With speculation rampant that the Coalition will take Australians to an early federal election in September 2018 to avoid a spate of state election campaigns, political manoeuvrings have already begun in the race for New South Wales’ sixth senate spot – the last to be decided at the expected traditional half-Senate vote.
At the 2016 federal election, a combined 12 minor conservative orientated parties obtained over 566,000 votes or 12.6 per cent of the Senate vote in NSW.
This result demonstrates that a pathway exists for a non-Coalition conservative senator to be elected in NSW if this disaffected voting block can be unified.
Since the election, an open revolt against the Coalition-ALP established order has broken out across the state resulting from visionless leadership, adverse economic conditions, collapsing social cohesion and suffocating political correctness, especially in regional NSW where support for the Nationals appears to have collapsed.
As many voters now seek out alternative political representation, NSW is likely to become the nation’s first real battleground contest between Pauline Hanson and Cory Bernardi as One Nation and the Australian Conservatives enjoy surging political momentum among conservative and anti-establishment working-class voters.
The Senate seat race will be a multi-dimensional contest fought on several fronts including policy, personality, candidate selection, tactics, organisation and preference negotiations.
As both parties register with the NSW Electoral Commission, supporter groups have been meeting across the state as they build their political base and begin to plan and coordinate for the coming contest.
Based on last year’s election results, Hanson’s existing political base largely stems from northern and western rural NSW, Newcastle, the Central Coast and Western Sydney.
Bernardi, who only launched his party earlier this year, has accumulated over 4,000 financial members in NSW to date and is expected to have a natural advantage in traditional liberal strongholds of the Lower North Shore, the Northern Beaches the Southern Highlands and in Sydney’s Inner West such as Parramatta.
While both are railing against the current political and policy orthodoxy, pressure is on both parties to move beyond a purely reactionary posture and provide sufficient policy detail and ‘cut-through’ messaging which convinces voters of their credentials to address their policy concerns in Parliament.
Many give Bernardi a natural policy advantage on the economy, education and on key social institutions such as marriage, and yet others give Hanson an advantage on addressing matters relating to nationalism, immigration, energy, social cohesion and political correctness.
Hanson’s higher name identification, media exposure and strident policy statements on areas such as Islam, means that the policy and messaging challenge squarely rests with Bernardi who needs to achieve sufficient differentiation from Hanson but also equivalent bluntness and ‘cut-through’ appeal.
Both parties require a robust political campaign organisation underpinned with physical and modern digital campaign infrastructure that can maximise the distribution and exposure of their policy messages, campaign material and especially how‑to‑vote cards on election day.
One Nation are embracing a traditional state-based approach to campaign organisation, whereas Australian Conservatives are leveraging modern digital campaign infrastructure to help solicit and analyse data which can help inform policy, messaging and the direction of campaign resources.
A key organisational test for both will be their ability to target particular geographical areas or selected communities across the state in order to maximise their vote.
Given the ethnic composition of Sydney, both parties will need to move beyond the traditional white conservative and working-class constituency and engage ethnic communities where common values or policy concerns exist.
Middle-Eastern Christian communities, who have first-hand experience of the horrors of radical Islam, provide Hanson with an opportunity to garner support with an anti-Islam message.
East Asian Australians, predominately ethnic Chinese, who hold deeply held convictions on issues such as same-sex marriage and the safe schools program provide Bernardi with an opportunity, if they resent Hanson’s 1996 comments regarding Asians.
Another key test will be the ability to strike advantageous preference deals, given the prominent role that how-to-vote cards still play in the voting process.
Neither Hanson nor Bernardi have any unique advantage and deals are likely to be determined weeks out from the election.
Preference negotiations with the Christian Democrats will be critical, given that the CDP are likely to obtain a three per cent primary senate vote. Hanson or Bernardi must persuade Fred Nile, who approves all CDP preference deals, to break with the NSW Liberals whom he has given CDP’s number two preference for over 25 years.
Hanson and Bernardi will also need to prepare for potential black swan events, which may disrupt the race including the removal of Malcolm Turnbull as Prime Minister or enactment of democratic reform inside the NSW Liberals. Both events are likely to draw potential voters away and make the contest more difficult.
The winner of this race is likely to assume the mantle of Australian leader of the Trump-Brexit western nationalistic uprising movement.
This race will have wide-ranging national implications.
John Adams is a former Coalition advisor.