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Pauline Hansen - The Politics of Downward Envy


I care so passionately about this country it's like I'm a mother. Australia is my home and the Australian people are my children. Pauline Hanson

If Pauline Hanson is “the mother of the nation” I'll sue her for child abuse. Sylvia Scott, Aboriginal Elder

FORUM/1.10.98 Many Australians believe that the federal election called for October third will be one of the most important in its history. It comes in the wake of the recent success of Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party in the Queensland state election, where she proved that she has captured the mood of a significant proportion of the electorate. On the news, nearly every night, you see her moving through the shopping malls in her smart bright suits, her supporters reaching out to her while she cuddles a child. Or she is shown being escorted to one of her many public meetings around the country where she presents her racist opinions in a quavering voice to a rapt audience, while protesters are invariably staged outside the venue.

But the strain is beginning to show. Recently, Pauline Hanson has been shown screaming at the media when questioned about aboriginal land rights, which she said was dividing the nation: "Now if you cannot understand that, well I feel sorry for you, because you are the voice of the people in what you print in our papers and what you put across your tvs, so it's about time, go and tell the people of Australia the truth."

Pauline Hanson's political career has been meteoric. She was elected to the Ipswich council in 1994, joined the Liberal Party in 1995 and was subsequently preselected to contest the seat of Oxley after three month. She soon became a dilemma for the party due to her racist views, but still won the seat disowning her black constituents saying that it was unfair that indigenous Australians were getting preferential treatment, instead she considered herself to be fighting for "the white community, the immigrants, Italians, Greeks, whoever, it really doesn't matter - anyone apart from the Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders." It is these views and her warnings that Australia was in danger of being swamped by Asians which have been repeated again and again over the last couple of years from her maiden speech in parliament to the election launch at the Stockman's Hall of Fame in central Queensland.

In her maiden speech, she stated: "My views on issues is based on commonsense, and my experiences as a mother of four children, a sole parent, and a business woman running a fish and chips shop." She is from the 'deep North' of Australia - the state of Queensland- and of Anglo/Irish background, the ordinary woman shaking up the system by speaking the truth. She shows a grim determination to speak out on what she insists have been until now 'taboo' subjects, stating then that she was "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." She publicly targeted what she terms 'the Aboriginal industry', multiculturalism, and the 'fat cats', along with big business and the United Nations. Her distortion of facts, her reliance on hearsay, her savage and emotional denunciation and over-simplifications of complex issues were glaring from the start.

If not too concerned with 'getting the facts straight' one is left with the impression that it is multiculturalism and generations of Aboriginal privilege which has created profound divisions within contemporary Australian society, divisions which according to her point of view can only be healed by returning to the assimilationist policies of the past so that Australia can truly, once again, become One Nation.

She warns that time is running out and Australians are left exposed to anyone seeking to take our natural resources. Unless Australia rallied ". . . all our fears will be realised, and we will lose our country for ever, and be strangers in our own land. As it stands, the future is one where the majority of Australians will be second-class citizens in their own country." Remember Australia passed an anti-Chinese Immigration Act, issued dictation tests - a device to exclude non-European migrants - and in 1901, united around the Immigration Restriction Act, the legislative foundation of the White Australia policy. This policy survived until formally abolished by the Whitlam government in 1973, when immigration policy was to be based upon "the avoidance of discrimination on any grounds of colour or skin or nationality."

In this, and other speeches, Pauline Hanson has said nothing about the historical and social calamities that have befallen the Aboriginal people in this country - their high infant mortality, shorter adult life expectancy, endemic unemployment and dramatically higher rates of imprisonment, disease and poverty. She like her supporters suffer from a profound sense of amnesia when it comes to the recognition of the past history of Australian colonialism. These are the people who will not join in an official apology, including the Prime Minister, John Howard, for the past atrocities of murder, imprisonment, starvation, forcible removal from traditional lands or being wrenched from their mothers or fathers by Europeans. These terrible chapters in Australia's past are now well researched by historians, and the stories of the Stolen Generation are also in front of us.

