One Nation senator defies Pauline Hanson over company tax cuts | Australia news
One Nation senator Brian Burston has defied the party leader, Pauline Hanson, by vowing to vote for the Coalition’s company tax cut package and accusing her of reversing the party’s policy without consulting him.
Hanson responded on Thursday morning by insisting Burston was consulted, angrily rejecting suggestions One Nation is a “loose alliance” with no policy consistency and refusing to guarantee Burston’s preselection to recontest his seat.
Burston’s revolt, reported by the Australian on Thursday, will not significantly improve the chances of the $35bn second stage of the company tax cut package, which is still four votes short of passing, but highlights division in the minor party ahead of the Longman byelection.
One Nation negotiated a deal with the government to pass the tax cuts for companies earning more than $50m in March but Hanson unexpectedly reversed the party’s position last week.
Burston reportedly said that he did not learn about that decision until it was reported in the Australian, prompting him to remark that he “keeps finding out One Nation policies when I read them” in the paper.
At a doorstop with senator Peter Georgiou, Hanson said that both Georgiou and Burston were consulted and agreed on Monday 21 May before the party’s new position was announced the next day.
Burston cited the Longman byelection, to be held on 28 July, as a likely factor in Hanson’s backdown.
“My understanding is that Pauline Hanson is getting a lot of flak in Queensland for supporting the tax cut, but I’m not getting flak in NSW,” he reportedly said.
“I think Longman may have had something to do with it.”
When Hanson reversed the One Nation position, the finance minister, Mathias Cormann, responded by noting the party had given the government “very firm private and public commitments of support” for the package.
Burston reportedly said he was a “very principled person” who intended to honour the deal, which included a tightening of tax deductions for exploration costs under the petroleum resource rent tax, estimated to be worth $6bn over 10 years.
“I don’t want to cause any angst or division in One Nation, but once I make a handshake with somebody, that’s it,” Burston said. “I stick to my word.”
Burston has become increasingly isolated within One Nation, recently scrubbing his website of references to the party and being dumped as party whip.
Guardian Australia understands that Hanson adviser James Ashby has openly canvassed the possibility of Burston losing party preselection to recontest his Senate seat on One Nation’s New South Wales ticket at the next election.
Hanson rejected the characterisation that Burston had “sold out” the party but noted the preselection had yet to be finalised and sitting senators don’t “automatically” get the right to top spot on the Senate ticket.
Hanson said Burston’s future was up to him but noted he has said “he is not doing a dummy spit or walking away from One Nation”.
In his interview with the Australian, Burston noted he had yet to be given an indication he would be preselected again, but played down the significance of his split with the party on company tax.
“I believe that when I went to One Nation, it was always on the understanding that we had the ability to vote against the other One Nation colleagues,” he reportedly said.
“We haven’t built a solid tax policy, therefore I’m not voting against any One Nation policy.”
After Burston’s revolt, the government still needs four more Senate votes to pass the company tax cut package, with Hanson’s remaining two votes, Derryn Hinch, Tim Storer and the Centre Alliance opposed.
Centre Alliance’s Stirling Griff and Rex Patrick have signalled that increasing revenues elsewhere could help win their support and Hinch wants the threshold for the tax cuts to be raised from $50m to $500m so that very large businesses, including the big four banks, would miss out.
On Monday, Cormann revealed the Coalition’s personal income tax cut and the company tax cut package will both go to the Senate unchanged at the end of June.
Labor has called on the government to take the company tax cuts to the next election and noted a softening in its language, which may suggest Senate defeat will pave the way to dump the package.
On Monday, Cormann said the government was “totally committed to the reforms”.
“This was a very important reform for Australia as we went to the last election in 2016 – it is even more important and more urgent now,” he said.