One Nation, two narratives

The notion that Pauline Hanson has matured since the 1990s is an orchestrated myth

The Monthly Today, 15 February 2017

For some months now, members of the media seem to have been enveloped in a kind of cognitive dissonance with regard to the second coming of Pauline Hanson. On the one hand, they have dutifully reported the almost daily examples of embarrassment and offence her colleagues and candidates provide. Think of the ongoing woes of Rod Culleton, or the joys of Malcolm-Ieuan: Roberts., the living soul, or Pauline herself defending Vladimir Putin.

The list of One Nation candidates (some now disendorsed) with strange and offensive views about homosexuality grows by the week, and some classic conspiracy theories about the Port Arthur massacre and the September 11 attacks have also been given oxygen. Meanwhile, James Ashby continues to upset former One Nation stalwarts, as he attempts to control the party and its star attraction. All of this is strikingly reminiscent of One Nation in the late 1990s.

On the other hand, we are regularly reminded of the emergence of an all-new, mature One Nation, epitomised by the wiser, older head of its leader. Consider the following examples.

Sharri Markson, the Daily Telegraph, 9 December: “We’re seeing a more disciplined and focused Hanson, assisting the Turnbull government to pass legislation without making demands for unrelated pet projects like the rest of the fickle rabble that make up the crossbench.”

Tony Abbott, 2GB, 14 December: “Pauline Hanson is a different and I think much more mature politician and parliamentarian now than she was 20 years ago, and I think there’s no doubt at all that Pauline Hanson wants to be responsible and, within reason, wants to be helpful to the government.”

Jamie Walker, the Australian, 19 December: “Hanson’s steadiness and her principled dealings with the government showed up some of her flaky colleagues on the crossbench; those shaking-voiced outbursts of Pauline Mk I have been reined in and Hanson redux is at risk of emerging as a figure of substance in the madhouse of the Senate.”

Arthur Sinodinos, Insiders, 12 February: “The One Nation of today is a very different beast to what it was 20 years ago. They are a lot more sophisticated, they have clearly resonated with a lot of people. Our job is to treat them as any other party.”

A certain pattern, wouldn’t you say? Now, fresh from an angry attack on his conservative colleagues for their appeasement of the far right and their uncritical coverage of Hanson, Paul Kelly has offered an extended apologia for the Coalition’s willingness to swap preferences with One Nation.

“Things have changed since 20 years ago,” writes the doyen of the conservative commentariat. “Hanson is now a tough, cunning, focused politician, no longer the hopeless amateur.” As evidence he cites, laughably, Hanson being subjected to the journalistic equivalent of a belly rub on The Bolt Report. Hanson may be able to safely navigate interviews with sycophants on Sky News or breakfast television, but faced with grilling from serious journalists she is quickly exposed as the brittle empty vessel she always was.

Kelly believes that One Nation is “established in the national parliament … and entrenched on the crossbench where she can shape national policy and strengthen her party (assuming it doesn’t fall apart)”. Given all we know about the party’s latest crop of candidates and internal squabbles, this is a game assumption.

Finally, after some frankly abhorrent relativism in which the Greens are seen as One Nation’s moral equivalents on the left, Kelly concludes with some of his patented sage advice: “The Coalition needs to better explain what it is about to do — shifting to a transactional relationship with One Nation that sanctions deals and co-operation but still rejects some One Nation policies on principles.”

Those with a political interest in using Hanson to their advantage have been cultivating the myth that her views have evolved and softened. No amount of media spin will alter the fact that Hanson and her party have changed remarkably little since the 1990s.

A week ago Kelly wrote that “conservatism in this country is being trashed.” You can see how.

Today’s links

  • Jennifer Hewett looks at One Nation preferences and the WA election.
  • Bill Shorten urges the government to fund the National Disability Insurance Scheme by dropping its planned company tax cuts.
  • Pro-gun lobbyists donated more than $350,000 to political parties in 2015–16. Gifts to Katter’s Australian Party, the Shooters, Fishers & Farmers Party, the Nationals and the Liberal Democrats come as no surprise, but eyebrows were raised by donations to the Liberal and Labor parties.
  • The investigations team at the Age delves into the battle between miners and environmentalists over Adani’s plan to build Australia’s largest coalmine in Queensland.
  • The New York Times reports that members of Donald Trump’s campaign “had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials”. Also, the intriguing interplay between Trump and Rupert Murdoch.
  • Kim Jong-un’s half-brother, Kim Jong-nam, has been murdered in Malaysia. The BBC provides some background to the story.
  • Not Spinal Tap, Guns N’ Roses.
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