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David Johnston: election could be won by either One Nation or Labor -

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MARK COLVIN: Yesterday on this program, former opposition leader Kim Beazley said he believed Colin Barnett's days were numbered.

David Johnston is a former Liberal senator from Western Australia and former defence minister in the Abbott government.

I asked him if Kim Beazley was right to call this an 'It's Time' election: one which would throw out the long-serving incumbents.

DAVID JOHNSTON: Well, Kim's usually very, very correct in his assessment. As a former US ambassador, I had a lot to do with him as defence minister. He's very astute. And I think he's actually on the money.

MARK COLVIN: So you're writing off Colin Barnett, are you, even though it's a big hurdle to jump?

DAVID JOHNSTON: Well... Look, he needs to retain or control the swing to the Opposition to 10 seats or less. When it's time, it's very hard to hold back the tide. And a third term in Australian politics is extremely difficult.

I really think that he has, and the polls are, I think, suggesting (if you can rely on them, and our recent history is that they can be unreliable) is suggesting that the Labor Party will fall over the line.

But you know, the One Nation preference deal is a very big question mark in this and that remains to be seen how that plays out.

MARK COLVIN: So tell me what you think about the One Nation preference deal?

DAVID JOHNSTON: Well, I agree with Peter Costello. I think One Nation have virtually established themselves in recent history of our engagement, particularly with Islamic fundamental terrorism, established themselves as very mainstream.

And I think major political parties ignoring what mainstream sentiments are do so at their risk. The trite, elite political speak that comes out of Canberra: they've had enough of that. They want action.

And in Western Australia we're very, very upset with the GST situation. And I think you're going to see a lot of protest votes.

If they can't vote for the Labor Party, I think a lot of people are going to vote for One Nation.

MARK COLVIN: If they can't vote for the Labor Party. You think that One Nation will steal votes from that side?

DAVID JOHNSTON: Well, Western Australia is very anti-tax, very low-tax regime by and large. We have a lot of conservative seats.

And, you know, many people can't bring themselves to vote for the Labor Party and I think that they'll end up voting for One Nation if they can't come back to the Government.

MARK COLVIN: Kim Beazley last night was saying, in our region, with an enormous, largely Muslim country directly to our north, we just simply can't afford the kind of anti-Muslim rhetoric that Pauline Hanson peddles?

DAVID JOHNSTON: Well, I just don't agree, I don't agree with him on that score. I think that we are spending so much money in managing our domestic Islamic population in terms of terrorism and fundamentalism that we need to just wake up to what is going on here.

And we are pouring literally billions of dollars into keeping Australians safe because of Islamic fundamentalism, which is a very, very serious threat to ordinary Australians.

MARK COLVIN: Graham Richardson wrote a column yesterday or the day before, saying that he thought that there was a real possibility that One Nation might have done its dash: that people might be really overestimating One Nation, particularly because of the most recent poll that showed they're polling down a bit?

DAVID JOHNSTON: Well, that could be right. I mean, honestly, it is very, very difficult. With the huge plethora of minority parties standing, it is a very difficult forecast for anybody, even with considerable experience, to see which way the cards are going to fall.

But I just suspect that, you know, rather like the Donald Trump event and Brexit, there could be a very large One Nation vote tomorrow.

MARK COLVIN: If the problem is, as you say, one between ordinary people, ordinary voters and the elite - this idea that the media, politicians, big business and so forth are screwing people over , if that is indeed the problem, it's presumably a problem for all major-party politicians. Have you got any ideas as to how to address that?

DAVID JOHNSTON: Well, I think you're absolutely right and I think one of the things that Australian politicians need to learn to do is to come up with some straight talk.

You know, when you go into a supermarket and you purchase a product, the label is there for you to see what you're buying. In Australian politics, you buy something, you vote for somebody, and they turn out to be completely different to what they say they'd do and what you thought you were getting in the ballot box. I think that's a problem.

MARK COLVIN: But if you're Malcolm Turnbull and you've only got a majority of one, say, then you have to make accommodations with all strands of your party. It's part of the system. It's part of the democratic system, isn't it? How do you get around it?

DAVID JOHNSTON: You have to argue your case in a very clear, concise and digestible fashion. And that, I think, is what the Commonwealth Government is coming to terms with right now.

MARK COLVIN: So we're back at that line that people used to talk about, probably still do, about how politicians need a 'narrative': they need to create a narrative and then they need to tell the story?

DAVID JOHNSTON: Exactly. But it needs to be a digestible narrative, not some airy-fairy, you know, political speak. It has to be straight-shooting. And politicians need to do what they say they would do.

MARK COLVIN: David Johnston, former West Australian Liberal senator and Abbott government minister, speaking to me from Perth earlier on.