There Are Two Numbers That Explain Malcolm Turnbull’s New Obsession With Aussie Nationalism

Malcolm Turnbull has turned into Crocodile Dundee.

Malcolm Turnbull

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Australian jobs. Australian workers. Australian values. These are all phrases that would sound very weird coming from the mouth of a former merchant banker who now represents Sydney’s cosmopolitan eastern suburbs.

But in the last week, Malcolm Turnbull has gone the full Mick Dundee. First there was his “crackdown” on 457 visas, which allow migrants to temporarily work in Australia. In announcing the changes, Turnbull made it pretty clear what kind of message he was sending.

“We are putting jobs first, we are putting Australians first,” he said. “We are an immigration nation, but the fact remains that Australian workers must have priority for Australian jobs.

Australian workers must have priority for Australian jobs, so we are abolishing the 457 visa, the visa that brings temporary foreign workers into our country. We will no longer allow 457 visas to be passports to jobs that could and should go to Australians.”

Next we saw the proposed changes to the citizenship process. According to Turnbull the tough new rules were all about “Defending, reinforcing, Australian values.”

The problem for Turnbull is that, coming from him, this sounds like absolute bullshit. No one really believes that he’s had some late-stage political conversion to ultra-nationalism. Even he doesn’t sound convinced when he says it.

So what explains it? Two numbers. That’s it.

One Nation Army

1.3 percent vs 9.3 percent. That’s the core of the dilemma facing Turnbull, and it explains why he’s turned into this:


The first number is the total vote Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party received at the last federal election. The second one is what they’re polling at the moment. Yep, it’s a pretty bloody big increase.

One Nation’s political rise is mirroring the Coalition’s descent. While Labor and the Greens are polling about the same as what they received at the federal election, the Coalition is down nearly 6 percent. Hanson is eating into Turnbull’s vote and the Coalition is panicking.

We’ve actually seen signs of the panic for a while. Back in November last year George Brandis was caught on microphone freaking out about the rise of One Nation in his home state of Queensland.

“The thing that is alarming everyone is, as you would expect, the sudden spike in One Nation which is now at about 16 percent,” he said, before adding that he was worried the minor party could win a few seats in Queensland’s parliament.

Other Queensland MPs like George Christensen and Barry O’Sullivan have been pretty direct in their calls for Turnbull to more directly embrace Hanson’s policies on immigration.

In fact Hanson herself is taking credit for Turnbull’s recent pivot:

It’s in Queensland where the Coalition has the most to lose. There’s a state election coming up and polls show one in four Queensland voters are supporting One Nation. But the state election isn’t Turnbull’s only problem.

The Coalition governs the country by the barest majority: one seat. Three out of four of the government’s most marginal seats (the ones most likely to be lost if the Coalition’s vote dips) are in Queensland. So a big One Nation vote in Hanson’s home state could cost Turnbull an election.

The consensus around One Nation’s performance at the WA state election last month was that it was pretty underwhelming. However, as I argued at the time, the party still managed to nearly double its vote compared to last year’s federal election and elected three MPs to the state’s upper house. That’s not nothing.

One Nation is on the rise right around the country and Malcolm Turnbull is the one who has the most to lose. That’s why he’s hit the panic button and has gone the full “Aussie jobs and Aussie values for Aussies alright you bloody foreigners bugger off Aussie Aussie Aussie Oi Oi Oi.”

Will It Work?

It’s hard to tell. Unfortunately, as lazy as Turnbull’s newfound nationalist policies are, they are likely to be popular amongst the voters he’s trying to claw back. But there’s a risk.

Hanson has already been quick to take credit for those new policies. Fair enough too; she’s the main reason they’re happening. The problem for Turnbull is that if Hanson can convince the voters that the only reason the government is shifting direction is because of her, they aren’t going to change their vote.

That’s the trap in operating in a completely value-less, poll-driven political space. If you don’t stand for anything you end up just being a pale imitation of those around you that do. And why would voters back the insincere copy when they can have the real thing?

Osman Faruqi is Junkee’s New and Politics Editor. You can follow him on Twitter at @oz_f.