Mark Latham to push for nuclear plants and ‘parental rights’ if made NSW kingmaker

Exclusive: Labor and Greens concerned One Nation could gain at least one additional seat in 25 March election

Mark Latham will seek to overturn a longstanding ban on nuclear power technologies, strengthen “parental rights” and protect Christians from vilification if One Nation picks up enough seats to make him a kingmaker after the New South Wales election.

The former federal Labor leader is attempting to grow his party’s upper house presence from two to four at the 25 March poll, capitalising on voter disillusionment and a loophole that has allowed him to resign and re-run at the top of the ticket.

Pollsters and the major parties believe One Nation is in with a shot of picking up at least one extra seat – after securing two in 2019 – which means whoever forms government could have to work with, or around, One Nation to govern.

Labor has preferenced the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers party in key marginal seats in the hopes of stopping One Nation from gaining more power, while the Greens remain nervous they could miss out on a seat to the party.

Latham told Guardian Australia his top priority was building on conversations around the Aukus agreement to build nuclear-powered subs by getting around the decades-old federal nuclear power ban, enabling uranium mining and the building of reactors across the state.

“I don’t advocate getting rid of the coal-fired power stations, but as the government’s doing it, it’s much much better to have small modular nuclear reactors replacing them,” he said. “The breakthrough on nuclear means it’s more urgent than ever.”

Latham also said he wants parents to be given more rights over what their children are taught in schools, which he claimed were full of “semi-illiterate” students.

“Parents are being treated as second-class citizens in the education system,” Latham said.

“We would ban gender fluidity teaching in NSW schools … [as] the system seems to be obsessed with questions of gender, which has got nothing to do with education. It’s a matter for parents and families.”

His third priority was increasing protection for religious groups to deal with the “rise of vilification of Christians, in particular”.

But the NSW treasurer, Matt Kean, accused Latham of being on a “unity ticket with the ‘teal’ candidates on their shared mission to remove conservative MPs to facilitate a Labor government” – a claim the One Nation leader and the opposition deny.

“He pretends he’s a conservative,” Kean told Guardian Australia.

Kean also dismissed Latham’s plan to see nuclear energy generation permitted in NSW.

“I hope Mark understands that although he has an oversized voice for the number of votes his party attracts, his rantings in NSW parliament can’t be heard in Canberra, where there is actual jurisdiction to amend a commonwealth ban on nuclear power,” he said.

Labor has denied doing deals with any crossbenchers, including Latham.

“There’s a real possibility that Mark Latham and One Nation could be the kingmaker of NSW politics – on everything from climate change, renewables, education and anti-discrimination,” said an opposition spokesperson, Penny Sharpe.

A pollster, Simon Welsh of RedBridge, said the Liberal party risked losing votes at each end of their support spectrum to teals and Labor, as well as more rightwing options.

“That dynamic that was there in the federal election is definitely there again … [and] One Nation is very well-positioned – picking up folks that are angry with the government about vaccines and Covid restrictions,” he said.

“The other thing that they’ve got working for them this time is that it looks like there’s a bit of consolidation of that rightwing minor-party vote. Whether that then translates into a number of seats is a trickier question.”

A Greens spokesperson, Jenny Leong, said she was concerned about seeing far-right parties gaining ground.

“The one way that we ensure that Mark Latham is not the kingmaker … is to get a commitment out of both government and the opposition that they will not work with the likes of One Nation because of the toxic politics they represent,” she said.

“It is quite possible that that last spot in the upper house would be between [Greens candidate] Lynda-June Coe and One Nation.”

The comments came ahead of Coe, a Wiradjuri and Badu Island woman, releasing the Greens’ plan to stop First Nations deaths is custody on Thursday. It will include co-designing and enacting a justice reinvestment plan, creating a new independent police and prison oversight mechanism and raising the age of criminal responsibility to 14, with no one under 16 able to be sentenced to a jail term.

Despite being just four years into his eight-year term, Latham last year announced he would quit parliament at the election, allowing the party to fill his vacated seat under parliamentary rules while he runs at the top of One Nation’s ticket.

At the time Latham defended the run as a chance to “renew” his mandate but analysts believe he was using a loophole to increase the party’s chances of bolstering numbers to four, with one saying it raised ethical – but not any legal – concerns.

The election analyst Ben Raue noted even if One Nation claimed four seats, the makeup of the rest of the chamber would decide the party’s actual power.

“They could potentially have the balance of power but they could also be in a position where they’re just not that relevant,” he said.


Tamsin Rose

The GuardianTramp

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