Malcolm Turnbull has reassured an international audience a preference deal with One Nation doesn’t mean the Liberal Party supports the minor party’s policies.
The prime minister’s comments came as a new poll showed 38 per cent of voters disapproved of the Liberal deal with One Nation in the West Australian upper house, including one in four Liberal supporters.
The agreement reached for the March 11 WA state election received 29 per cent approval from voters.
In exchange, One Nation will distribute how-to-vote cards for lower house seats advising its supporters to put the Liberals up high.
The prime minister, who was on the campaign trail in Perth on Monday, insisted Australia’s compulsory preferential voting systems meant deals had to be negotiated.
“Just because preferences are directed to a party doesn’t mean that you support them – quite the contrary,” Mr Turnbull told Bloomberg TV on Tuesday.
How parties allocate preferences on the how-to-vote card was a political calculation.
“But it’s always designed to maximise our vote, just as other people’s how-to-vote cards are too,” he said.
Senior federal ministers have argued the One Nation of today is a more sophisticated party than when Senator Hanson emerged on the political scene two decades ago.
Labor’s Anthony Albanese says the preference deal is unprincipled and risks damage to Australia’s overseas reputation, as it did when Pauline Hanson warned about being “swamped by Asians” in the 1990s.
The government has been heavily relying on One Nation’s senators to pass its legislation.
Betting markets give Mark McGowan’s Labor team a 70 per cent chance of unseating Colin Barnett’s conservative government in WA.
The latest Essential poll gives federal Labor a 52-48 per cent two-party preferred lead over the coalition, with One Nation holding 10 per cent of the primary vote.
It comes amid a renewed debate triggered by the government over renewable energy and the place of coal-fired power.
Mr Turnbull met with his energy committee of cabinet in Sydney on Tuesday and was briefed on a new South Australian pumped hydro project backed by electricity giant Energy Australia.
The prime minister is also considering asking the Clean Energy Finance Corporation to invest in “clean coal” power using carbon capture and storage technology, but will require a change in the corporation’s legislation to do so.
However, voters are likely to take a dim view, with 45 per cent telling Essential researchers they opposed new coal-fired power, with 31 per cent in favour.
Almost two-thirds of voters said renewable energy was a “solution” to Australia’s energy needs, not a threat, and 71 per cent said the government is not doing enough to provide “clean and reliable” power.
WA Labor leader Mark McGowan said the Liberal-One Nation preference deal was a “test for the whole country”.
“If it works for the Liberal Party I suppose it will be template that they follow elsewhere around Australia, so West Australians have to decide whether or not that is the future they want,” he told Sky News on Tuesday.
“We haven’t done any deals with One Nation and we won’t.”