The last time I visited Canberra, I met with a friend for dinner at an old favourite. This particular Vietnamese restaurant, located minutes from the Parliamentary Triangle, is a hit with locals as well as with political heavy weights. Testimonials adorn the walls of an otherwise ordinary suburban joint, giving praise to the delicious food and fabulous service. For years it has been a cheeky past time of Members’ of Parliament to leave a note. There’s a joke that if you’re not on the wall, you’re not legit. After requesting a table for two, we were seated next to the restaurant’s latest acquisition: a note by Pauline Hanson.
‘I don’t like it! I love it! Please explain’, it said, signing off with, ‘Pauline Hanson, Now Senator’.
This situation encapsulates everything puzzling and concerning about Pauline Hanson and One Nation’s presence in the Australian political landscape. It stands as a testament to how difficult it is to hold her to account. Added to this was the absurdity – or perhaps more accurately, the profundity – of finding Australian politics’ answer to the Liar’s Paradox tacked innocently to the wall of a Vietnamese restaurant, and I promptly forgot my order.
Trying to dissect or read further into stark hypocrisy is such a compelling waste of time. Hanson’s seemingly banal enjoyment of the fruits of multiculturalism fly in the face of her proclamation in 1996 that, ‘a multicultural society would be weak and not united’. It also suggests she enjoys being ‘swamped by Asians’; no acknowledgement has been made to address this surprising about-turn.
In September last year, Hanson declared Australia was now in danger of being ‘swamped by Muslims’ in her maiden speech to the Senate. If the only amendment to her original speech of 1996 is to use the word ‘Muslim’ in place of ‘Asian’, does this mean we can expect to catch Hanson and Sam Dastyari having a Lady and the Tramp moment over a Halal snack pack outside a kebab truck at 3am in twenty years’ time?
On one level it’s funny, on another, the lack of clarity in Hanson’s position continues to distract from actual politics, and leave in its path a trail of division and misinformation.
There has been a shift in the dynamics of how journalists report and interact with Hanson and One Nation. Initially it was tempting for journalists to ask questions that baited her into exposing her lack of ‘book-smarts’ and pointing to it as evidence of how unqualified she was to lead, which backfired spectacularly.
In Ellen Fanning’s documentary series Fine Line (2004), Maxine McKew reflected candidly on the mistakes she made in her first encounter with Hanson on an episode of Lateline.
‘I crossed a line’, she said. ‘I did not afford her the same kind of civility as I would for other people, because I felt that she was diminishing the process as well, but I let that show … I simply didn’t have a finely attuned social antenna as to some fundamental changes that were going on in the country. And Hanson did have a finely tuned social antenna and so did John Howard.’
Since then, and largely in the lead up to the 2016 Federal Election, Hanson has been given multiple platforms from which she has been able to declare more factually inaccurate information, but has been subject to less scrutiny. This is presumably due to media outlets’ well intentioned efforts to not alienate a segment of the population who have previously felt invisible and underrepresented.
This may sound like a plausible step forward, but in fact no one in this scenario benefits except Pauline Hanson herself, who continues to evade questions over inconsistencies in her purported beliefs.
Rather than using One Nation’s resonance with an until-recently-invisible voter base to explore what is important to them, Hanson, through her delivery of shocking and divisive rhetoric, has only added to her celebrity. The issues facing suburban and rural working class white Australians – the people she says she advocates for – remain unaddressed. Meanwhile people of colour and religious minorities must continue to watch their backs.
Further to this, the normalisation of Hanson’s views by way of her constant media presence has contributed to the distortion of marginalised voices as disproportionately aggressive and emotional, and ultimately robs them of agency.
In July last year, Ms Hanson was followed by a Channel 9 crew to the Cairns Indigenous Art Fair, where she was refused entry by Gangalidda Elder Murrandoo Yanner. Mr Yanner was decidedly unambiguous in his rejection of Ms Hanson and the reasons for it.
‘You picked on Aboriginal people, now you are kicking the Muslims around’, he said.
‘You are a racist redneck with your red hair. Go away back to Ipswich with your fish and chip shop. You’re disgraceful, you are a woman lacking in moral fibre, you are intellectually dishonest and you are not welcome here.’
Given Hanson’s twenty year history of antagonising the Aboriginal community, a response like Mr Yanner’s should not come as a surprise, or be taken as disproportionate to the aggression levelled at his people by her in the past. However, perhaps due to the normalisation of Ms Hanson’s rhetoric, the exact opposite happened. What was sufficiently described by some news outlets as a ‘confrontation’ (The Herald Sun), ‘rejection’ (The New Daily) or even a ‘public lambasting’ (News.com), was presented to the public by others as an ‘attack’ (ABC Online, the Cairns Post) and ‘abuse’ (Daily Mail).
What seems disproportionate is the way Hanson is given so many platforms to declare false information without being checked, whilst a marginalised group asserting itself against twenty years of well-documented attacks is framed as the aggressor.
Pauline Hanson is a distraction who shouldn’t be exempt from scrutiny and accountability. She needs to stop treating a probe of her policies as an attack on her identity or the people she represents. It is an examination of her policy, which she has not been good at explaining or defending. Quality political analysis is designed to help voters, including hers, by testing validity and plausibility.
Throughout Hanson’s career, a professional class of (educated, mostly male) Australian politicians have been able to use her class status, and arguably also her gender, to separate themselves from her particular brand of fringe politics.
However, to find similarly concerning policy and rhetoric surrounding refugees, Indigenous Australians and racial and religious minorities, one need only look to the signatures of other politicians that surround Hanson’s on the wall: Malcom Turnbull, Bill Shorten and more. These men are capable of the same cognitive dissonance during television appearances (and dinner; remember Scott Morrison’s ‘Sco-Mosas’?), but have not garnered the same reputation for it as with Hanson.
And yet, here I was staring at Hanson’s signature, fixated and distracted. The writing is on the wall. We’re in danger of being swamped by Pauline Hanson.
Image: Pauline Hanson / youtube