As noted in Singapore, Pauline Hanson is standing as a candidate in the Queensland election. Appropriately for a walking headline, Channel Nine News said celebrity agent Max Markson would accompany Hanson when she unveils her candidacy in Beaudesert next week. While Markson denied he encouraged Hansen to run, he admitted he was handling her media affairs. With neither an election website nor a publicly available phone number for Markson, it promises to be yet another unorthodox Hanson media campaign.
The Brisbane Times speculated Hanson would either sell her story to magazines and television or else make a pitch for a reality TV show. The news came a week after it was announced Cate Blanchett could play the lead role in a biopic about Hanson. Melbourne filmmakers Leanne Tonkes and Steve Kearney are calling the project “Please Explain” and starts from her time running a fish and chip shop and ends with her on Dancing With the Stars. The filmmakers claim it will be “wry, not vicious”. With a view to the American market, Tonkes compares Hanson with Sarah Palin. “She [Hanson] is naturally sceptical of what we are doing,” said Tonkes, “but we need to find out the person behind the media front to make a compelling story.”
Hanson has always been a compelling story and she and the media have long been involved in a complicated dance. She began public life as an independent Ipswich city councillor where she found skills in communication and listening to people. However she was out of a job after just a year when elections were called after council amalgamations in 1995. She joined the Liberal Party and comfortably won preselection for the ultra-safe Labor seat of Oxley. Prior to the 1996 election she wrote a letter to the Queensland Times complaining about Aboriginal welfare. “I would be the first to admit, not that many years ago, the Aborigines were treated wrongly but in trying to correct this they have gone too far”, she wrote.
What she said was mild compared to other Queensland Coalition candidates. The National candidate for Leichhardt Bob Burgess described citizenship ceremonies as “dewoggings” while then-Nat Bob Katter complained about aboriginal funding and the influence of “slanty-eyed ideologues who persecute ordinary, average Australians”. Burgess and Katter got re-elected with above-average swings.
Neither were abandoned before the election, unlike Hanson. When Ipswich Labor councillor Paul Tully brought the Queensland Times letter to national attention, she was disendorsed by John Howard when she would not retract her position. The public exposure backfired. The newly independent Hanson won the sympathy of locals who saw her as a victim of political correctness. Still listed as Liberal on the ballot paper, she took the seat with a 19 percent swing.
The media spotlight was firmly on Hanson as the focus of a race debate. Helen Dodd’s authorised biography questioned whether the media’s aim was to sensationalise the idea racism was alive in Australia. Dodd says the debate never occurred among average Australians but was “written, orchestrated and performed by the media”. In September 1996 Hanson stood up in a near empty parliament to make her maiden speech. She spoke of money wasted on Aborigines, condemned the Mabo judgement, attacked economic rationalism, called for the abolition of multicultural policy and warned Australia was being “swamped” with Asians. She channelled Menzies’ Forgotten People speech with her call to represent “common sense and the mainstream”.
It was incendiary stuff, and it connected with many. She proved a hit on television and talkback radio opening up a Pandora’s Box of forbidden opinion. Her approval rating soared and for much of Howard’s first term, Hanson controlled the political agenda particularly over the Wik judgement. While the Nationals recognised her as a threat, Howard implicitly condoned her. Her anti-Asian attitudes were noted overseas. In 1998 Pauline Hanson’s One Nation party (the first Australian party to be branded with its leader’s name) contested the Queensland state election. It attracted 23 percent of the vote and won eleven seats with the help of Coalition preferences.
As Margo Kingston noted, Hanson ruptured the stability of political discourse. Only then did John Howard realise how serious the phenomenon was. He did a deal with independent Senator Brian Harradine on Wik and put One Nation last in preference voting in the federal election. Hanson had to move as a redistribution made Oxley unwinnable. She would have been a certainty to win a Senate seat, but instead chose to fight in National heartland in the new seat of Blair. Placed last on how-to-vote cards, she would have needed 40 percent of first preferences to win. Abandoning most media conventions and egged on by a massive press gallery, Hanson’s campaign (chronicled by unlikely ally Kingston in “Off the Rails”) fell just short with 37 percent and One Nation’s only victory was a Senate seat in Queensland.
The party unravelled without its star in parliament. Hanson was on the wane by 2001 and she narrowly failed in a Senate tilt. She outlined her policy towards boat people: “You go out and meet them, fill them with food and water and medical supplies and say ‘Go That Way’”. Howard manipulated the fear and loathing generated by the Tampa crisis to wedge the Opposition whose polls lead evaporated. Hanson complained the Coalition had stolen her refugee policy. She was gone but her views went mainstream.
In 2003 she was sentenced to three years prison for fiddling party membership numbers but had the sentence quashed on appeal. A year later she quit politics after another Senate loss. But she simply could not kick the habit. She was back again in 2007 with a new party featuring her name “Pauline’s United Australia Party”. She recontested the Queensland half-Senate election and took 4.16 percent of the vote. There was little surprise when she announced her candidacy for this year’s state poll. As Jeff Sparrow puts it, “there’s something of Mike Tyson in Pauline Hanson’s return: battered and past her prime, she’s drawn inevitably back to what she knows best.”
She is an experienced campaigner and her results over the years shows a loyal constituency. Pollytics says her candidacy in Beaudesert has muddied the LNP’s hopes of retaining the seat. The margin is 5.9 percent but sitting member Kev Lingard is retiring. Thirty-year-old Logan councillor Aidan McLindon is the new candidate. In 2005 McLindon was fined on a public nuisance charge. He barged onto the set of that year’s Big Brother finale in protest against the show’s exploitative nature. If Hanson can poll 20 percent and her preferences exhaust, the seat “could become marginal if a large swing away from Labor doesn’t manifest.” Hanson can walk away from the mess with a pile of money from Max Markson and plan her next campaign with the proceeds.