Queensland state votes in election seen as test for far-right

One Nation leader Pauline Hanson (centre) listens to a supporter being interviewed in Buderim, near Brisbane, on Nov 24, 2017. PHOTO: AFP

SYDNEY (AFP) - Voters in the Australian state of Queensland went to the polls on Saturday (Nov 25) in a snap election seen as a test of support for the far-right One Nation party ahead of possible national elections next year.

Final opinion polls showed a tight race between the governing Labor Party and the centre-right Liberal National Party for control of the state, home of the Great Barrier Reef and a major tourist destination.

The surveys indicate One Nation, which was created by Pauline Hanson in Queensland in the 1990's, could hold the balance of power in the event neither major party wins a majority in the 93-seat state parliament.

The poll is seen as a bellwether of the national political mood at a time when Liberal Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's hold on federal government has been severely weakened, possibly forcing him into an early election next year.

Queensland Liberals, led by Tim Nicholls, have left the door wide open to governing in coalition with One Nation if needed, an outcome which would further undermine the moderate Turnbull and hurt his party at a national level where there is less support for the far-right group.

Labor leader and current Queensland premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, has ruled out governing with One Nation even if it means going into the opposition.

One Nation has enjoyed a tide of popular support in the state on its platform of zero-net migration and opposition to Islam.

Support for the party is strongest in rural areas of the vast state, notably in the northern mining region which suffers from high unemployment and poor infrastructure and where many people feel neglected by authorities.

"I think people are sick and tired of the two major parties, they've just left them behind," Steve Dickson, state leader for One Nation, told AFP during the last day of campaigning on Friday.

"If people are happy with the services they are getting for the last 20 years, vote for the major two parties. But where we sit at the moment, people aren't happy," he said.

The party was at its height in 1998 when it won 11 seats in the state parliament, but it elected no one in the last election in 2015, which Labor won in a landslide.

New elections were not due until May next year, but Palaszczuk suddenly called the snap poll last month, when Hanson was on an overseas trip and unable to begin campaigning for several days.

Saturday's ballot comes at a difficult time for Turnbull, who lost his slim majority in Federal parliament earlier this month after two members of his coalition were forced to resign when it was found they held dual citizenship in violation of the constitution.

Turnbull has maintained his grip on power thanks to support from independent and minor party deputies.

But his coalition remains deeply divided between centrist and more hardline right-wing members and there are increasing expectations that national elections, not due until 2019, could occur early next year.

Results from Saturday's vote are not expected to be known until late Saturday night or early Sunday.

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