POLITICS

Resurgent One Nation Tests The Coalition, Again

PM and and Deputy PM at odds over unprecedented WA preference deal.

13/02/2017 12:09 PM AEDT | Updated 13/02/2017 12:22 PM AEDT
Andrew Meares/Fairfax
The PM is not saying much.

CANBERRA -- What a difference a really close election result makes.

Before the July federal election Malcolm Turnbull said that One Nation was not a "welcome presence" in the parliament. Now the Prime Minister has nothing to say about preference deals with the resurgent populist party.

But Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce has not reacted well to the news that the in-trouble WA Liberals, have cut a preferences deal with One Nation at the expense of the WA branch of his party.

Desperate to hold onto power, but publicly describing it as an "unusual, practical and pragmatic decision," the WA Liberals will preference Pauline Hanson's party ahead of the Nationals in return for preferences flowing back to the Liberals in lower house seats.

Bill Shorten has accused the Liberals of "cuddling up" to Hanson, while the One Nation leader said she is doing what is best for her party.

She also said, rightly, that preferences are a matter for the individual voter.

Turnbull's verdict? "Preferences are a matter for the party organisation. In a state election, it is a matter for the organisation in Western Australia."

Pressed by reporters in Canberra on an opinion, the Prime Minister did not go on any adventure.

"It is a matter for the WA division," Turnbull said.

Turnbull, and his close adviser Industry Minister Arthur Sinodinos, insist One Nation is now a very different, more professional, party, but the deputy Prime Minister is unimpressed.

"Always as times grow cold ... new friends are silver but old friends are gold," Joyce said on Sunday.

And he doubled down Monday.

"It is a statement of fact that the most successful governments in Australia are in Liberal-National government," the Deputy Prime Minister told reporters in Canberra.

"Colin Barnett has been around the political game a long while and should seriously consider whether he thinks this is a good idea or whether he is flirting with a concept that ultimately will put his own side is in opposition.

The question is, will this deal be replicated federally?

Turnbull was not specifically asked if he would support a similar federal preference deal with One Nation, but he is being very careful with his language in talking about the party.

Like the defector Cory Bernardi, Turnbull needs them.

"The fact is One Nation is represented, has been elected to the federal parliament and, I have to say, we work very closely with the One Nation senators," the Prime Minister said.

"We work respectfully and constructively with them as we do with all of the crossbenchers in the Senate."

Doing any deal with One Nation is not something John Howard would approve of in his day -- his position was to put One Nation last.

But while there are legitimate questions about One Nation and its policies, it is now a very different parliament for the Prime Minister to operate in.

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