She is the most powerful, the most revered, and the most reviled woman in Australia today. Before February 1996, almost no one even in her home state of Queensland had heard of her. Before September 1996, she was still largely unknown outside the depressing tribe of psephologists. Now she sends Indonesian and Thai bigwigs, however irresolute their normal disposition, into what Roy Campbell called “a rheumatic ecstasy of hate.” Moreover, she now belongs to that elite of half a dozen Australians whom headline-writers can identify by first name alone, certain that even their most cognitively challenged readers will recognize her. In total seriousness, admirers and detractors have likened her to Hitler, Churchill, Thatcher, George Wallace, and Mother Teresa. She is Pauline Hanson, quondam fish-and-chips shop owner, and representative for the federal parliamentary electorate of Oxley.
Her lurch onto the national stage would never have been possible without that political correctness which, as every Australian guru is reassuring the public, is dead. Traditionally, Oxley has been among Australia’s safest Labor Party seats. Its incumbent for the greater part of the postwar era was Bill Hayden, who (after serving as Treasurer under Cough Whitlam, party leader after Whitlam’s retirement, and Foreign Affairs Minister under Bob Hawke) held the Governor-General’s office with improbable skill from 1989 to 1996. Located as it is in the heart of Terra Proletarianis (and with an unemployment rate ironically aggravated by selling Queensland as the most pleasant area of Australia in which to live), Oxley should have remained loyal to Labor for all eternity. That it would indeed so remain was the assumption motivating those Liberal Party bosses who in late 1995 needed to find (and to run) a suitably suicidal candidate for the constituency at the next federal election, due no later than the following March.
Enter, from stage right, Mrs. Hanson, who had briefly served as a councilor in the southeastern Queensland town of Ipswich, but whose career was otherwise untainted by political success. Her character made her, in Liberal calculations, the perfect fall guy. Feminists would be appeased by the mere fact that she was a woman; her small-business background could inspire dutiful comments about the Liberals having at last realized the need to court the battlers’ vote; and her shortage of wider administrative experience had left her with no enemies. All these factors ensured that, following her inevitable defeat. Liberal executives would be able to tell anyone still listening, “Well, at least we tried”—and then, this dangerous flirtation with vulgar realism behind them, would revert with the clearest of consciences to business as usual.
What no Liberal apparatchiks realized (though her subsequent television appearances should have made their stupidity obvious to a child) was that Mrs. Hanson had a mouth on her. One almost feels a pang of compassion for those who aspired to be her puppet-masters. Scarcely had she been chosen to represent the Liberals than she burst into print (more specifically, into Ipswich’s newspaper the Queensland Times) with a rebuke of the Aboriginal activism industry. “Racism is starting in this country,” she proclaimed, “because the Government are [sic] looking after the Aborigines too much.”
Had she been a smoother operator, she would have seen that if ever there might have been a time when the Liberals’ milquetoasts were sympathetic to this line of talk, the lead-up to the 1996 poll was not it. Incredible though it now seems, Paul Keating was widely expected to be returned to office with a majority of at least three seats. The driveling incompetence that the Liberals and their National Party coalition partners had displayed in the final months of the previous Parliament’s life inspired despair in even their most devoted lay supporters. So convulsed were they by humiliating memories of their defeat at the 1993 election (before which they had for the first time in 30 years offered voters, Goldwater-style, “a choice, not an echo”) that they had become obsessed with the desire to eliminate every particle of ideological difference between themselves and Labor. Besides, in the days immediately before Mrs. Hanson’s remark, both Labor and the National parties had enthusiastically purged their ranks of “racist” elements. Western Australia’s Graeme Campbell had been stripped of Labor’s endorsement for his seat of Kalgoorlie, partly because of his willingness to address meetings of the League of Rights (Australia’s nearest equivalent to the John Birch Society) and partly through his justified but tactless observation that the greatest service Mr. Keating could give Australia was a state funeral.
In northern Queensland, two far less celebrated figures than Campbell had also been abandoned by their own party’s head office: Bob Katter, Jr. (Federal National Party member for the seat of Kennedy) and Bob Burgess (the Nationals’ candidate for the nearby electorate of Leichhardt). Mr. Katter’s sin was to allude in an otherwise narcoleptic speech to “slanty-eyed ideologues,” while the “hate crime” of Mr. Burgess (who had unsuccessfully contested Leichhardt in 1993) lay in his lighthearted and off-the-cuff description of Australia’s citizenship procedures as “de-wogging ceremonies.” So when Mrs. Hanson dared to say in public what almost every Australian at some stage has said in private about the race-relations privilegentsia, it was evident that she could expect no more mercy than Messrs. Campbell, Katter, and Burgess had received. She too was expelled from the party she had been chosen to represent. Undaunted, she refused to do the decent thing of withdrawing from the race altogether. Instead, she ran, like Mr. Burgess, as an Independent.
