Labor figures pushing for election before the end of the year due to worries One Nation’s vote will increase

Pauline Hanson and the Queensland leader of One Nation, Steve Dickson. Labor and the Liberal National party have both said no to formal preference deals with the party. Photograph: Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images

The One Nation leader has emerged as a spectre for Queensland political pundits who remember when her personal popularity took her party to a 23% primary vote, nabbing 11 seats in the state’s unicameral parliament in 1998.

While she is yet to see those heights uniformly, with One Nation polling at about 15% in statewide Newspolls and hovering at about 8% nationwide, seat by seat it is a different story.

“It is definitely a factor,” one party heavyweight told Guardian Australia. “Not the only one. There are boundary redistributions, local factors and other issues but it is there.

“There are those within the party pushing for it to happen soon, looking at the Newspoll figures, worried it will increase. But then the seat-by-seat figures are showing One Nation is much higher than that, across a range of seats.

“So you have to weigh up – can we turn that around? Do we risk more seats heading that way?”

To take power in the next election, 47 seats are needed in the new parliament. Both the majors have done the count and are yet to see where those seats can be found, without the help of the crossbench.

Labor and the Liberal National party have both said no to formal preference deals with One Nation, although the LNP has not ruled out preferencing on a seat-by-seat basis.

It is those preferences that have Labor spooked. In a move designed to disadvantage the LNP and starve a growing Greens vote, Labor made preferencing compulsory. That is now seen as having backfired.

“Hanson doesn’t have to win every seat, she only needs to win a small number and she can derail things,” a senior Labor source said. “And she only needs to be put second on the ticket to win.”

Queensland voters are notoriously difficult to judge. As the most decentralised state in the nation, what works in the greater Brisbane area does not appeal to rural and regional Queensland, where more than half of the population lives. That is also where Hanson’s appeal is the strongest.

“We are looking at Hanson’s performance closely,” another party insider said. “That’s no secret. I don’t think there is anyone who is not.

“But there are other things to look at. A [North Queensland] Cowboys win in the footy could help north Queensland feel more positive. There are local members who may be able to hold off the One Nation incursion, through their own personal popularity. The federal sphere is important.“But anyone who writes off Hanson based on what, admittedly, is a lower primary vote, at least as a whole, than people thought, is wading into dangerous territory. It may not be growing like we thought but it is not falling either.”

While both Bill Shorten and Malcolm Turnbull have begun laying the groundwork for the next federal election, with multiple visits to the state since the 2016 poll, in recent weeks they have also done their part to sell their state leaders and parties.

Turnbull went as far last week to offer the state a coal-fired power station if it elected an LNP government.

Hanson herself believes the election will be called soon, admitting last week her party’s focus remained on Queensland after missing the deadline to register for the South Australian election.

The upcoming high court case to decide the fate of Malcolm Roberts, her fellow Queensland One Nation senator, is also being closely watched by Labor, as it attempts to judge whether potential voters will be turned off by the spectacle.

But while a divide over when to call the election continues to plague Queensland Labor, it’s united in wanting an end to the speculation.

The premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, is on leave until Friday. Her party is hoping that when she returns, “she will either call the election, or announce she won’t call it until next year”.

Queensland Labor’s secretary, Evan Moorhead, was giving nothing away. “The government still has many thing to complete before it considers election timing,” he said.

A spokesman for Hanson declined to comment for this story.

Source: The GUARDIAN