‘My relationship with Senator Hanson is irrevocable’: Brian Burston leaves One Nation
Then there were two.
The incredible shrinking One Nation party has been miniaturised once again by the acrimonious departure of its little known New South Wales senator Brian Burston — the latest to fall foul of a strong-willed leader who founded not only a party, but a people’s movement for Australia’s politically isolated and angry.
Pauline Hanson is now a leader of one remaining senator, and her relationship with the West Australian, Peter Georgiou, is also prickly at times.
When the pair enter One Nation’s party room meeting next week at the start of a crucial sitting fortnight, Senator Hanson may pause to rue the disintegration of her once-powerful crossbench voting bloc of four.
One Nation is a party built on a personality and, at least in the voting system used to elect senators, Pauline Hanson’s personality comes complete with proven brand power at the ballot box.
But as with all personalities, exhibited strengths can also mask embedded weaknesses.
As she made clear in a tearful live television interview two weeks ago, Pauline Hanson is a woman driven by a determination to remain in Parliament and advance her agenda.
There is now enough evidence from the mouths of former friends and colleagues that her relentless determination is the same quality that makes Senator Hanson and her office divisive, incommunicative and ruthless in their political cunning.
Take Brian Burston’s word for it.
“There is no democracy in the party — every single decision made is made by Pauline Hanson, and if you don’t agree then you’re gone,” the now-independent senator told Fairfax Media when he finally bowed to pressure and resigned.
Senator Burston joins Queenslander Fraser Anning on the crowded crossbench as One Nation renegades, both questioning Pauline Hanson’s management style and her unshakeable faith in chief of staff James Ashby.
Senator Anning had declared it “unacceptable” that “James Ashby dictate to me” the hiring of staff and other party control issues, as he left One Nation before stepping foot in the Senate chamber.
Don’t even bother asking the disqualified Rod Culleton for feedback on Senator Hanson’s leadership traits — that relationship is as toxically poisoned as they get in politics.
As ABC election analyst Antony Green has collated, the history of cohesion around Pauline Hanson’s political brands has not been a happy or enduring one.
Tweet from Antony Green: Of 30 elected One Nation MPs, six are current members, 19 resigned in their first term, two were disqualified in first term, three lasted long enough to face re-election, two were defeated and only one One Nation MP has ever been re-elected. #auspol @abcnews
It’s all about the numbers
All of One Nation’s current travails are a far cry from where the party began in 2016.
Pauline Hanson had swept back into Parliament after an 18-year absence.
“I’m back, but not alone” she declared, relishing the potential power of three other senators who rode the tri-state surge in One Nation support: Malcolm Roberts (Queensland), Brian Burston (New South Wales) and Rod Culleton (Western Australia).
It did not take long for Malcolm Roberts (C) and Rod Culleton (R) to leave One Nation either. (ABC News: Nick Haggarty, file photo)
But things quickly turned sour and the senators were drifted into open warfare.
Rod Culleton came and went, tripping up on two sections of the constitution.
Malcom Roberts tried to tough out his dual citizenship with bluster and denial, only to be unceremoniously scrubbed by the High Court within 18 months of arriving.
Now, Brian Burston has gone too, after the shattering of a 20-year association or friendship with Senator Hanson.
“It has become clear to me that my relationship with Senator Hanson is irrevocable,” he conceded when confirming his resignation from One Nation.
One Nation is a case study in the peril of policy flip-flopping
Hardly a giant of the Senate, the softly spoken Brian Burston will not be remembered as an ideological firebrand on the right-hand side of Australia’s political spectrum, but for the two years he had been in the One Nation tent he had played a quiet and effective role in backing his leader’s authority and judgement.
“The political establishment have sought to destroy her and bring her down. Many have tried, but all have failed,” he proudly observed in his first speech to Parliament, oblivious to the destruction later to be wrought upon him.
Such is the bitterness of their falling out, the pair were deliberately avoiding each other and missed calls went unanswered in the final weeks before formal separation.
The breakdown is not only a personal pity, but a study in the peril of policy flip-flopping for any party.
The former One Nation senator had been feuding with leader Pauline Hanson for weeks. (AAP: Mick Tsikas)
Lost in the tears, name-calling and accusations of “backstabbing” is the fact that Pauline Hanson, James Ashby and their last remaining loyalist, Peter Georgiou, walked away from One Nation’s pledged support for $36 billion worth of corporate tax cuts.
By Brian Burston’s account, he was made to appear a radical or “floor crosser”, simply for holding the line on a promise entered into with the Government’s Senate Leader, Mathias Cormann.
“My father taught all us kids that once you shake hands with somebody — that’s it,” Senator Burston said.
“I was saddened to be asked by Senator Hanson to resign from the party and the Senate for sticking to my word.”
First to 39 wins — Pauline Hanson has 2
If she hasn’t realised it yet, Pauline Hanson will soon have to confront a brutal mathematical truth: she is half as useful to the Government now than she used to be.
And she is no more useful to it than the remnants of the grouping the long-departed Nick Xenophon had created.
As it is, the Coalition now has 31 votes in the Senate — 32 with Brian Burston — and a possible pathway towards the 39 votes it needs for any given piece of legislation, if it can wrangle the remainder of the crossbench.
Faced with these numbers, the Government will always value One Nation’s two votes if it can get them, but too many more policy reversals, as performed on corporate tax, and Coalition hard-heads could soon question the value of negotiating with Senator Hanson at all, if trust can’t be maintained.
Half the Senate, double the difficulty
An election looms within 10 months and every remaining week must be savoured by Brian Burston, Fraser Anning, Peter Georgiou and South Australia’s Tim Storer.
All four are in the same predicament: trying to cling to political lives inherited on party tickets they no longer remain with.
Nor are they alone.
The rejigged electoral system designed for the last general election, and intended by the major parties to put a squeeze on minor and micro parties, was never really put to the test in 2016.
It’s about to be — in the form of a half-Senate election.
The maths are bleak for many of the state senators up for re-election, especially those near the bottom of party tickets.
Instead of scraping up, via preferences, the 8 to 9 per cent of votes needed to clinch a Senate seat in 2016, the number leaps to around 17 per cent next time.
It’s an electoral environment where money, resources, time and brand names are vital supplies.
With diminished numbers in Parliament, Pauline Hanson can at least count on some of those supplies to fight for One Nation’s survival.
After her recent misfortunes, some stability, calm judgement and an inclusive leadership style might also help — not only to win seats, but also to hold onto them.