Australia’s federal and state parliamentary history is such a densely packed graveyard of Independents’ careers that this decision of hers alone reveals her cluelessness regarding conventional political techniques. Ted Mack, Robyn Read, Frank Arkell, Dawn Fraser (yes, the former Olympic swimmer), Phil Cleary, Steele Hall—these are but a few of the figures, all dripping with street-smartness by Hanson standards, who entered Australian legislatures with great panache as Independents and were almost never heard from again. But then, none of these forgettables ever managed what Mrs. Hanson achieved in the March 1996 election: victory in Oxley with a 20 percent swing in her favor. (Her fellow pariahs also did rather well. Mr. Burgess narrowly lost, despite a six percent improvement over his 1993 candidacy’s result; but Mr, Katter was vindicated by a 12 percent increase in his raw vote, while Mr. Campbell fared better than his Liberal and Labor antagonists combined.)
All this, plus the long overdue halt to the dreams of p.c.-crazed Aboriginal Affairs Minister Robert Tickner, flung out from his New South Wales seat to the tune of an 11 percent swing against him, seemed too good to be true. Could this tally of successes and near-successes by the politically incorrect constitute a portent? Might Australian p.c. really be dying? Even if it retained rude health, might it not have acquired an air of undesirability, like pædophilia or abstract expressionism? Had Samuel Beckett predicted the Australian polity of 1996 when he announced, in his favorite mode of drum-rolling pretentiousness, “Something is taking its course”?
It was Mrs. Hanson’s first parliamentary speech on September 10, by far the most widely reported utterance of this kind in Australia’s annals, which guaranteed her place as one of only three federal Independents (excluding the newly Independent Mr. Campbell) who have seriously mattered. Not that her performance scored high marks in the field of oratory. Mrs. Hanson’s platform expertise is about on a par with her knowledge of grammar (which proves the folly of those who condemn her as a Nazi-type demagogue) and few of the parliamentarians who retain a sense of history even bothered to sit through her effort.
Read in cold print, it seems less like an inflammation of mob sentiments than an assemblage of truisms. She mentioned the widespread fear that two decades of multiculturalism had put Australia “in danger of being swamped by Asians,” She noted that “they [Asians] have their own culture and religion, form ghettoes, and do not assimilate . . . a truly multicultural society can never be strong or united, and the world is full of failed and tragic examples,” She called for peacetime national service to be reintroduced. She deplored the time and money Australia wasted by remaining in the U.N. She urged Prime Minister John Howard to “cease all foreign aid immediately and apply the savings to generating employment here at home,” She reopened the topic that had originally turned the Liberals against her:
Present governments are encouraging separatism in Australia by providing opportunities, land, monies and facilities only available to Aboriginals, Along with millions of Australians I am fed up to the back teeth with the inequalities that are being promoted by the Government and paid for by the taxpayer under the assumption that Aboriginals are the most disadvantaged people in Australia.
I am fed up with being told, “This is our land,” Well, where the hell do I go? I was born here and so were my parents and children . . . I draw the line when told I must pay and continue paying for something that happened over two hundred years ago.
The sheer novelty of truth being uttered out loud in any Australian context ensured that days elapsed before the Fourth Estate realized the implications of Mrs, Hanson’s remarks. But when it did stir from its slumbers (one cannot very well use the phrase “wake up” about a collective mind so slothful and crepuscular), it lost no time in applying The Treatment, Mrs, Hanson was a fanatic, Mrs. Hanson was a rabble-rouser. Mrs. Hanson was a racist, Mrs, Hanson was a bigot, Mrs. Hanson was personally responsible for World War II (no mean feat for someone not born until 1954). Mrs. Hanson was divorced (in contradistinction, of course, to the Jansenist sexual morality of your average media pundit). Most disgusting of all (to judge by the tabloid sneers at it) was Mrs. Hanson’s former status as a dispenser of fish-and-chips. Obviously a mere working stiff behind a counter could not be expected to know anything about anything. At least Geoffrey Blainey had possessed the elementary decency to inhabit the public sector for years before exhibiting his “intolerance.”
