Loss in Queensland piles pressure on Turnbull

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's popularity is at a record low, according to opinion polls.
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's popularity is at a record low, according to opinion polls.

Aussie PM risks losing control of Parliament at coming by-election

SYDNEY • The loss of a state election in Queensland has stepped up pressure on Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who risks losing control of Parliament at a by-election next month.

Three Australian prime ministers have been ousted by their own parties since 2010 and a splintering of the conservative base in Queensland has raised questions over how long Mr Turnbull's premiership can survive.

Opinion polls already show his popularity at a record low.

Queensland's Liberal National Party, which replicates the federal coalition made up of Mr Turnbull's Liberal Party and its partner the National Party, was hurt by voters, particularly in regional and rural areas, defecting to Ms Pauline Hanson's right-wing, populist One Nation party.

Vote counting is still under way but the conservative divide has left the Labor Party on track to form the government in the coal-rich north-eastern state.

Smarting from this latest setback, Mr Turnbull reminded voters yesterday that if they backed One Nation at the next federal election, it could play into the hands of the centre-left opposition.

"Everyone is entitled to cast their vote as they see fit, but the voting for One Nation in the Queensland election has only assisted the Labor Party," he told reporters in the city of Wollongong, south of Sydney.

The next federal election is due either late next year or in early 2019. But first up is the Bennelong by-election on Dec 16.

Should the Liberals lose the seat in Sydney's north, Mr Turnbull would have to negotiate with independents and small parties to retain control of the House of Representatives, where the government is formed.

It could heighten chances of deadlock between the two Houses of Parliament, which might force Mr Turnbull to call an early election, just as he did last year.

Regarded as a moderate, Mr Turnbull has trouble holding on to voters leaking to the right following the resurgence of Ms Hanson's anti-immigration party, according to Queensland University of Technology political science expert Clive Bean.

"In recent times, Queensland has often been one of the states that has made the difference when it comes to whether the coalition wins government or not," Professor Bean said.

At the federal level, the ruling coalition's fragility has been exacerbated by rules forcing lawmakers holding dual nationality, which is prohibited, to re-contest seats.

Bennelong is one such seat and defeat there could lead to the coalition losing control over the House of Representatives.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 28, 2017, with the headline 'Loss in Queensland piles pressure on Turnbull'. Print Edition | Subscribe