«The fact is [Pauline Hanson] acknowledges that our policies are more closely aligned with the interests and wants of her voters than the Greens or Labor,» he told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age in Mackay on Monday.
«She, like us, is concerned that the Greens want to close down mining by 2030. She, like us, is concerned about Labor’s land lockout laws under the guise of native vegetation laws. She, like us, is concerned about regional Queensland. So it just makes sense that she has put us above other candidates.»
Mr McCormack said the same applied in reverse – that One Nation’s policies aligned more closely with the desires of Coalition voters – which was why his party was giving preferences to One Nation above Labor in key Queensland seats.
He acknowledged some statements by One Nation people «in the past, indeed in the recent past», were unpalatable.
«But at the end of the day, we’re in an election,» Mr McCormack said. «You can’t be altruistic and then after May 18 just be shouting from the sidelines and be in opposition and wishing you had done something else. We want to win.”
While Coalition preferences in the lower house hardly ever come into play, minor parties’ support for the Coalition over Labor is likely to be crucial in close contests such as Capricornia, Flynn, Dickson and Petrie in Queensland — where minor parties will net a strong primary vote but won’t be contenders to win the seat.
The Liberal Party has already committed to putting One Nation below Labor. Voters ultimately direct their own preferences, but many follow the advice of how-to-vote cards.
A stoush over the preferences of Clive Palmer’s United Australia Party escalated on Monday, with Labor senator Anthony Chisholm denying he sought a deal with Mr Palmer on behalf of the party before relations soured.
Labor has lashed the Coalition’s preference deal with Mr Palmer and criticised the billionaire’s failure to pay out entitlements to workers laid off from his Queensland Nickel refinery after its collapse in 2016.
Mr Palmer has accused Labor of lying about negotiations and labelled Opposition Leader Bill Shorten «morally unfit» to be prime minister.
The rich-lister outlined a series of discussions with Senator Chisholm allegedly about preferences. He said the senator had approached him as a «fully authorised» negotiator for Labor.
Senator Chisholm said Mr Palmer was «chaotic and dishonest» and insisted he was merely doing «due diligence» for the election.
«At no stage did I negotiate or offer Mr Palmer anything in regard to preferences. I was not authorised to offer anything and I didn’t,» he said.
Amid ongoing criticism over the collapse of his nickel refinery, Clive Palmer said $7 million had been transferred to an independent trust and would shortly be available for workers owed entitlements.
In NSW, where the Nationals are fighting independent Rob Oakeshott to retain the seat of Cowper, the campaign has been partially overshadowed by Mr Joyce’s involvement in the water buyback scandal.
Mr Joyce defended himself in a lengthy and sensational interview to the ABC’s Patricia Karvelas that was pilloried by satirists and criticised by some Nationals figures.
Asked if he needed to rein in Mr Joyce, Mr McCormack said: «Barnaby’s gonna concentrate on winning New England — that’s what I want him to, that’s what he wants himself to do, that’s what he needs to do … I am sure Barnaby is going to be sticking to that.»
Responding to criticism of his own performance as Nationals leader — including a YouGov poll that showed most voters had not seen him in this campaign – Mr McCormack said he did not worry about popularity contests.
«For those people who actually have seen me out and about, I had the least number who were unimpressed by what they saw. So I’ll take that as a tick,» he said.
«I’m not somebody who’s always going to shout from the rooftops about what I’ve achieved or what I’ve done. The fact is I’ve been talking about the things that matter to people – that’s jobs, that’s infrastructure, that’s a better future for the regions.»
Mr McCormack would not discuss whether he would throw open the Nationals leadership if the Coalition loses the May 18 election. But he committed to serving a full term as the member for Riverina if re-elected.
Michael Koziol is a political correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.
Fergus Hunter is an education and communications reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.