‘Of course, I will be called racist but, if I can invite whom I want into my home, then I should have the right to have a say in who comes into my country.’ Five years later, John Howard would borrow the sentiment for his 2001 election campaign slogan: ‘We will decide who comes to this country, and the circumstances in which they come.
Estimates can sometimes be off-pace and often frustratingly tedious theatre, but they are the beating heart of Australia’s accountable democracy. A lot that passes for debate on the floor of parliament is theatre for the consumption of the cameras and to regurgitate in newsletters to constituents. MPs who ignore estimates aren’t serious about the real business of parliament.
The senate sits for only about fifty days a year, give or take, depending on what legislation ascends there from the Lower House. That other annoying bit of work that most senators diligently perform—attending estimates hearings—should add another twenty or more days to a senator’s Canberra schedule of work, or four working weeks.
But it doesn’t for Hanson. Why should she? Her time is better spent vigorously recruiting in the Struggle Streets of each electorate across the country.
If she fronted Senate estimates, it would be much easier to guess which way she and her team were going to vote on legislation. Not only had her party voted in favour of government legislation about 80 per cent of the time by mid-2018, but her supporters might be surprised to learn she’s helped the government pass measures that mock her war cry that she’s the protector of the left-behinds.
In October 2016 the One Nation leader told the Australian Financial Review—the organ of choice for business leaders, rather than the downtrodden—that she intended to back the government’s $6 billion omnibus of welfare cuts. Such an action would have slammed low-income and welfare households. The measures included taking the axe to $2.9 billion in Family Tax Benefit supplements. It would have eliminated $1.3 billion in carbon tax compensation for future welfare recipients; it would have cut $1.2 billion in alleged ‘double dipping’ of paid parental leave and cut $600 million in other measures, including freezing eligibility thresholds and ending a pensioner’s education supplement. It would have made young dole recipients wait one month before receiving payments; indeed, she declared that she personally would have been even harder on the under-25s: ‘I’d make it three months,’ she told the Financial Review.
Pauline Hanson has cleverly built her political brand as an anti-politician, as a truth-seeking champion for neglected Aussie battlers. She wants her fans to believe she’s a fierce critic of the political status quo, which, she rants, no longer serves mainstream Australia.
Same for big party politicians. She would have us believe they’ve sold out the country to foreigners and undermined Australian values, when it’s been her all along who’s been doing it. She’s hoodwinked her faithful devotees and hoodwinked mainstream politicians, who’ve pandered to her for decades.
Pauline has built her brand primarily to open another door back into that very world she rails against. The pull and power of being a chosen one in the political elite in Canberra has always been fundamental to Hanson’s drive to restore her parliamentary credentials. Her anger has less to do with the plight of the over-looked average Aussie and more to do with personal revenge and misplaced victimhood.
Her skewed belief has always been that manipulative main-stream politicians and their manipulated electoral and judicial system robbed her. They and it conspired to end her parliamentary career after just two years. They and it jailed her. For eighteen long years they and it stopped her from fulfilling her all-consuming ambition for a political career.
Yet, if it were not for the benefits she has received from the very electoral system she claims fleeced her, she would never have returned to parliament trailing a few other PHON candidates behind her. Without the system, she could never have enjoyed a professional, commercially rewarding career for nearly two decades as a celebrity political candidate.
And thanks to two Coalition governments that have pandered to her prejudices, the system has allowed her to impose on Australia some of her insular, nationalistic policies that are not supported by the majority in this wide brown land built on the back of immigrants. Her unrelentingly loud opinions have only ever been attractive to a minority, but that didn’t stop the Howard and Turnbull governments adjusting immigration and some welfare policies to placate her.
Her attitude to her job and to the institution that nurtures her epitomises who Hanson is: she sees no contradiction in angrily entreating her supporters to punish mainstream politicians while at the same time desperately, needily, striving to make herself relevant to those same politicians.
Her hero, Donald Trump, the world-class purveyor of alternative facts and narcissistic posturing, could learn a thing or two from Pauline.
© Kerry-Anne Walsh 2018. This is an edited extract from Hoodwinked: How Pauline Hanson Fooled A Nation by Kerry-Anne Walsh; Allen & Unwin. Available now in print and e-book.