Analysis by Kalinga Seneviratne*
SYDNEY (IDN) - The return of the firebrand anti-immigration politician of the 1990s Pauline Hanson along with three others from his One Nation Party (ONP) to the federal parliament after a 20-year absence has triggered debate in the Australian media about racism coming to the surface again in Australian politics and the failure of multiculturalism.
But a more intelligent analysis of the election results would show that the impressive showing of her ONP has more to do with socio-economic issues and average White Australians’ disillusionment with mainstream political parties.
With final results of the July 2 election confirmed by the Australian Electoral Commission on August 4, ONP has won four Senate seats, two in Queensland which is Hanson’s strong-hold, one each in New South Wales (NSW) and Western Australia.
There is also another firebrand anti-establishment politician Nick Yenophan whose party has won three Senate seats in South Australia and the Greens have nine Senators from nationwide.
The government with 30 Senators in the 67-member upper house will need support of these independents or the opposition Labour Party to pass through legislation in parliament.
In the Senate, Hanson’s party has outpolled the ‘Third Force’ in Australian politics the Greens by 9.15% to 7.57%. Thus, the reincarnated firebrand is expected to shake Australian politics yet again.
The sentiments of Australian voters at the July 2 election, especially the White urban working class and rural farmers, are no different to Filipino voters who elected President Rodgrigo Duterte, Americans who have propelled Donald Trump to the Republican Party nominations or the British voters who opted for Brexit. They all don’t trust the established parties and the political elites anymore.
“Positions of public office are positions of public trust – but the public no longer sufficiently trusts either the Coalition or Labour to confer on them a significant majority,” noted The Age newspaper in a post-election commentary reflecting on the dramatic drop in voter support for Australia’s two major parties, Liberal-National coalition and Labour.
When Hanson first arrived in Canberra as a lower house member from Queensland in 1996, she rocked the political establishment with her maiden speech opposing Asian immigration and welfare benefits for Aborigines. She echoed the days of ‘White Australia’ policy, when politicians warned Australians of the ‘Yellow Peril’.
After initially treating Hanson with kid gloves, the two major parties constructed preference deals to block her re-entry to parliament in 1998 and kept her at bay for another 18 years. Hanson kept fighting.
Though One Nation triumphed at the Queensland state election winning 11 seats, internal feuding and incompetence began unravelling her party federally. She lost control of the party, fell out with key supporters, went to jail for nearly three months in 2003 for electoral fraud before being exonerated and freed on appeal. Upon her release, she set up a new party, and ultimately reclaimed ONP.
Her battles with the political establishment and her determination to win may have garnered her both sympathy and support in the wider Australian community. Now she has become a major force in Australian national politics.
In a post-election radio interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) Hanson said: “I'm not going to back down in what I believe and what a lot of Australians feel and believe as well.” She added: “The people are fed up with seeing a dysfunctional Parliament and the antics that goes on is not what the people want or need.”
Attorney-General George Brandis has called for Hanson's views to be treated with respect. "Pauline Hanson represents a view that has been endorsed by hundreds of thousands of Australian electors and she is entitled to be listened to," he told ABC radio. "If only so that we can debate her points of view and those of us who disagree with them can explain why we disagree."
If one were to examine closely the ONP platform it reflects issues that many people in Australia are concerned about major parties, and even the mainstream media, shy away from discussing.
The ONP platform raised issues such as rising housing values that has made housing unaffordable for young Australians and called for restrictions on foreign investments in the sector.
They have described the ‘Halal’ certification system a financial scandal where Australian shoppers are paying a tax surcharge to fund Islamic schools and mosques and asked this system to be investigated.
They have called for the Agenda 21 agreement Australia has signed in 1992 to be repealed because it tries to control your lifestyle and privatize water. They oppose a carbon tax because it put an extra tax burden on struggling families. And they have called for a review of the aged pension criteria so rural farmers and the poor will not be forced out of their homes.
Hanson’s fellow Queensland senator-elect Malcolm Roberts is a former mine manager and a leader of climate sceptic group the Galileo Movement, who wants climate scepticism taught in schools and believes that scientists and the UN are producing “corrupt” reports on climatic change.
Though Hanson’s maiden speech in parliament in 1996 referred to Australia being “swarmed by Asians”, she hasn’t repeated that in those terms, yet her party’s platform for ban on foreign investments in the housing sector reflects a similar sentiment as the Australian property market has been “swarmed” by Asian money that has jacked up housing prices.
Tapping into widespread community fears about terrorism she has called for a review of Muslim migration and ban on refugees, restrictions on building of mosques and an inquiry into halal certification. All of which leads to accusation that she is raising xenophobia again but this time using Muslims.
Her NSW senator-elect Brian Burston has described Islam as an “infringement on our culture” and he told Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp media upon his election “we're a Christian country, I know we have some Jews as well ... but the Muslims, they kneel five times a day and it's not how we are in this country”.
While a spokesman for the Islamic Council of Queensland, Ali Qadry speaking on the same ABC program Hanson was on, argued that what she is doing is no different to “those Muslim extremists who try to divide the community” by spreading the kind of “divisive hatred”, Queensland’s Griffith University political lecturer Dr Paul Williams calls it a "a perfect storm" reflecting dissatisfaction with major parties.
Speaking to Sydney Morning Herald, Dr Williams stressed that ONP voters were not simply a pack of racists and Islamophobes. If anything, she had "tried to reform her image and move it away from race", making it less of an issue than she did back in 1996.
He pointed out that anti-Islam parties such as the Australian Liberty Alliance, did not perform well. "Most of her vote comes from people who just think mainstream politicians are all a bunch of crooks and aren't listening, and Hanson is 'one of us'," he argues
Australia’s Race Discrimination Commissioner Dr Tim Soutphommasane, a son of Chinese and Lao parents, argues that free speech should not be giving a passport to hate speech and her political views are repugnant and elements of the media have helped to boost her popularity.
However he wonders whether the rise of anti-establishment parties such as ONP is because political parties can’t connect with people’s lived experience in such a way they should.
“When they talk about productivity, its music to the ears of economists and those in the Canberra (Australia’s capital) bubble, but it’s anathema to most,” he notes. “There’s structural disconnect. It’s jargon”.
*A version of this article was published in Singapore’s Straits Times. [IDN-InDepthNews – 09 August 2016]
Photo: Pauline Hanson. Credit: One Nation Party.
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