UPDATE: While posting this, news broke that Christensen has quit as National’s Whip.
UPDATE 2: I obviously must have had Pauline Hanson on my mind when I wrote this, accidentally declaring Christensen came from Oxley – her old seat. He is of course actually in Dawson.
There can be no question about it – George Christensen is a renegade. Ever since he first entered parliament in 2010, he has gone his own way. The Nationals leader, Barnaby Joyce, has admitted that he cannot really discipline the maverick given his own troublesome past record. But just how fair dinkum is Christensen?
Christensen has fallen into a pattern of threatening to quit followed by protestations of loyalty, seeming to practically change with the wind. And he has been able to get away with this because his seat of Dawson is deep in Nationals heartland in Queensland, keeping his parliamentary position nice and safe. But the situation is rapidly changing.
After the 2016 election, Christensen admitted to doing a deal with Pauline Hanson to keep her One Nation from contesting his seat, justifying his action by stating “…they were not looking at ousting an MP who was advocating the same sort of views espoused by One Nation.” He then further declared that the “…views of One Nation to a degree are the views of many in the rank and file of the (Liberal National Party).’’
Being able to play those games is easy when you are in a strong position. But the latest polling shows that Pauline Hanson’s One Nation is now polling around 30% in Dawson. Suddenly Christensen’s position of strength is fast disappearing. So what happens next?
Christensen has announced his plan to stop voters from drifting towards One Nation. The central key to this is “standing up for “national values””. But exactly what does that mean? Christensen has repeatedly appeared as a speaker at anti-Islamic gatherings. He is openly anti-same-sex marriage and hardly a friend to the LGBT community. Exactly what are these ‘national values’ that he is espousing? 1950s ‘wog bashing?’ ‘Poofter’ shaming? Sending us back to an isolationist era where it was practically an offence to be anything but Caucasian?
I believe that first and foremost, George Christensen is a political animal, more concerned with his own survival before all else. A party that is fast losing its clout and relevance provided an easy step up into parliament, giving him a nice platform for his grandstanding. But now that the National’s dominance is being seriously challenged in Dawson?
Christensen’s previous flirtations with One Nation could well be the writing on the wall, remembering again his public sympathies for the One Nation agenda. When faced with a genuine challenge, could we see him turn tail on his latest protestations of loyalty and do a quick, opportunistic jump to One Nation? I am quite sure that I am not the only one expecting this will be the case.
What this situation raises once more is the matter of people jumping ship or able to seriously consider jumping ship during an electoral term. There is nothing stopping Christensen taking the politically quick, dirty and easy step of jumping over to One Nation and making the most of that wave of support, giving One Nation a seat in the House of Representatives and Christensen an even more powerful role. Never mind that One Nation were not actually elected into that position.
Christensen has frequently thrown his political weight around, making threats to get his way. And I have no doubt that he will be using this current scenario to get his way on whatever his current agenda is – give me what I want or I jump to One Nation. But read the relevant parts of the Australian Constitution and the supporting Electoral Act and one thing becomes quite clear. Our Federal pollies are not supposed to have a luxury of jumping ship whenever it suits their personal agenda. The will of the electorate at the last election is supposed to be paramount. If you no longer wish to be part of the party that saw you voted into office, then the choices should be either face the electorate or leave.
The Bernadi betrayal should have been the kick in the backside that parliament needed to start making changes to bring this ship jumping to an end. Relatively straight forward changes to the Electoral Act could fix things. But until that happens, the likes of George Christensen can continue to play games, jumping in whatever direction he believes will ensure his political survival ahead of any national interest. And that survival is what he is fair dinkum about.
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