Pauline Hanson is a cultural phenomenon and part of Australia many, especially the ruling class, don’t understand.
Critics see her as right wing – conservative on many fronts certainly – not recognising much of her world view has its roots in the Labor Party’s traditional core.
It’s a popularist, protectionist, anti-immigration view of the world. She comes from a long line of Queenslanders who portray themselves as anti-establishment outsiders – the most recent incarnation being Clive Palmer.
Hanson’s views are not dissimilar to Tasmania’s Jacqui Lambie, a senator re-elected on a platform of raging against the system and the Muslim threat.
In the ’90s, Hanson’s fear was Asian immigrants. Today it’s Muslims. She also opposes multiculturalism, CSG mining, and the foreign ownership of property or national assets.
She regards Islam as a “totalitarian political ideology” and wants cameras in mosques and Muslim schools, the burqa banned and for good measure, a royal commission into the religion. She wants a royal commission into climate change too, as well as banks.
Seeking re-election in 1998, her policies included a 2% flat tax rate, dubbed “Easytax”.
Hanson is a polarising national figure who, after nearly two decades in the wilderness, has been thrown a lifeline by Malcolm Turnbull, ironically, delivering a platform to someone his predecessor, Tony Abbott, spent years plotting to remove the political landscape (more of that later).
Her voice resonates in pubs outside of the capital cities. She’s long been a lightning rod for disaffection and protest, especially against economic circumstance. Hanson is the embodiment of a growing fear of globalisation and the way she thinks and the people she represents are largely shunned by the elites, creating an even stronger backlash.
Hanson is the gap between a prime minister who embraces disruption as something good, and people taught that working hard brings its own rewards, only to find themselves abandoned and on the scrapheap.
A decade before he became prime minister John Howard observed that “the times will suit me”. In a world of Brexit and Donald Trump, Hanson may not be suited to the times, but she’s certainly part of them.
She’s now contested state or federal elections in 1996, 1998, 2001, 2003, 2004, 2007, 2009, 2011, 2013 and 2016.
Asked why she did, Hanson once replied “I keep going because our voting system is corrupt and I have been cheated”.
The conspiracy against her is palpable. This is just the second time she’s succeeded.
The rhetorical questions about Islam at her media conference in Brisbane on Monday will have some shaking their heads and others nodding in furious agreement. She does that on a range of topics that span both sides of politics. It was vintage Hanson.
“Do you want to see terrorism on our streets here? Do you want to see our Australians murdered?” she said.
She demanded to know why Muslims weren’t there, standing beside her, condemning Islam. That sort of non sequitur is the stock-in-trade of her public statements.
But Hanson is her own political and national hot button. She inflames passions on all sides.
She first burst onto the Australian political landscape 20 years ago as Howard became PM. She broke a bunch of rules in the process and often defies expectations.
Where it began
Brisbane-born Hanson, 62, once ran a fish and chip shop in Ipswich, west of the capital, before entering politics on the local council in 1994. She joined the Liberal Party in 1995 and was chosen as the federal candidate for Oxley.
But calls to end government assistance for Aborigines saw her disendorsed by the Liberals on election eve. She ran as an independent anyway, still marked as a Liberal on the ballot paper because it was too late for changes. Oxley was a safe Labor seat with a margin of nearly 15%, but this was the Keating “baseball bats” election, and Hanson nailed a 19.31% swing – the biggest one nationally against Labor – for 54% of the vote.
Six months later, the Queensland MP gave her maiden speech, warning everyone “we are in danger of being swamped by Asians”. Her anti-immigration stance, calls to abolish multiculturalism and support for Aboriginal people, caused a political firestorm and the major parties struggled to respond.
Her long list of perceived injustices led her to complain she was a victim of “reverse racism”.
“We now have a situation where a type of reverse racism is applied to mainstream Australians by those who promote political correctness and those who control the various taxpayer funded ‘industries’ that flourish in our society servicing Aboriginals, multiculturalists and a host of other minority groups,” she said in her speech.
She became part of the modern lexicon a month later by appearing on 60 Minutes. When reporter Tracey Curro asked if she was xenophobic, Hanson replied “Please explain?”
