09 June 2016
by Phillip Coorey

Xenophon a pest, says Howard

Rebekah Sharkie - NXT candidate for Mayo (SA)

Former Liberal prime minister John Howard has dismissed the prospect of a hung Parliament and believes Malcolm Turnbull will be re-elected with a "clean-cut" margin because there was no mood to throw out the government.

Campaigning in the Adelaide Hills Liberal-held seat of Mayo, which is under threat from the Nick Xenophon Team's Rebekah Sharkie, Mr Howard, who has been pinch hitting for the Coalition in threatened seats in NSW and Queensland, said he had not picked up any of the voter hostility that typically precedes a change of government.<
"I don't find any thirst in the community to return to the chaos of the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd years," Mr Howard said. "People want a clean-cut result."

Mr Howard, who lost two elections (1987 and 2007) and won four (1996, 1998, 2001 and 2004), singled out as an example his hard-fought victory over Mark Latham in 2004, saying the voters had "itchy feet" and "some people were angry" but "I managed to hang on".

Senior Coalition sources said Mr Howard's confidence in a Turnbull victory was warranted because the internal polling continued to show the Coalition was holding up in enough crucial marginal seats to deny Labor the number it needs for victory.

Still, Mr Howard said no seat should be taken for granted and used his trip to Adelaide to warn against voting for the popular Senator Xenophon and his team, even likening his stance on free-trade deals to that of Pauline Hanson.

The Nick Xenophon Team candidate Rebekah Sharkie is threatening the Adelaide Hills Liberal seat of Mayo, and the newly-formed party is forecast by some to win three South Australian Senate spots on July 2. "His anti-poker machine stance caught the popular mood. But he's gone far beyond that now. He's representing himself as having an attitude about everything," Mr Howard said.

"When you're in that position, you've really got to declare yourself and you can't have it both ways. You can't have the purity of abstinent independence but have a view on everything."

Senator Xenophon has been critical of the China-Australia FTA and elements of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, saying they were poorly negotiated, had compromised local jobs and exacerbated the trade deficit.

Senator Xenophon thanked Mr Howard for the publicity and said his comments were a sign the Liberals were panicking.

"At a personal level, I've always liked John Howard, and I'm very grateful that he's given the Nick Xenophon Team so much oxygen in SA with his attack," he said.

Trade boffin Alan Oxley attacks Senator Xenophon's free-trade stance as selfish.

"Senator Xenophon is campaigning for protectionism. His narrow interest is votes to preserve his job as a politician, although he would say it is to protect the jobs of steelworkers at Whyalla and auto manufacturers in Adelaide," he writes.

"It is a selfish case. To save these jobs, Senator Xenophon wants the rest of the community to pay. He says Arrium steel – which is more expensive than imported steel – should be used in new government and military projects. This is paid for by raising taxes on the rest of the community of diverting money from more productive projects."