One Nation's Spectacular Implosion

It might mean the end of the modern One Nation, as a political force.

What you need to know
  • Brian Burston and Pauline Hanson have been feuding for days
  • Burston is Hanson's last remaining original senator from the 2016 election
  • If Burston leaves or quits, One Nation lose the balance of power in the Senate
  • It's just the latest disaster for the volatile party

To be honest, there's only one surprising thing about this week's spectacular One Nation implosion -- that it took this long.

Party leader Pauline Hanson launched a tear-filled and withering attack on her longest-serving disciple that will almost certainly end in Brian Burston becoming her fourth senator to bite the dust since the 2016 election.

The notoriously unstable party's bust up was in full view of the voting public.

Here's what happened

Hanson and her NSW senator Burston fell-out over the government's proposed company tax cuts. Hanson first supported the cuts after some horse-trading on an apprenticeship scheme, then woke up one day and decided to rip up that deal and oppose the cuts instead. Burston broke from the party decision and backed the cuts, saying he wouldn't renege on a handshake deal he made.

It led first to a strange Canberra press conference on Thursday where Hanson claimed Burston "sold out", then a dramatic Sky News interview later that night where a tearful Hanson said Burston had "stabbed me in the back".

"I'm going to get good people in that parliament beside me," Hanson said ominously, as speculation mounted she would look to kick Burston out of the party, or at least replace him at the top of the One Nation ticket at the next election.

Earlier on Thursday she had warned being a current senator in the party "doesn't mean to say you have automatic top of the ticket", and thoughts turned to who Hanson might approach instead.

The rumours

Mark Latham -- the former Labor leader and  now star of his own Facebook show-- was in Hanson's sights, News.com.au reported . On Friday, he dodged questions over whether he had been approached by One Nation, claiming he had been contacted by four parties in recent times. Last year he joined the Liberal Democrats.

"I can't give you the details of confidential discussions," he told Sunrise, repeatedly refusing to disclose whether he had been approached by One Nation or would ever run for the party.

"I'm considering all these options... maybe I'll have to [re-enter politics]."

A history of instability

The party was forged by in-fighting following Hanson's own expulsion from the Liberal Party in 1996. Since then, One Nation's fortunes have waxed and waned:

  • Winning 20 percent of the vote and 11 representatives into the Queensland state parliament at the 1998 election, then most of them leaving the party within a year;
  • Heather Hill being elected to the federal Senate the same year, then being disqualified due to dual citizenship;
  • David Oldfield elected to NSW parliament in 1999, then being kicked out and forming his own splinter One Nation party the year after;
  • Hanson mounting multiple "comeback" attempts, including after a prison sentence

Where has everyone gone?

Hanson, Burston, Malcolm Roberts and Rod Culleton entered the parliament in 2016. Almost immediately, questions over Culleton's financial and criminal past surfaced, and he was swiftly removed from the party to sit as an independent before being disqualified by the High Court. In October last year, Roberts  was disqualified on dual citizen grounds.

The farce continued when Roberts' replacement in the Senate, Fraser Anning, was removed from the party by Hanson on what would have been his first day in parliament, and has sat as an independent ever since.

Danger Burston, danger

Burston, one of Hanson's most loyal generals and supporters for 20 years, is the latest One Nation senator in danger.

While Burston would remain in the Senate no matter if he leaves or is kicked out of the party, his departure would lead to two important changes: at the next election, expected within a year, he would almost certainly not be re-elected; while more immediately, it would mean One Nation would lose its role as a crucial linchpin in the Senate, losing its balance of power in the upper house.

Under the current Senate numbers, the government needs nine cross-benchers to support its legislation if Labor and the Greens oppose it. If the One Nation bloc votes against legislation, they can't secure the needed cross-bench votes.

This has made One Nation -- in essence, Hanson herself -- incredibly powerful at times, and has led to the government horse-trading things like a crackdown on the ABC for her support.

After having four senators elected at the 2016 poll, three have already bit the dust and a fourth might be on his way out of One Nation. It might mean the end of the modern One Nation, as a political force, as we know it.