«I would certainly put One Nation above Labor and the Greens because, let’s face it, we have been able to work constructively in the Senate with One Nation.»
Recent events — including the Christchurch terror attack allegedly at the hands of a white supremacist Australian gunman — have caused some Coalition MPs to reconsider how the government treats One Nation, particularly when it comes to election preferences.
The party has been further tarnished by Al Jazeera’s revelations that its operatives, James Ashby and Steve Dickson, met representatives from the National Rifle Association, boasted about their capacity to water down Australia’s gun laws and discussed soliciting millions of dollars in political donations.
Senator Hanson also appeared to argue the 1996 Port Arthur massacre could have been a government conspiracy, saying she had «a lot of questions» about the atrocity.
That revelation prompted Mr Morrison to draw a line in the sand and order the Liberal Party to preference Labor ahead of One Nation at the upcoming election, although it may still direct preferences to One Nation ahead of the Greens.
A spokesman for Mr Abbott told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age the former prime minister stood by his remarks from March 2018 and believed the Coalition should still give preferences to One Nation.
«Mr Abbott stands by his remarks, but given One Nation doesn’t have a candidate in Warringah the question has no relevance to his re-election,» the spokesman said. «Preference deals are a matter for party officials.»
Mr Abbott was unswayed by Mr Morrison’s change of heart or the revelation Senator Hanson questioned the legitimacy of the Port Arthur massacre.
On Wednesday, Mr Abbott said One Nation’s fraternisation with the gun lobby was «a very, very foolish thing for them to do» and «a colossal error of judgment».
«The last thing we want is to import America’s gun culture into this country and the last thing any political party should do is solicit donations from an unsavoury foreign lobby group,» he told 2GB radio.
«I have some respect for Pauline Hanson but I think she’s got this one absolutely wrong.»
Mr Abbott also said he was giving up his regular appearances on 2GB radio until the election because he needed to dedicate his time and focus to winning his seat of Warringah, where he faces a tough battle with independent candidate and former Olympic skier Zali Steggall.
He used his final scheduled 2GB radio slot on Wednesday to argue Prime Minister Scott Morrison could pull off a victory in May, praising him as a hard worker and campaigner.
«There are no merchant banker hours with Scott Morrison,» Mr Abbott said, an apparent reference to former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull’s campaign efforts in 2016.
Mr Abbott was among a number of high-profile guests at the Sydney Institute’s annual dinner at The Star on Wednesday night, where another former Liberal prime minister, John Howard, delivered the keynote address.
Michael Koziol is a political correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.