Anti-Asian party deal 'could spread across Australia'

A decision by a branch of Prime Minister John Howard’s Liberal Party to do election deals with the anti-Asian One Nation Party could spread nationally, a Government lawmaker warned today.

A decision by a branch of Prime Minister John Howard’s Liberal Party to do election deals with the anti-Asian One Nation Party could spread nationally, a Government lawmaker warned today.

Divisions have opened up in the Liberal Party over a decision by the Western Australian state branch to forge preference deals with the right-wing One Nation Party at the general election, expected in November or December.

Under Australia’s proportional voting system, voters must number all candidates on a ballot paper in order of descending preference.

The parties often do deals, recommending to supporters the order of preference.

Howard has opposed any deal with One Nation because of its policies, arguing the Liberal Party should urge supporters to make One Nation the last preference in all constituencies.

The Western Australia state party snubbed a personal request from Howard not to deal with One Nation, saying a preference deal was necessary to ensure election victory.

Western Australia Liberal Senator Ross Lightfoot said the decision would pave the way for similar preference deals with One Nation across the country.

‘‘I don’t think the door’s actually wide open but I can see a chink of ... light there as well in dealing with One Nation,’’ he told ABC Radio.

‘‘I don’t think necessarily that I or anyone else ... is going to be (ostracised) like perhaps I was in the 1998 election because one dares to mutter or talk covertly about dealing with One Nation,’’ Lightfoot said.

Australian Jewish groups have labelled the West Australian decision as ‘‘incredible’’ in light of ties between One Nation members and far-right racist groups.

‘‘The WA Liberal Party claims it is being pragmatic. There is nothing pragmatic about racism,’’ said Benseon Apple, a spokesman for the B’nai B’rith Anti-Defamation Commission.

Howard is opposed to any support for One Nation because the party’s anti-establishment platform opposing Asian immigration, free trade and welfare for Aborigines is unpopular with many voters.

One Nation gains the vast majority of its support from disenchanted conservative voters in rural areas, making many Liberal lawmakers in regional seats eager to do preference deals.

Lightfoot said deals could help the Liberal Party wrest up to four marginal seats in Western Australia from Labour.

All major opinion polls show the Government is unlikely to win its bid for a third term at the general election.

After five years in office, the Government has been hit by public anger over a new sales tax and high fuel prices and also been dogged by a series of embarrassing internal rows and other setbacks.

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