Anti-immigrant One Nation party may make headway in Queensland poll

Mr Scott Bannan is a candidate in Saturday's (Nov 25) Queensland state election for the One Nation party, led nationally by right-wing firebrand MP Pauline Hanson.
Mr Scott Bannan is a candidate in Saturday's (Nov 25) Queensland state election for the One Nation party, led nationally by right-wing firebrand MP Pauline Hanson.PHOTO: REUTERS

SYDNEY - Best known as a former world muay thai kickboxing champion, Mr Scott Bannan, who fought under the name "The Cannon", may seem to be an unlikely political candidate.

But that is perhaps the point.

Mr Bannan is a candidate in Saturday's (Nov 25) Queensland state election for the anti-migrant, anti-free trade and anti-establishment One Nation party, led nationally by right-wing firebrand MP Pauline Hanson.

The election, in Australia's third most populous state, is being closely watched for signs of the growing popularity of One Nation and for the extent of any broader public backlash against the major political parties.

As Queensland is a battleground state at a federal level, the election could also prove highly damaging to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who is faring poorly in opinion polls.

His political enemies are likely to seize on a poor showing for the Liberal National Party (LNP) - the state counterpart of the federal ruling Liberal-National Coalition - as evidence of his unpopularity.

In the seat of Logan, south of Brisbane, Mr Bannan is considered a genuine chance of defeating the incumbent MP Linus Power from the ruling Labor party.

Asked this week what he wanted to fix in his local electorate, Mr Bannan responded: "Everything."

Signalling a commitment to improving roads, he said: "I purely want to fix where I live."

An opinion poll in Friday's Courier-Mail newspaper showed Labor ahead of the LNP by 52 to 48 per cent, based on a two-party tally.

One Nation was on track to receive 12 per cent of the state-wide vote, though this rose to 20 per cent in some rural areas. Ms Hanson is based in Queensland and the party has tended to do better there than elsewhere in the country.

Queensland, a north-east state with a population of five million, has a strong economy driven mainly by mining, farming, tourism, and the manufacturing and services sector.

Its unemployment rate is slightly above the national average of 5.4 per cent, and there are pockets of disadvantage as well as remote areas that have proven ripe pickings for populists and mavericks.

Dr Chris Salisbury from the University of Queensland said One Nation's notorious opposition to multiculturalism and migration had not figured heavily in the election campaign.

Instead, it had tried to tap grievances about the economy, particularly in areas which are suffering due to the end of the decade-long mining boom.

"One Nation has become skilled at picking up on grievances, especially away from the capital (Brisbane)," he told The Straits Times. "They present themselves as the party that listens to people who are disaffected with the major parties."

The election has been dominated by a plan by Indian mining and energy giant Adani to build an A$16.5 billion (S$17 billion) coal mine in the state that will be one of the largest in the world.

Critics say the mine will cause heavy environmental damage, including carbon emissions from the coal, and will further damage marine life in the Great Barrier Reef. Supporters say it will deliver much-needed jobs to the state's remote areas.

Labor supports the mine but opposes a publicly-funded A$1-billion loan to Adani to build a 388-km railway line to transport coal from the mine. The opposition LNP supports the loan and the mine.

"It is certainly the most divisive issue of the whole campaign," said Dr Salisbury. "The proposed Adani coal mine is concentrating a lot of people's attention both in the (densely populated) south-east and in the regions."

Back in the seat of Logan, Mr Bannan has said little about Adani and has focused squarely on local concerns.

"Logan has been left behind for too long and I feel that pain as I am a lifelong local," he told the local Jimboomba Times newspaper.