Her apparent naivete became part of her charm. Attacks on her cemented the us-v-them psyche of her supporters.
After a year in parliament – and with help from two Sevengali-like figures – former Tony Abbott adviser David Oldfield, and fundraiser David Ettridge – she formed “Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party”. It would ultimately, briefly, cost Hanson her freedom.
When Howard called a fresh election in 1998, a redistribution saw Hanson switch to the adjacent, safe Liberal seat of Blair. She topped the poll with a 36% primary vote, but was defeated on preferences. She complained that the Howard government adopted her policies to win back support from One Nation voters.
One Nation shocked the political class by attracting nearly 9% of the Senate vote nationally, but only one Queenslander, Len Harris, made it to Canberra.
Meanwhile, Hanson’s party triumphed in the June 1998 Queensland election, winning 11 seats and also finishing second, on a two-party-preferred basis, in 23 seats. One Nation out-polled both the Liberals and Nationals with an astonishing 22.68% of the primary vote. Incidentally, Peter Beattie subsequently formed a minority Labor government.
The One Nation phenomenon continued, with her adviser David Oldfield elected to the NSW upper house 1999, only to be expelled from the party a year later after a falling out with Hanson, with whom he had a brief affair.
One Nation’s success spread to WA in 2001 with three seats, but by the federal election of the same year, the party’s vote waned to 5.5%. Meanwhile, Hanson tried for a Queensland senate seat, polling a 10% primary vote, but rival parties preferenced against One Nation to block her bid.
And like Palmer United (Hanson, like Palmer, used to wear the colour yellow) One Nation was plagued by internal division, resignations and legal fights. Oldfield registered the One Nation name in NSW, stymying Hanson, who was expelled from the party she founded in 2002 following fraud allegations.
She stood for the NSW upper house in March 2003, running against One Nation as the Hanson Group, outpolling them 1.9% to 1.5%, but that split was enough to give the last spot to the Shooters Party instead.
Then things got worse. In August 2003 she was on criminal trial, alongside co-founder David Ettridge, charged with fraud relating to the 1998 Queensland election.
One aspect of her prosecution (or in One Nation’s view, persecution) will make Hanson’s return to Canberra interesting. The initial 2001 fraud case against her was driven by a disgruntled One Nation candidate, Terry Sharples, who had the backing of a rising star of the Howard government: Tony Abbott.
Abbott’s involvement has its own controversy. He initially denied any involvement on the ABC TV program “Four Corners”, before later conceding that he was behind the “Australians for Honest Politics Trust”, which funded the pursuit of Hanson through civil courts.
When Fairfax Media subsequently produced a handwritten note by Abbott that personally guaranteed Sharples “will not be further out of pocket” from the legal action, Abbott responded: “Misleading the ABC is not the same as misleading parliament as a political crime”.
The workplace relations minister would later apologise for not disclosing his involvement, but insisted he did it of his own volition without the support of the Liberal party.
A Queensland jury found Hanson and Ettridge guilty of both fraudulently obtaining nearly $500,000 in electoral funding and fraudulently registering the party. They were sentenced to three years jail. But after 11 weeks in prison, the conviction was overturned by Queensland’s Court of Appeal.
After her release Hanson declared she’d need rocks in her head to run for office again.
She reaffirmed that two months saying she was “so angry I feel like shaking people” who asked to stand.
“I’m out of it, I’m finished. It’s over,” she said in January 2004.
Commentator Andrew Bolt called her “ahead of her time” in one of several laudatory columns. Instead, she appeared on the inaugural series of Dancing with the Stars. Later, it was The Apprentice, as she morphed into celebrity, like a Barry Humphries character without the underlying satire.
Voters had lost interest too. One Nation polled under 5% in Queensland in 2004 and vanished from federal politics. The party was deregistered federally, but resurrected for the Kevin ’07 election.
So was Hanson, mounting a third senate attempt in Queensland as Pauline’s United Australia Party in a low-key campaign that attracted 4.2% of the vote, enough to see her collect $213,000 in public funding, but not a quota. Her repeated candidacies, with limited campaigning, had rival politicians accusing her of doing it for the taxpayer money. She denies it.
