The Iron Lady Down Underrnby R.J. StovernShe is the most powerful, the most revered, and the most reviledrnwoman in Australia today. Before February 1996, almostrnno one even in her home state of Queensland had heardrnof her. Before September 1996, she was still largely unknownrnoutside the depressing tribe of psephologists. Now she sendsrnIndonesian and Thai bigwigs, however irresolute their normalrndisposition, into what Roy Campbell called “a rheumatie ecstasyrnof hate.” Moreover, she now belongs to that elite of half arndozen Australians whom headline-writers can identif- b)’ firstrnname alone, certain that even their most cognitively challengedrnreaders will recognize her. In total seriousness, admirers andrndetractors have likened her to Hitler, Churchill, Thatcher,rnGeorge Wallace, and Mother Teresa. She is Pauline Hanson,rnquondam fish-and-chips shop owner, and representative for thernfederal parliamentary electorate of Oxley.rnHer lurch onto the national stage would never have beenrnpossible without that political correctness which, as every Australianrnguru is reassuring the public, is dead. Traditionally, Oxleyrnhas been among Australia’s safest Labor Party seats. Its incumbentrnfor the greater part of the postwar era was BillrnHayden, who (after serving as Treasurer under Cough Whitlam,rnparty leader after Whitlam’s retirement, and Foreign AffairsrnMinister under Bob Hawke) held the Governor-General’srnoffice with improbable skill from 1989 to 1996. Located as it isrnin the heart of Terra Proletarianis (and with an unemploymentrnrate ironically aggravated by selling Queensland as the mostrnpleasant area of Australia in which to live), Oxley should havernremained loyal to Labor for all eternity. That it would indeedrnso remain was the assumption motivating those Liberal PartyrnR./. Stove is a writer and broadcaster in Sydney.rnbosses who in late 1995 needed to find (and to run) a suitablyrnsuicidal candidate for the constituency at the next federal election,rndue no later than the following March.rnEnter, from stage right, Mrs. Hanson, who had briefly servedrnas a councilor in the southeastern Queensland town of Ipswich,rnbut whose career was otherwise untainted by political success.rnHer character made her, in Liberal calculations, the perfect fallrnguv. Feminists would be appeased by the mere fact that shernwas a woman; her small-business background could inspire dutifulrncomments about the Liberals having at last realized thernneed to court the battlers’ vote; and her shortage of wider administrativernexperience had left her with no enemies. All thesernfactors ensured that, following her ine’itable defeat. Liberal executivesrnwould be able to tell anyone still listening, “Well, atrnleast we tried”—and then, this dangerous flirtation with vulgarrnrealism behind them, would revert with the clearest of consciencesrnto business as usual.rnWhat no Liberal apparatchiks realized (though her subsequentrntelevision appearances should have made their stupidityrnobvious to a child) was that Mrs. Hanson had a mouth on her.rnOne almost feels a pang of compassion for those who aspired tornbe her puppet-masters. Scarcely had she been chosen to representrnthe Liberals than she burst into print (more specifically, intornIpswich’s newspaper the Queensland Times) with a rebuke ofrnthe Aboriginal activism industry. “Racism is starting in thisrncountry,” she proclaimed, “because the Government are [sic]rnlooking after the Aborigines too much.”rnHad she been a smoother operator, she would have seen thatrnif ever there might have been a time when the Liberals’ milquetoastsrnwere sympathetic to this line of talk, the lead-up tornthe 1996 poll was not it. Incredible though it now seems, Paulrn20/CHRONICLESrnrnrn