In an election campaign that is as squalid as it is dispiriting, the Liberal Party's decision to give its preferences to Clive Palmer's United Australia Party plumbs the depths.
Liberal operatives tell you that "Clive is not as bad as Pauline and certainly better than the Greens", as if this alone justifies getting into bed with an individual who is being pursued by the Commonwealth on various fronts.
Comparing Clive Palmer favourably with Pauline Hanson, and unfavourably with the Greens, whatever that means, as justification for a preference arrangement tells you more than you need to know about the extent to which the country's political culture has been debased.
Liberal spokesman Simon Birmingham says this arrangement is "sub-optimal". That's one way of putting it.
History tells us that political parties entering into preference arrangements with wildcard players do so at their own peril. Perhaps the best illustration of this is the Queensland state election of 1998 when the National and Liberal parties preferenced Pauline Hanson.
One Nation garnered 23 per cent of the primary vote, won 11 seats in the unicameral Queensland parliament, split the conservative vote and enabled Peter Beattie to form a government.
Two decades later Hanson remains a factor in Australian politics despite her party's self-destructive tendencies. Back in 1996, John Howard referred to her "novelty value".
Speaking of "novelty value", Nationals leader Michael McCormack justified his party's decision to share preferences with One Nation in Queensland using words that required a second look to confirm he was accurately quoted.
The Nationals, he said, need to do "what it takes to get votes and to win an election". At least McCormack didn't say "whatever it takes".
The Nationals leader also observed his party was more aligned with One Nation than with Labor or the Greens. I guess that's true, but this is a party whose candidate for Leichardt believes it's OK to joke about using Aborigines as crocodile bait.
It's worth recalling in the context of One Nation preferences that back in 1998 then treasurer and deputy Liberal leader Peter Costello announced unilaterally, and at odds with Howard, he was putting Hanson's party last on his Higgins electorate how-to-vote card.
Costello would not abide Hanson's racially tinged views.
This returns us to the vexed Clive Palmer issue that has echoes in Coalition dalliances with minor parties over the years, reaching back to its mutually beneficial preference deals with the anti-communist Democratic Labor Party.
In Palmer's case the Liberal Party is preferencing a pop-up political party that has no policies beyond a flimsy four-paragraph statement whose core message is the summed up by the following: "Creating mineral wealth to continuously contribute to the welfare of the Australian community."
This is not a party, this is an ego trip with a possible purpose. Palmer's own mineral wealth would not be hampered by the re-election of a Coalition committed to developing a coal province in Queensland's Galilee Basin, where he has extensive leases adjacent to the proposed Adani mine.
In view of that, the Liberal Party needs to ask itself this question: What follows a one-night stand with Palmer for electoral survival purposes if indeed the Coalition scrapes back into power?
What IOUs will be owed to a man who is being pursued by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission for alleged breaches of the Corporations Act over his treatment of stakeholders at his Coolum Resort in Queensland?
Then there is the Commonwealth-funded case in the Federal Court to retrieve more than $200 million from corporate entities associated with Palmer and $70 million from Palmer himself over relief payments under a federal scheme to 759 employees retrenched at his Queensland Nickel when it went into liquidation in April 2016.
In other words, a Coalition government is funding a lawsuit against Palmer at the same time as it is horse-trading preferences. This must be a first in Australian politics.
Finally, legitimate doubts should be held about the qualifications of candidates the UAP is standing in 151 electorates across the country. Some of these individuals left blank responses to questions about eligibility under section 44 of the constitution that rules out candidates with dual, or uncertain, citizenship.
Consider the consequences of a compromised knife-edge election in which UAP preferences push Coalition candidates across the line. What beckons is a lawyer's picnic as cases wend their way to the High Court sitting as the Court of Disputed Returns.
In all of this, it's hard to disagree with former West Australian Liberal premier Colin Barnett, whose own recent experience with preference deals with One Nation accentuated a devastating loss in 2017.
Barnett, who has been at loggerheads with Palmer over investments in WA iron tenements in which a bitter dispute with Chinese investors has cast a shadow over China's investment in the mining-rich state, warns of a "backlash" in Liberal-leaning metropolitan seats.
In Kooyong, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg is preferencing the Palmer candidate No.2 on his how-to-vote card in line with a national deal. What Robert Menzies, former longstanding member for Kooyong, would make of this is anyone's guess, but it's unlikely he would be impressed.