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Nats legend: How LNP could combat One Nation

Former National director Mike Evans with then-Prime Minister John Howard in 1997.
Former National director Mike Evans with then-Prime Minister John Howard in 1997. ANTHONY WEATE

A NATIONAL Party icon fears One Nation could win 15 seats "minimum" at the next election and suggested demerging the LNP to combat Pauline Hanson.

Former National Party director Mike Evans said One Nation was on track to upend Queensland politics with a groundswell of support across regional areas.

The Mackay-born political operator was a Queensland National Party director when Joh Bjelke-Petersen was premier and was state secretary of the Country Party when it changed its name to the Nationals.

During the last One Nation surge in 1998, Mr Evans predicted on Channel Seven the party would win between 10 and 12 seats. It won 11.

He said although the statewide polls did not show One Nation's total vote as high enough to win many seats, the difference in the party's unpopularity in the south-east masked its support in the country.

"There is a real city-country divide in One Nation's support," he said.

"So, although statewide the vote for them might be low, in some seats - where they will win - it is very high.

Mr Evans said some party polling had placed One Nation's support in the Thuringowa electorate near Townsville at 39.9% - higher than the LNP and Labor.

He said he expected One Nation to win seats along the coast, in the Wide Bay and in the Lockyer Valley.

 

Former National Party director Mike Evans.
Former National Party director Mike Evans. Simon Young

But Mr Evans said he believed there was a strategy the LNP could undertake that could stave off the One Nation threat.

"With the rise of One Nation we might have to re-establish having two coalition parties again," he said.

"I say this as someone who was very supportive of the merger. But a lot of people, especially in regional areas, are saying that demerging the LNP should be the way to go."

Mr Evans said he believed having separate Liberal and National parties in a coalition would be able to keep some dissatisfied conservative voters onside.

But for some long-time LNP MPs, Mr Evans's plan did not fix the reasons people were turning to One Nation.

Retiring Lockyer MP Ian Rickuss said voters were turning to One Nation because they no longer knew what major parties believed.

"Love Pauline or hate her, you know what she stands for," he said.

"I think neither of the major centrist parties are actually standing for what their voters want any more. The Labor Party does not stand for labour like it used to.

"The LNP needs to stand for small businesses and farmers.

"You look at the parties across the world doing well - Donald Trump in America is ratbag right, but he isn't pretending to be anything else. Jeremy Corbyn in the UK wants to renationalise almost everything and he nearly won the election.

"People look at One Nation and they know what they are getting. That's not the case with the major parties any more and I think that is why people are turning off them."

 

Lockyer MP Ian Rickuss.
Lockyer MP Ian Rickuss. Ali Kuchel

BIRTH IN POLITICS

As a young man Mr Evans had no interest in politics. He grew up in Mackay before becoming a school teacher and moving to Roma.

There he played rugby league for Roma Cities alongside Arthur Beetson . The extent of his political knowledge was that he did not like the Labor Party after a personal run in with "union thugs" at a meeting.

But he became a Young Country Party member after drawing inspiration from speeches explaining that the party should work to represent all of Australia and help develop not just agriculture, but industry throughout regional areas.

"Joining the Young Country Party changed my life," he said.

"I moved from teaching into politics. I became the state secretary of the Country Party then, after the party voted to change in 1974, the director of the National Party."

Mr Evans remains close with many past and present LNP politicians and avidly watches Queensland politics.

 

One Nation leader Pauline Hanson.
One Nation leader Pauline Hanson. Stuart Cumming

PREDICTING A DOWNFALL

In the late 1990s Pauline Hanson and One Nation were on the rise. But few saw them as anything more than an upstart minor party, like the Democrats or the Greens.

But when Mr Evans travelled to Kingaroy, Bjelke-Petersen Nationals heartland, he was floored.

"Pauline Hanson was in town for the One Nation launch," he said.

"The hall was just packed to the rafters with people. And I looked around the audience and I saw so many National Party members.

"It was unbelievable what was going on. I just knew One Nation was going to win that seat."

It was after that and speaking to voters throughout much of regional Queensland that Mr Evans made his prediction of 10-12 seats falling to One Nation.

Today, he senses a similar discontent in voters.

A recent ReachTel poll showed a 10 per cent swing away from Deputy Opposition Leader Deb Frecklington in Nanango - the seat based out of Kingaroy.

Mr Evans says it and nearby electorates such as Lockyer are likely to feel the full brunt of the One Nation push.

But he does not base his predictions only on the polls.

Mr Evans likes to get an on-the-ground feel for what voters want.

He said in some parts of the state he sensed the same discontent he did in Kingaroy before the 1998 election. - NewsRegional

Topics:  ian rickuss lnp mike evans national party one nation pauline hanson qldelection2017 queensland politics

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