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National Observer Home > No. 43 - Summer 2000 > Book Review

Off the Rails : The Pauline Hanson Trip

by Margo Kingston

Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 1999, pp. 234 and index.

The Pauline Hanson phenomenon has been the subject of extraordinarily emotional debate in Australia.

Mrs. Hanson was elected as an independent, in 1996, in the formerly safe Labor seat of Oxley, in Queensland. She had previously been driven from the Liberal Party in view of  a letter written by her to a local Queensland paper that was critical of Aboriginals.

In her maiden speech on 10 September 1996 she espoused policies such as an end to multiculturalism, withdrawal from the United Nations, and a cessation of foreign aid. On a number of occasions she expressed concern at the large number of Asian immigrants who were being permitted to enter Australia, and the One Nation Party was formed by her.

It soon became evident that Mrs. Hanson's views were also views held by many Australians (but not by those who may conveniently be referred to as "the politically correct"). In Queensland particularly, and in country areas elsewhere, she received widespread support.

However bitter attacks by a number of special-interest lobbies (such as the Vietnamese lobby and the Jewish lobby) caused the major political parties to intensify their attacks on One Nation. Pressure was put upon these parties to put One Nation last for the distribution of preferences. This policy favoured the Australian Democrats, who in the 1998 Federal election obtained consequently many more seats than One Nation.

The success of the Australian Democrats at the expense of One Nation may be seen as unfortunate. The Australian Democrats are viewed as an opportunistic party, without any readily discernible principles, which misuses the balance of power in the Senate, and it would probably have been healthier for Australia that One Nation should have been more successful instead. As the matter now stands, some millions of Australians who share One Nation's concerns are effectively disenfranchised.

The One Nation experience is revealing in regard to political correctness. For example, the view that Asian immigration should be restricted is, when expressed, immediately categorised as "racist", and sometimes allusions are made to Hitler and Nazism. The deterrence of debate on important issues has become a worrying feature of Australian life.

Ms. Kingston's book is surprisingly emotional. It is so emotional, indeed, that it cannot be regarded as a satisfactory account of Ms. Hanson's political life. The author appears to have been afflicted by two competing attitudes. First, as a journalist for the Sydney Morning Herald she has developed a particularly strong attitude of political correctness. Accordingly her reaction towards One Nation's non-politically correct attitudes is one of punitive vehemence. But secondly, she demonstrates a personal fascination for her subject bordering on obsession.

Ms. Kingston's book is nonetheless instructive. It is concerned largely with the treatment of Mrs. Hanson and One Nation by the media, representatives of which (including Ms. Kingston) accompanied Mrs. Hanson in her campaigns. It is interesting to be informed to what lengths many of the media representatives � hardly it seems admirable people themselves � went to denigrate Mrs. Hanson.

The story of One Nation is significant in regard to populist parties generally. As with most populist parties, Mrs. Hanson and her principal supporters were not highly educated. They expressed themselves in simple terms, did not have appropriate political advisers, and were easy marks for experienced political journalists whose appointed task was to discredit them. If Mrs. Hanson's views had been refined and presented in a more sophisticated way it would have been much more difficult to attack her. The One Nation Party had an important message, and to disregard it would be ill-advised.

R.M. Pearce

National Observer No. 43 - Summer 2000