She shifted to the Queensland state seat of Beaudesert in 2009, landing a 21.2% primary vote – again, it wasn’t enough – just days after Sydney’s Sunday Telegraph published nude photos it claimed were Hanson, aged 19. It was a hoax, and the paper paid Hanson a confidential settlement and issued an apology.
Ten months later, Hanson announced it was all over and she was moving to Britain, with plans to become a motivational speaker. After a holiday in Europe, she gave up on the idea, declaring the UK was “overrun with immigrants and refugees”.
March 2011 brought another tilt at the NSW upper house, but her 2.41% vote was just half a quota and not enough. She skipped Campbell Newman’s 2012 landslide win in Queensland, although One Nation stood in six seats, attracting just 0.1% of the vote statewide.
Success at last
Hanson reconciled with her party in 2013 to contest the federal election as a senate candidate in NSW. With just 1.22% first preferences, it was again a failure. A year later, she was reinstalled as One Nation leader after 13 years and when Newman called the 2015 election that would end his career after just one term, Hanson narrowly missed out on becoming the Queensland MP for Lockyer, losing to the LNP by just 114 votes.
The loss played into the conspiracy theories that surround One Nation, with the party declaring “Hanson had to walk away once again from a corrupt voting and counting system”.
Her paranoia – amid claims that despite regular media appearances, she was being silenced by the political correctness of a Liberal-Labor-Nationals-Greens cabal – led to a leaked 1997 video that begins: “Fellow Australians, if you are seeing me now, it means that I have been murdered. Do not let my passing distract you for even a moment… you must fight on”.
Her stroke of luck came two months ago with Malcolm Turnbull’s double dissolution, which lowered the bar for getting elected. Voters in Queensland obviously liked having her back in charge of the party. With around half of the Senate vote counted, Pauline Hanson’s One Nation has a 8.59% swing delivering the third highest vote, 9.14%, behind the LNP (33%) and Labor (27%).
A quota is normally 14.3%, but the double dissolution lowers it to 7.7%. Turnbull has brought Abbott’s nemesis back into politics on her 9th attempt and 12th campaign.
The serendipity is deeper and weirder. Her key adviser now is James Ashby, who accused his boss, former Gillard government speaker Peter Slipper of sexual harassment in 2012. He’s also a pilot who’s been flying the senator elect and party leader around the country in an Australian-made single-engine plane.
It didn’t take long for Hanson to once more start dominating public debate. On election day, she was in third place behind Turnbull and Shorten in both Facebook discussions and Google searches.
She was back in front of the media today at her combative best as journalists attempted to find a gotcha moment. But every attack on Hanson welds her supporters more tightly to One Nation. It also confirms their view of a long-running establishment conspiracy against her.
This exchange today is an example:
Journalist: In 1996, in your maiden speech, you said Australia was at risk of being swamped by Asians.
Hanson: I said it was in danger of being swamped by Asians.
Journalist: How’s that gone?
Hanson:You go and ask a lot of people in Sydney, at Hurstville or some of the other suburbs.
They feel they have been swamped by Asians and regardless of that now, a lot of Australians feel that Asians are buying up prime agricultural land, housing, you ask people in Melbourne how they feel about it as well.
Look, we can go on and on about this topic and I was taken completely out of context and when I said that in my maiden speech it was to draw attention to our immigration.
She challenged reporters saying: “You’re standing here having a go at me because I stand up for my culture, my way of life and my country.”
Hanson is a symptom of a bigger problem for the major parties. Both Turnbull and Shorten pleaded with voters to chose one side or the other in this election. They rejected that notion.
The senate now looks set to be filled with more of the independent crossbench senators Turnbull sought to remove when he changed the rules on preferences and called a double dissolution. On this parameter alone, the election has failed for the Coalition.
Of greater difficulty for whoever forms government is the fact that One Nation may end up with three senate seats.
While that constitutes just three of 76 senate votes, negotiating with a media-savvy, outspoken politician who knows how to ignite public sentiment, amid a backdrop of possible vengeance for past slights will haunt Australian democracy for at least the next three years.
It will be both fraught and spectacular, just like Hanson’s political career.