After WA

The preference deal between the WA Liberals and One Nation was a bad deal, struck for bad reasons. It should come as no surprise that it ended badly, for both parties.

What is surprising is that the Prime Minister still won't make a stand on this important issue. This is an utter abdication of responsibility - a profound failure of leadership.

For him, this should be personal. One Nation's reactionary populism represents the antithesis of everything he has professed to believe in. 

For the 21 years that Ms Hanson has been a professional politician, Labor has put her party last on our how to vote cards. We haven't entered into preference negotiations with her, and we won't. 

Because it's the right thing to do. We've made this decision regardless of any calculation of electoral mathematics, because preference recommendations are about so much more than this. They send powerful signals about what we believe.

In Labor, we recognise how divisive One Nation's agenda is. I saw on Election Day the hurt and confusion on the faces of voters when they realised the how to vote cards being handed to them at Thomastown West Primary School were One Nation's.

Ms Hanson has chosen a party name which is bitterly ironic: her agenda is all about separating Australians, by reason of their background or faith.

But it's more than this. One Nation should also be rejected on wider policy and political grounds. The party is both a symptom of distrust in politics, and a driver of this troubling phenomenon. Its agenda, beyond racism and islamophobia, is a grab-bag of oddness. Witness the vaccination debacle. The two per cent flat tax. A series of answers in search of problems, trawled from the darker depths of the Internet. All born of resentment, not emerging from evidence nor responding to the real concerns of Australians.

When inequality in Australia is at record levels, One Nation's policies would increase it. With wages growth at record lows, One Nation's approach would mean workers getting even less.

We've seen enough in the new Senate, to know that while in the abstract, frustrated Australians who are living our slide to record inequality may feel that Ms Hanson is on their side, that's not how she votes.

One Nation's policies should be subject to scrutiny, not given tacit encouragement in the form of endorsement via preferences. 

In the past, Liberals have made principled stands against One Nation. I think in particular of Jeff Kennett, who is not usually a politician I am minded to praise.

What's changed? Why won't, or can't, Prime Minister Turnbull do the decent thing and rule out a deal with One Nation?

There are two explanations for this, and they are interconnected. There's the weakness of Malcolm Turnbull - enough said.

And also that Pauline Hanson has demonstrated, despite what she she says (and how she says it), she's basically another Liberal in the parliament.

This works the other way around, too. There's very little that is 'liberal' about the Liberal Party these days. It's actually full of conservative culture warriors, obsessing over repealing protections against racist hate speech, denying climate change and winding the clock back to the 1950s.

So, when Liberals describe One Nation version 2.0 as 'sophisticated' what they really mean is this: it's hard to work out where the LNP ends, and One Nation begins, these days.

Like Mr Turnbull used to be, I'm an optimist. I believe Australia's best days should be ahead of us. Unlike him, I'm prepared to stand up, as well as speak up, for our multiculturalism and culturally and linguistically diverse communities.

I'm proud to do that while tackling economic inequality head on. Nothing exposes Ms Hanson's pretence as a someone on the side of working Australians more than her support for real wage cuts for 700,000 people who rely on penalty rates to make ends meet.

Nothing is more likely to re-engage frustrated and alienated Australians with politics than a Labor agenda for real change - ensuring that all of us share in the benefits of growth, and that no one is left behind. 

We can make this case, our vision for our future, clearly, because we are clear about what our preferences mean.

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