It’s election time and some voters are ready to punish their members elect.
Brandishing a pencil as their weapon of choice, they will attempt to slaughter the hopes of the major parties by lodging an “up yours” on their voting ballot.
Simmering anger with Labor and the Coalition has been fanned by constant leadership changes, naval gazing, infighting and political posturing over the past decade.
In Queensland more than any other state or territory, that anger has fuelled the rise of minor parties, opening the parliamentary door to such polarising figures as Pauline Hanson, Bob Katter and Clive Palmer.
The outspoken players, once considered fringe-dwellers, now cause major headaches for Labor and the LNP as they struggle to keep their traditional supporters on-side.
Pauline Hanson’s One Nation and Katter’s Australian Party (KAP) have branded themselves as relevant to everyday Australians.
Their leaders and members are not afraid of controversy, they shy away from political correctness, and are not controlled by any party machine.
So far, it has been an attractive formula — and all the political parties know it.
But will protest votes be enough to give minor parties seats in the House of Representatives?
A Newspoll published by The Australian on April 15 found primary support for One Nation had fallen two points to 4 per cent, which was seen as good news for the Coalition.
Of the 21 seats the LNP holds in Queensland, more than a third teeter on margins of 4 per cent or less.
A bite out of the heartland
In 2016, One Nation ran candidates in 12 of Queensland’s 30 seats.
In most of those seats, One Nation candidates received a healthy primary vote (in some cases rivalling the primary vote for a major party).
Nearly three quarters of their candidates received more than 10 per cent of the primary vote.
One received outright support of 20.9 per cent of voters.
In 2019, One Nation has set itself the ambitious target of fielding candidates in every Queensland electorate, even inner-city seats where Ms Hanson’s rhetoric has had far less appeal.
If One Nation’s 2016 results are replicated in this election, the party will pose a serious challenge for the Coalition, taking a large bite out of the conservative voting base.
The other minor parties are also likely to eat away at the LNP heartland.
KAP will focus on just six seats, drilling into its already well-established rural and regional support base.
Clive Palmer’s United Australia Party (UAP) plans to run candidates in all 151 seats — though some voters might have been wary of backing the billionaire’s interests after 800 people were left unemployed following the collapse of his Townsville nickel refinery.
No surprise then that within days of the election being called, Mr Palmer announced he would pay back “millions of dollars” owed to Queensland Nickel workers.
But this is unlikely to sway enough voters into Mr Palmer’s camp.
On the other end of the political spectrum, the Australian Greens will try to squeeze votes around inner-city Brisbane seats, driven by a vocal “anti-Adani” campaign.
The Greens won their first seat in Queensland Parliament at the last state election and would love to build federal crossbench support, with Melbourne MP Adam Bandt thus far the only Greens member in the House of Representatives.
In short, there is plenty of choice for punters who have given up on the major political parties.
It all comes down to preferences
Shortly before calling the election, Prime Minister Scott Morrison responded to revelations One Nation tried to solicit donations from the US gun lobby by announcing the Liberals would preference Labor ahead of One Nation.
Labor has likewise promised to preference One Nation last.
But the more critical question is where the preferences of minor parties will end up.
It remains an outside possibility that any Queensland minor party candidate, apart from the man in the hat Bob Katter, will win enough support after preferences to secure a Lower House seat.
But the importance of these groups should not be underestimated in this election — the votes they receive and how their preferences are allotted will have a critical impact.
When ON, KAP, UAP and the Greens are knocked out of the race for that elusive parliamentary spot, their votes need to go somewhere.
In all likelihood, those preferences will eventually end up backing an LNP or a Labor candidate.
There’s been a murky, pressurised debate over the past few months about where these minor parties will direct their preferences — several parties are yet to declare their intentions.
Senator Hanson reportedly told The Australian that One Nation would assign preferences in this election “on a seat-by-seat basis”.
But on election day, with pencil in hand, it all comes down to the voters — and how many will follow the parties’ prescribed preference orders.
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