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WA Nationals go populist to tackle Hanson

AAP logoAAP 9/11/2016 Greg Roberts

WA Nationals leader Brendon Grylls told a business breakfast on Wednesday how poorly the state's economy is performing.

It would seem a strange thing for a cabinet member of the government to do less than three months out from an election.

The answer seems to be related to Mr Grylls' fears that his party is in danger of losing votes and seats in the bush to the phenomenon of Pauline Hanson's One Nation.

The timing was appropriate coming on the day that Donald Trump was elected US president, given Hanson's populist resurgence due to support from voters that feel disenfranchised has been likened to the new US leader's rise to power.

So Mr Grylls, who is the housing and racing and gaming minister, talked down the WA economy, how the jobless rate had risen for 21 consecutive months and CommSec economists rated it in last place among the economies of the eight states and territories.

"On my way in on FM radio I heard an ad with a Melbourne building company talking down the WA economy, how there were no jobs and builders from WA should consider coming across to Melbourne, the best city in Australia and bring their family," he told a WA Chamber of Commerce and Industry audience, many hostile to him.

"How was WA reduced to this?"

The message would have irritated his alliance partner, the Liberal Premier Colin Barnett, who is desperately trying to close a gap in the polls with Labor and win a rare third term.

"Anyone who suggests WA has got a struggling economy needs to have a closer look," he said last week, arguing WA's economy was still the nation's strongest based on average incomes and productivity or gross state product per head.

Mr Grylls' message on the economy, his controversial populist policy of a new mining tax, cuts to payroll tax and tough talk about stopping WA's GST shortfall indicate how much he fears One Nation, said Notre Dame University adjunct professor of politics Peter Kennedy.

One Nation received more votes than the Nationals in WA in the recent federal election in a worrying sign for the latter ahead of the state poll next March.

"One Nation thrives on unemployment, low pay and the battlers getting done over again, so they will be in an arm wrestle for votes in the bush," Mr Kennedy said.

"Grylls is going out very hard and on a limb to protect the Nationals' brand, make sure people are aware that the Nationals know they're doing it tough, so they are not overrun by One Nation and the `woe is me' element.

"It could end up in a screaming heap, but they could have gone out meek and mild and slaughtered. Grylls is saying we're going to go out with a fight and get a blood nose."

If neither Labor nor the Liberals get an absolute majority at the election, Mr Grylls could be a kingmaker for a second time and demand a mining tax from Mr Barnett for his support as occurred in 2008 when he secured the Royalties for Regions policy that delivered $6 billion to the bush.

Mr Barnett has already given ground, offering a compromise deal to BHP and Rio Tinto in which they can pay a lump sum for a buyout of their ongoing lease rental payments that would end them.

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