A Barnaby Joyce interview and efforts to secure Clive Palmer’s preferences offered bi-partisan distractions as the campaigns continued their charm offensive in marginal battlegrounds.
The Opposition Leader kept his campaign in the north, walking a political tightrope over the Adani coal mine in an effort to pick off National Party seats in central Queensland.
The Prime Minister, meanwhile, took his sandbagging efforts inland to a seat where support for Peter Dutton could prove politically toxic to his charger.
But day 12 of the federal election campaign might just be remembered for the candidates who found themselves running away (literally in some cases).
Joyce fuels a fire the PM wants extinguished
The ghost of Barnaby Joyce’s ministerial career continues to haunt a Coalition desperate to turn the attention to Labor’s tax plans.
The Prime Minister had spent days attempting to extinguish a story about Mr Joyce’s involvement in an $80-million taxpayer-funded water buyback from a company based in the Cayman Islands, a notorious tax haven, in 2017.
But a fiery interview on RN on Monday evening ensured the complicated water deal would attract headlines for another day.
Both the PM and Mr Joyce insist the former deputy prime minister hasn’t done anything wrong.
“I have absolutely nothing to hide. I know that this is an absolute load of horse poo,” Mr Joyce said.
But that hasn’t stopped the current Water Minister, David Littleproud, from calling in the auditors.
He wants the Auditor-General to review all Government-funded water buybacks since 2008.
Mr Littleproud insists it is to ensure the community has confidence in the embattled Murray-Darling Basin Plan, and not an attempt to taint Labor with similar accusations from its time in power.
The ALP has flirted with calling a royal commission into buybacks but has fallen short of guaranteeing it, something the Greens and Centre Alliance are demanding.
Palmer preferences up for grabs
Speaking of flirting, both sides of politics are trying their best to catch the eye of a certain controversial billionaire businessman — they just don’t want to be seen to be doing so.
The latest Newspoll showed Clive Palmer’s United Australia Party had a primary vote between 5 and 14 per cent in four marginal seats in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and Western Australia.
Single-seat polling can be unreliable, but both major parties are aware Mr Palmer has spent millions of dollars on expensive campaign advertising in his political comeback.
Preference flows from the United Australia Party could be crucial in marginal seats.
Labor’s campaign spokesman, Jim Chalmers, speaking in the morning, confirmed discussions would be held after nominations closed at noon today.
Although the Queensland MP was at pains to say he wouldn’t be involved in those talks.
Mr Morrison was repeatedly asked if he would rule out doing a preference deal with Mr Palmer, like he has with One Nation.
He refused to rule it out, insisting preferences were a matter for state branches.
The Commonwealth is continuing to pursue Mr Palmer and his companies after the collapse of his Queensland Nickel Refinery in the state’s north.
The seats shaping the election
Adani haunting Queensland candidates
Mr Shorten took his campaign to Coalition-held seats in Queensland.
In doing so he had to take head-on the Adani coal mine, having long been criticised for telling central Queensland a different message to what he offers southern states.
His Labor candidates in seats the party is targeting — Dawson, Flynn and Capricornia — have been under pressure from unions and the Coalition to pledge their support for the project.
That was an easy call for unionist Zac Beers, who’s trying to depose Ken O’Dowd, who holds Flynn by 1 per cent.
“If it stacks up environmentally, it should go ahead,” he vowed.
But Labor’s candidate for Dawson, Belinda Hassan, who is tasked with toppling the LNP’s George Christensen, struggled to offer the same assurances.
She had suggested environmental approval for Adani could be reviewed if Labor wins the election — something she didn’t appear willing to repeat while standing next to Mr Shorten today.
Journalist: Could you explain what you meant by that comment please?
Hassan: Not at the moment. Sorry no.
Mr Shorten has since left Queensland but it’s an issue set to continue to feature during the remainder of the campaign.