Vote-swop deal splits ruling coalition in Australia

SYDNEY • A state premier's desperate move to win re-election by striking an electoral deal with the far-right One Nation party has driven a wedge between partners in Australia's ruling coalition, as the country's conservative politics faced a lurch to the right.

In an unprecedented move, the Western Australian state leader of the Liberal Party, the senior partner in the governing Liberal-National coalition, agreed on a vote-sharing deal with One Nation at state elections next month.

It demonstrated the influence of One Nation, which advocates protectionism and anti-immigration policies, since its return from 20 years in the political wilderness at national elections last year.

Its national leader, Ms Pauline Hanson, now a senator, gained notoriety 20 years ago when she warned that Australia was in danger of being "swamped by Asians". In last year's national election, she campaigned to ban Muslim immigration.

Western Australian state premier Colin Barnett, who is facing defeat in the March 11 election, has agreed to swop preference votes with the state branch of One Nation.

Under Australia's electoral system, voters mark candidates according to preference, and the preferences for losing candidates are then redistributed until a winner is determined.

The deal appeared to split the centre-right Liberals and the conservative Nationals at the national level .

Nationals leader and Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce described the deal as "disappointing" . But Industry Minister Arthur Sinodinos, a Liberal, said One Nation was more "sophisticated" now.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 14, 2017, with the headline 'Vote-swop deal splits ruling coalition in Australia'. Print Edition | Subscribe