No sooner had the whining satraps of local journalism and bureaucracy discovered unprecedented depths of loathsomeness in Mrs. Hanson than their Southeast Asian counterparts (including Indonesia’s Ambassador to Australia, Wiryono Sastrohandoyo, and the Bangkok Post) did the same thing. (The readiness of Asian regimes to deal with domestic opposition by putting it before a firing squad and running electric currents through its genitalia was considered unmentionable.) Malaysia’s de facto dictator Dr. Mahathir called Mrs. Hanson “moronic,” and tried to frighten her compatriots by threatening to recall every Malaysian student at Australia’s universities. He conveniently failed to acknowledge the reason these students were in Australia at all: the civil disabilities his own government imposes upon Malaysia’s Chinese population, disabilities which bar even—or especially—the most intelligent Chinese-Malaysians from educational opportunities in their homeland. Deputy Prime Minister Tim Fischer and Victoria’s Premier Jeff Kennett both wailed about the allegedly horrific damage that Mrs. Hanson’s “anti-Asianism” would do to Australia’s exports. The tourism “industry” responded to a slight post-Hanson downturn in trade by the only method that Australian “industry” has ever considered legitimate: it demanded a $20 million federal grant to console it for lost revenue.
At this stage (late September and early October) Mrs. Hanson the individual, as distinct from Mrs. Hanson the generalized Force of Darkness, was still largely unknown outside the ranks of those masochists who watch parliamentary telecasts. Few Australians could recognize her in the street, for instance. That changed on October 20, when a 60 Minutes documentary entitled “The Hanson Phenomenon,” with smirking anchorperson Tracey Curro, went to air. Miss Curro and her cohorts moaned about all the statistical horrors of Aboriginal existence (a life expectancy almost 20 years shorter than for Caucasians; an infant mortality rate twice the national average) as if Mrs. Hanson were personally responsible for them. Though the 60 Minutes team had hoped to destroy Mrs. Hanson, they failed altogether. Even their on-camera discovery that Mrs. Hanson had never heard the word “xenophobic” before (she tried to conceal her ignorance of it by snapping at Miss Curro, “Please explain”) gave them no tactical or moral advantage. Every opinion poll before October 20 had been overwhelmingly pro-Hanson. The Roy Morgan Research Centre’s finding that 66 percent of respondents agreed with Mrs. Hanson’s views on Asian immigration was actually among the more conservative outcomes. Radio and television phone-ins in Australia’s largest and most cosmopolitan cities (where one would have expected the anti-Hanson vote to be largest) invariably produced at least four pro-Hanson callers to each anti-Hanson caller, even after October 20. Despite Miss Curro’s best efforts, the Beast of the Apocalypse was obviously not dead, merely sleeping. Stronger measures than ordinary television grillings were called for.
On November 30, the front of the Sydney Morning Herald‘s color supplement boasted a vampirical face with bloodstained lips, exuding hatred. The face, predictably enough, was a gimmicky photo of Mrs. Hanson; and the story itself by a David Leser recounted every venial sin of Mrs. Hanson since the early 1960’s, in the hope of confirming her status as evil incarnate. Not only did this expose reflect no intellectual credit upon the rag that published it, but even as a sales device it misfired. Newsagents in working-class regions of New South Wales (and there is no reason to believe that things were different in Victoria, where the same piece was run by Melbourne’s The Age) reported their lowest Sydney Morning Herald sales that day in months.
Why Mrs. Hanson bothered to give Mr. Leser five minutes of her time, let alone to invite him to a home-cooked meal (“‘My private life is my private life,’ she says indignantly as we sit at her dining table”), is among the genuine (as distinct from media-invented) mysteries of her character. Even after enduring a campaign of the purest hatred, she appears unable to take the simplest precautions against her tormentors: such as an insistence (which her office staff should have enforced from the beginning) on keeping her own tape-recorded evidence of whatever she has said. Here is the oleaginous Mr. Leser, after having made his victim cry:
Finally, the tears and mirth roll together as she says, with dripping sarcasm, “Yeah, I just love all this controversy. I really do. I just love sitting on a knife’s edge with my credibility and integrity and all the rest of it just about down the drain.”
For a brief moment I actually feel sorry for her. . . . But the moment passes and what I see again are the cold, sharp features of bigotry and racism and I am reminded of how far we still have to go to expunge this from our midst.
A more substantial fault in Mrs. Hanson (one which, unlike her refusal to prevent misquotations of her thought, damages others as well as herself) is her economic naïveté. With her autarkic longings, she can be charged with the same sin of which Bill Kauffman (Chronicles, February 1996) accused Pat Buchanan: “Clayite advocacy of a protectionism that amounts to a blank check for the most powerful industries and most cunning lobbyists.” (If Australia’s welfare state apologists had any more brains than Homer Simpson, they would for this very reason be cheering every time Mrs. Hanson entered a room.)
