Neutralising Pauline Hanson

Populist Donald Trump is not a natural protector of democracy, freedom, equality or justice yet we now find ourselves in the Trump age.  The seemingly innocuous Hanson sees herself as Australia’s Trumpette,  captured popping the champagne corks in celebration of his election victory and at the same time, ironically, expressing her disgust with the “chardonnay set”.

Like Trump, she looks and sounds like many voters:  she is perceived as anti-establishment and self-made, she offers simplistic solutions to complex problems, and she appeals, in particular, to white Christian conservative voters.  Because of misguided self-interest, neither side of the political divide is capable of neutralising her effect.

Former Prime Minister John Howard dedicates an entire chapter of his book ‘Lazarus rising’ to Pauline Hanson. He confirmed that:

‘Hanson appealed very strongly to many traditional National Party supporters.  Thus she became an electoral gift to the Labor Party.  Shrewd heads in the Labor Party knew that most of her support would be from amongst those who voted for the Coalition at the 1996 election.  There may have been a few Hanson supporters in places such as the Hunter Valley of NSW..of a normally Labor hue, but by and large she attracted support of people who had voted for the Coalition in droves just 6 months earlier.’

He added, ‘A more vigorous response from me would have intensified the frustrations felt by those Australians to whom she gave a voice and gratuitously alienated them from me and for what purpose, other than the political benefit of the ALP?’

Here we have the political class using Hanson as part of the strategic landscape with one side believing she will draw votes away from the other and the other side believing that to scrutinise her views  will result in the loss of its base. In the meantime Hansen and One Nation take advantage of this “softly softly” approach to dance to prominence in the huge middle ground of the silent majority. Untouchable.

It is a reminder of the miscalculation of the Clinton campaign ‘Pied piper strategy’, which  intentionally cultivated extreme right wing presidential candidates hoping to turn them into the new “mainstream of the Republican Party” in order to try and increase Clinton’s chances of winning.  Here we have already seen Labor accusing the Turnbull government of appeasing Pauline Hanson.

And just has the American corporate media rode high on Trump’s ratings and the money that flowed from his ‘shock-value’, Hanson’s attractive ratings are not lost on the media-establishment here. As an elected representative Hanson’s air-time will increase along with her likeability and familiarity. With regional newspapers being disembowelled city centric news outlets are incapable of capturing the mood of voters in Australia’s ‘rustbelt’ areas.

Howard felt that Hanson’s broad appeal was not racist but ‘Rather, she echoes concerns about the pace of change and the pressures that parts of our community are under.  These concerns, as distinct from her responses, deserve the most sensitive understanding, and the Government is committed to giving them a serious and effective response.  She also echoes long-smouldering resentments about attitudes which have been imposed upon the majority of the Australian community without the majority feeling it has even had an opportunity of debating those issues.’

Make no mistake, Hanson’s appeal is racist. She has managed to cast blame on the changing face of our local demographic for the economic distress people suffer in this electorate rather than on the failure of policy makers to deliver long term solutions in relation to matters such as youth unemployment.

Hold your nose and trawl through One Nation’s website and you’ll see asylum seekers-fleeing persecution-described in this way: ‘What we have here is someone coming into your home telling you they like your house better than theirs and they are going to live with you. You have to feed, clothe, care, and educate them while looking after their needs. Your children now have to share a room and you have to make the dollars stretch further to provide for them. They don’t have to work you are providing for them. If you don’t give them what they want they will complain and you will be forced to answer why you are so inhumane not to have them live in your home, that you worked hard for.’

According to Hanson multiculturalism has failed everywhere. ‘It is negative and divisive, a weight that is drowning our once safe and cohesive society. One Nation will abolish multiculturalism and the Racial Discrimination Act and promote assimilation, nationalism, loyalty and pride in being an Australian.’ Yet reality lends the lie to such assertions.  For example, the best performing high school in New South Wales is James Ruse Agricultural High School. It may be a selective school but most of the students are from migrant backgrounds with 95.2% of students listing a language background other than English on their entry application form. Diversity, it seems, also benefits business. A McKinsey & Co report released called ‘Why diversity matters’ revealed that companies with diverse workforces are 35% more likely to outperform their competitors.

And just as Trump believes climate change is a Chinese hoax, Hanson believes ‘climate change has and will continue to be used as a political agenda by politicians and self interest groups or individuals for their own gain. We cannot allow scare mongering by people such as Tim Flannery, who make outlandish statements and are not held accountable. Climate change should not be about making money for a lot of people and giving scientists money. Lets know the facts and scientific evidence to make a well informed decision as to how best to look after our environment.’

If political parties are serious about neutralising the effects of Pauline Hanson’s rhetoric then attempts should be made to study her appeal in places like the Hunter Valley.  Is it not worth examining why 1 in 12 voters in Paterson voted for One Nation in the last election even though the 2011 Census showed that electorate was not directly “under threat” : only 0.2% of Maitland’s population nominated Islam as their religion, 0.1% spoke Arabic and the number of people living in our community who were born in Afghanistan, Iran, Libya, Iraq or Turkey was so small that it was calculated as 0%. Was it because she lived close to that electorate for two years? Was it because unemployment is the highest of any region in New South Wales? Or was it because the profile of the average voter was white, Christian and conservative?

Apart from particular issues that may help explain Pauline Hanson’s appeal in specific locations, she and One Nation benefit from the more widespread nostalgia that reflects the difficulty people have in coping with the pace and extent of change, from the general disillusionment with the major parties’ control of the political system, and from the self-interested paralysis the major political players have in dealing with them.  Trump’s victory signals what Hansen hopes will happen here. Unfortunately if things keep heading in the same direction, she may well be right.

Copyright Kellie Tranter 2016

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