after the Queensland election.
Mr Christensen is now almost certain to cross the floor.
He used Facebook to apologise to voters and blame Mr Turnbull.
“I’m sorry that we in the LNP have let you down and now we need to listen more, work harder, stand up for more conservative values and regional Queensland and do better to win your trust and your vote,” he said.
“A lot of that starts with the Turnbull government, its leadership and its policy direction.”
Mr Turnbull said in Sydney he could not be blamed for the result.
“[Voters] know the difference between state and federal elections, they know the difference between state and federal issues, and that was a state election fought on state issues by competing state leaders,” he said.
Liberal Party focus group research conducted before the election showed Mr Turnbull and federal issues were not factors.
“[The] big state issue was [LNP leader] Tim Nicholls not being known in the regions and not being liked in the cities,” a source said.
Mr Nicholls’ ties to the former LNP government of Campbell Newman were also referenced by voters.
“Punters were not sure the LNP had learned from last time.”
The research showed the federal government’s strong approach on immigration and defence resonated well in Queensland “so the idea that people gave Canberra a whack in a state election is wrong”.
Senator O’Sullivan said One Nation’s 14 per cent statewide support on Saturday gave it a chance of jagging a Senate spot at the next election. And its vote was much higher, in the 20s and 30s, in some of the state Labor and LNP seats in the north and west which overlap key LNP federal electorates of Dawson, Flynn, Capricornia and Hinkler.
“We need to fill the vacuum created by One Nation’s failure to translate votes into seats.”
The government tried again Sunday to thwart the bank inquiry by announcing another reform – the introduction of laws next year to assign consumers the right to their own data for banking, energy, phone and internet, making it easier to switch or demand better deals.
“We don’t need more inquiries and reviews, we need action,” said Angus Taylor, the Assistant Minister for Cities and Digital Transformation.
“Australians have been missing out because it’s too hard to switch to something better.
“You may be able to access your recent banking transactions or compare this quarter’s energy bill to the last, but it sure isn’t quick or easy to work out if you can get a better deal elsewhere.”
Back in February, Mr Christensen said the Queensland Liberal National Party must either de-merge or adopt some other strategy to better differentiate the Liberals from the Nationals, or risk being consumed by One Nation.
He favoured a “debranding” that would include, but not be limited to, resorting to the use of separate National and Liberal Party logos on electoral material and ballot papers.
Federal Labor leader Bill Shorten said Mr Turnbull was the problem.
“The Liberals and Nationals are suffering from one end of Australia to the other as a result of the Turnbull government. From last night’s result, it’s clear that includes Queensland,” he said.
LNP elder Vaughan Johnson told AAP it was a mistake to merge the Liberal and National parties, and it’s paying the price of regional neglect.
This first appeared at the AFR.com. See the original here.
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