There is one, and only one, excuse for Australia’s immigration levels: the inability of the average Australian citizen to do any work at all, however exorbitant his wages and however urgently the work needs doing. In attributing to the nonimmigrant labor force a self-reliance which most of it is too stupid, too drunk, too illiterate, and too ovine even to hypothesize about, Mrs. Hanson could be justly reproached for exacerbating a smugness that was pervasive to start with. On the other hand, no one knows better than she the insanely high joblessness levels among migrant communities (30 percent for Southeast Asians and Lebanese in Sydney’s poorest western suburbs) and the pernicious futility of “family reunion” stratagems, by which immigrants are severely disadvantaged if they speak serviceable English. (Nor has anyone else had the courage to state publicly, as Mrs. Hanson does in a new book, that certain Aborigines practiced cannibalism.) Without ever having heard of George Gilder, Mrs. Hanson nevertheless can boast enough horse sense to reject his Horatio Algerish delusions. Supposing the entire Australian multicultural apparatus were abolished at the wave of a wand, its human casualties would persist: a million Flying Dutchmen for whom the shore offers not merely no resting place but no hope of an income; the unemployable and unintelligible in hot pursuit of the unimaginable.
Still, shortly before summer’s parliamentary recess. Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock (a tenth-generation photostat, as it were, of Earl Warren) made vague promises of possibly imposing language tests on future would-be migrants. Not (he quickly assured us) that there could be any question of seriously pruning, let alone scrapping, the multicultural agenda. Yet without Mrs. Hanson’s presence to give him the occasional reminder of how Australians outside taxpayer-subsidized bughouses actually think, Mr. Ruddock would never have vowed CN en the modest concession to sanity’s demands that he did articulate.
During the lead-up to Christmas it appeared that Mrs. Hanson would obtain a small but deserved victory against four of her attackers. A quartet of Aboriginal boys (one of whom had a four-page criminal record) entered her electoral office on the pretext of seeking her autograph, but once inside they repeatedly spat in her face and hit her around the head. For one moment it seemed as if justice might be done: the boys were refused further bail, imprisoned, and told not to expect release until January 30. It was too good to last. UNICEF, Amnesty International, Australia’s Catholic welfare agencies, and every other local terrorist front cried to heaven for vengeance against the Queensland magistrate who sentenced the thugs; and a second Queensland magistrate conditionally freed them.
In contrast to Preston Manning, Jörg Haider, and other such spokesmen for the populist right, Mrs. Hanson (who has since formed her own party. One Nation) attained renown without the backing of any party machine—indeed, without the faintest suggestion of one. The Sydney-based Bulletin, Australia’s best-selling current-affairs magazine, has asserted (on the basis, admittedly, of a finding which no other pollsters’ researches replicate) that Mrs. Hanson could get at least seven of her supporters elected to the Senate, thereby holding the balance of power. Since this poll was published, she has dismissed two of her advisors, John Pasquarelli and Jeffry Babb, both of whom are understood to have favored establishing a Senate team more than she and her confidante Barbara Hazelton ever did. Yet even this spat has done her no perceptible political harm.
Will her rise to fame be matched by an equally sudden and spectacular sputtering-out of her career? Despite an army of self-appointed obituarists gleefully predicting this very outcome, the odds are against it. Were she to fall under a bus tomorrow (a fate that most of her parliamentary colleagues would eagerly wish on her), she would already have accomplished so much that the status quo ante Hansonum looks too chimerical to be revived. Somehow, she slipped through the political net. Somehow, the arc-lights and make-up geniuses of the mass media failed in their efforts to domesticate, contain, and generally lobotomize this lady. Think of it: in the gigantic shadows of JFK and Whitlam there managed to dwell (without anybody conceiving for a moment of so gross an abomination) a future politician who was a human being. A human being, what is more, with a pair of eyes in her head; a human being for whom liberal euphemism and “I’m glad you asked me that, Jim” sycophancy toward the yellow press are alike objectionable; a human being who, when escorted through an Aboriginal shantytown, has the impudence to enquire, “If these people have got such a great affinity with the land, how come there’s so much rubbish lying about?” So fantastic a creature belongs by rights with Sir John Mandeville’s bestiary, not to a Vibrant Multicultural Nation like ours. No wonder that permanently silencing her adenoidal and untrained but eloquent voice has become the chief goal of contemporary Australian policymakers.