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What does Pauline Hanson have to say?
Did anyone on Webdiary think that Pauline Hanson's decision to run in Queensland wouldn't draw our founder Margo Kingston out of the woodwork? This piece appeared on ABC Unleashed today:
What does Pauline Hanson have to say?
I wonder, could someone commission a writer to follow Pauline Hanson for the duration of the Queensland election campaign and document what happens this time? Or has she lined up a film crew up to do a doco with a view to TV sale?
I took that journey for the Sydney Morning Herald the last time she stood for a lower house seat in an Australian Parliament more than ten years ago, for the 1998 federal election. Back then, ex-Liberal Party political carpetbagger David Oldfield was her campaign manager, and she said the media was agin her. This time, celebrity agent Max Markson is helping her and the media is her friend. Is she a story now, or an entertainment event?
Pauline Hanson was at the height of her political power then, with a party machine, albeit a crazy amateur one, to organise her tour, and most Australians had violently opposed views on her place in Australian politics. For some she asked the right questions; for others, the questions should never have been asked. And for some, who at the time tended to keep quiet about their views, she was a much needed flame bomb in the cosy certainties of the club which dictated public debate. "The little red head from Ipswich", as Oldfield called her, became the voice of traditional Australians who felt displaced by the new Australia.
By accident, she became the person through which a divided Australia debated our identity, and the ramifications of that debate are still being worked through. Who'd have thought, when she was decried during the 1998 campaign for saying the days of Aboriginal people working for provisions on pastoral leases was a lot happier time for them, that a few years later Noel Pearson would say the same thing, let alone that paternalism would be re-instituted with bipartisan support through the intervention?
Most of Hanson's questions and opinions came from listening to battlers on the street and in the pubs. Although many of her facts were wrong, she channelled what came to be seen, after her time in politics, as genuine concerns, if ineptly put.
The main achievement of those who voted for her in big numbers in the shorter term was recognition by the elite that they'd better put resources and services into rural areas rather than let them rot. There was also, of course, the radical change of refugee policy by John Howard in 2001 to turn the boats back as she had demanded at every public meeting I saw her address. John Howard did that when One Nation was on the rise again after the 2001 Western Australian election, and he did it, I believe, to crush the One Nation vote and deliver those voters back to him. Which is what happened.
The Pauline Hanson phenomenon was triggered, in my opinion, by the terrible mistakes of the Labor Government in implementing competition policy with no plan for transition for the many rural communities it would decimate, and by the expulsion of robust debate on social issues, with the connivance of the media, including me. The idea was that if politically incorrect views were not aired they would disappear. The opposite was true, and the excluded exploded in 1996 when her remarks about Aboriginal welfare saw her expulsion from the Liberal Party and an incredible 20 per cent swing against Labor in what had been one of their safest Queensland seats.
An antagonistic elite media inflamed her appeal, the mad, bad right encircled her while the left pretended she didn't exist, and Pauline Hanson's One Nation was born.
I re-run this history to show how much Australia has changed since she emerged, partly in response to her political challenge, and to compare the Pauline Hanson of today with the woman back then, when she mattered politically.
On election night 1998, her minders ordered the media out before she gave her concession speech. I firmly believed that her time as a political force was over, and that she would become a celebrity, someone many Australians would like word of, now and then. Her life journey was extraordinary, her charm was undeniable, and her guts an example to many.
Still, back then she was hated by 'the mainstream' still, and would have been only a minor celebrity had it not been for her jailing in 2003. That event brought the great majority of Australians onside. The grotesque treatment of her for alleged technical political shortcomings in comparison with the hands off attitude to the major parties made it blindingly obvious that their animosity towards her was nothing more than an anti-competitive desire to keep a new political force off their stage. The public outcry pressured the legal and political establishment to get her out of jail. And they did.
Thus Pauline Hanson became a major celebrity it was cool to like and enjoy. I saw Mike Munroe compere a sickly sweet This is your Life with hardly a mention of her political troubles. The public lapped up her bad dancing to nearly vote her winner of Dancing with the Stars, she did a successful club tour with one of its judges, and more recently a celebrity singing TV show.
Amid all that, she's stood for election three times, for the 2003 NSW Upper House election and the Senate in 2004 and 2007. Each times she's attracted enormous media attention on radio talk shows and TV in particular, giving her un-buyable publicity. With all that though, the ratings winner managed a little over 4 per cent of the Queensland Senate vote in 2007, a long way short of seriously challenging for a seat.
She's said nothing relevant on public affair for years. She's standing as herself for herself. Why? Pretty simple, I reckon. She's addicted to the publicity. She needs it now, to feel alive. And yet again, with this latest tilt, she's got it, in spades. She's entertaining, and she still must rate otherwise the TVs and radios would not be all over her still.
But she's not one of the people any more. And politics is a very serious business right now. The fate of many lives is up for grabs as world economic and environmental forces merge to seriously challenge everyone's way of living. Pauline hasn't got anything to say, and people know that. Max Markson is representing her for TV, book and film deals, not to run an election campaign.