The imminent deal was quickly criticised by former West Australian premier Colin Barnett, who was burned by his own preference swaps with One Nation at the 2017 state election. Mr Barnett said any deal with Mr Palmer carried a big risk of a backlash in inner-city seats and he hoped «wise heads will prevail».
Mr Palmer’s political comeback is an especially sensitive issue in Townsville, the site of his Queensland Nickel refinery which collapsed in 2016 leaving hundreds of employees out of work and owed millions in entitlements.
Mr Jones is a long-standing enemy of Mr Palmer and told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age that such a preference deal would not have happened under his watch.
«It’s probably a very lucky thing I’m not the candidate, because there’s no way in the world that it would be done if I were the candidate. He would be below One Nation on my how-to-vote [card] — for obvious reasons,» Mr Jones said.
«It shocks and disgusts me that people would even countenance voting for his party [but] he’s the only one talking. In the absence of everyone else, [voters] are going to listen to him.»
There are also concerns about links between One Nation and Mr Palmer’s party. Labor has compiled a list of 13 UAP candidates it says previously ran with Pauline Hanson’s party. Senator Burston was first elected on the One Nation ticket before defecting to the UAP.
Mr Jones won the seat of Herbert in 2010 and held it again in 2013, but lost by 37 votes to Labor’s Cathy O’Toole in 2016. He was beaten by former army serviceman Phillip Thompson in a brutal and personal preselection showdown last year.
He said he understood the «pragmatic» reasons to deal with Mr Palmer. A recent Newspoll put the UAP’s primary vote in the seat of Herbert at 14 per cent, although individual seat polls can be unreliable. That would make preferences a decider in any close contest.
But Mr Jones said the Coalition should not trust Mr Palmer to act in good faith. «He gets all this money from the ETU [Electrical Trades Union], he preferences Labor. He’ll do a deal here and then tell people he wants two preference things … he only ever hands out the ones for Labor.»
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said there had been no «formal» negotiations between Labor and Mr Palmer about preferences, but said there were «plenty of conversations» about such issues during election campaigns.
He accused Mr Morrison of making a «dreadful error of judgment» and that any deal Labor did with Mr Palmer would have required the businessman to compensate the former workers from the collapsed refinery.
Mr Thompson, the Liberal National candidate in Herbert, said he wanted voters to give him their first preference and he did not advocate a vote for any other parties. Mr Morrison said the Coalition was not «supporting» Mr Palmer and he wanted voters to back Mr Thomspon.
Mr Morrison said there had been «no discussion with minor parties on policy» but confirmed there had been talks on preferences, with arrangements to be formally announced next week.
Michael Koziol is a political correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.