Pauline Hanson’s first time in Canberra 20 years ago caused a stir across Asia and made it difficult for Australians doing business in the region
I remember it well because I was working in Asia at the time.
During her first speech to Parliament in 1996 as the independent member for Oxley (she had been disendorsed as the Liberal candidate), she said: “I believe we are in danger of being swamped by Asians.”
Travelling across southeast Asia building a joint venture news company two decades ago, meetings I attended began to take a familiar form: punctuated by a comment about Hanson, along the lines of: “Why does Australia tolerate her? Why do people vote for her?”
Other Australians told similar stories of awkward meetings where the former fish and chip shop proprietor was the main topic.
There is no doubt her comments about immigration slowed, and sometimes stalled, trade and business-building by Australians in the region and many countries started to think about pulling back on sending students to Australia.
In 1996, Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad said his country’s students may be recalled if they became the target of abuse and attacks following reports that Malaysian students had been threatened at railway stations and bus stops in Melbourne.
In 1998, the South China Morning Post wrote:
“The sudden resurgence of support for Australia’s obnoxious One Nation Party is disheartening, but should not come as a surprise.
“In times of economic difficulty, populist calls by such as One Nation leader Pauline Hanson for curbs on immigration are always vote-winners. So is pointing the finger at people distinguished by their skin colour and a tendency to stick together and speak their own languages.”
In Hong Kong, the Australian Chinese Association asked then prime minister John Howard to take “aggressive steps” to counter the damage being done to Australia’s image in Asia.
The association urged emigrants to consider moving to other states and avoid sending children to schools in Queensland.
When she stepped down as head of One Nation in 2002, her departure was universally welcomed in Asia.
Dewi Fortuna Anwar, a former adviser to Indonesian President Habibi, noted that the fact Hanson was forced to resign was a positive sign for Australia.
“The resignation of Pauline Hanson is a clear indication that her politics of racism and extreme intolerance are not really welcome by the Australian people as a whole, you know,” he then told the ABC.
K.P. Waran, editor of the New Straits Timesin Malaysia, said: “Good riddance to bad rubbish.”
Hanson now looks certain to hold a Queensland Senate seat from Saturday’s vote. She believes her One Nation party could pick up senators in NSW and Western Australia.
This time, she wants zero net immigration and a royal commission into Islam.
“You have our values, culture and way of life, you don’t have a full burka,” she said.
“You don’t keep putting up mosques. You cannot deny the fact that in these mosques they have been known to preach hate towards us.
“I’m not preaching hate, I’m trying to have a debate and a royal inquiry into it.”