Musician, Ruby Hunter, is one of the Stolen Generation. She spoke at the recent Melbourne Writers Festival about her experiences of being separated from her family by white authorities and placed in a children's home with her brothers. The day she was taken away she was dressed up in new clothes and told she was going to the circus. She did not know she would never return. The pain for her, and many other Aborigines is still raw: "Being taken away . . . it's a question in my life all the time. Why? Why?" This practice continued well into the 1960s. The legacy is that the removal of Aboriginal children distanced them not only from their parents, but their land, their cultures and their languages. Aboriginal activists have called it cultural genocide.

The complaints about Aborigines doing too well out of the system, the notion marketed so energetically by One Nation, is based on more than bigotry and fallacy. They are based on the confusion between the concepts of equality and fairness. From the point of view of Pauline Hanson, no one should get anything more than anyone else in this country, despite past injustices and present inequalities. Indeed, the only form of racism which is acknowledged concerns what she terms 'reverse racism'. "Surely", declared Hanson the other day, "we must see the Aboriginal people are no better off despite approximately $ 30 billion in taxpayers' money disappearing into the Aboriginal industry in less than 20 years". Such statements fuels the widespread belief that buckets of money have been thrown at Aboriginal health and welfare, and that much of it has been wasted.

For that reason the Feeble Report on Expenditure on Health Services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, published last month, is important. It finds that health spending for and by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is little higher than for the rest of the Australian population with not enough money being spent on health and welfare provisions, and that the Maori population in New Zealand dropped their mortality significantly in a decade. Information to dispel the funding myth and to publicise the international comparisons are obviously essential to remove the kinds of misperceptions and prejudices which inform the racial rhetoric of Pauline Hanson and her supporters.

In the view of Pauline Hanson though, White Men-Aussie blokes-are the real losers in contemporary Australian society. She says: "I think the most downtrodden person in this country is the white Anglo-Saxon male. I think they've hit the bottom of the barrel. It's got to the stage where I think the balance has swung too far and men don't know what to do." It is telling when asked, at the beginning of her ascendancy about political role models, the only one she could think of was her father. When further pressed, the Queensland politician Joh Bjelke-Petersen. Both yesterday's men. And yes, Joh Bjelke-Petersen is of Danish descent. He ruled Queensland politics for several decades, remembered for his heady mix of avowed fundamentalist Christian values, repressive political laws-at one point banning all public demonstrations-and for the corruption which permeated Queensland political life during his leadership.

Feminist historian, Marilyn Lake, has specifically focused upon Pauline Hanson appeal among older Australian males in the book Virago in Parliament: Viagra in the Bush (1998). Lake sees her as a man's woman, who offers to restore to 'men's men' what they feel they have lost, that is, their place in the nation which their sacrifice brought into being, thus identifying closely with the nationalist narratives that celebrate the exploits of embattled white men, besieged by flood, fire and foreign enemies. The sad thing here, as Lake emphasises, is not that Hanson responds to loss but that she does so competitively, one loss against another. White grief is set against indigenous and immigrant grief; my loss is understood, yours is despised or not even admitted.

Certainly, to be Australian today is, for many people, to be deeply insecure about the future. It is no secret that the changes in Australian society over the past 15 years have been staggering. The catchwords have been globalisation and restructuring. The results have been declining wages, growing job insecurity, changing labour markets and persistent levels of unemployment, particularly among older men, formerly working in the manufacturing industries, and among the young.

These Australians are deeply cynical of the current government's economic policies and lack of concern about the plight of the unemployed. But rural Australia has also been hard hit by these changes. The picture there is of dwindling populations, gutted services and falling incomes. The primary industries that buttressed rural Australia for so long are squeezed between shrinking commodity prices and spiralling costs - without help from what many bush people see as uncaring city-based governments. What the Americans call rust-bucket areas and rural Australia is where Pauline Hanson's One Nation party gains its greatest level of popular support, particularly in Queensland.

It is deeply regrettable that the One Nation party of late has come to play such a significant role in defining the parameters of political discourse in this country, because the Howard Coalition government has quietly been left to pursue its own ruthless agenda of economic rationalism with savage cuts in the last year in the areas of health, education and welfare and in Aboriginal funding. Its record on human rights and social justice has been deplorable, in effect returning Aboriginal people to the politically irrelevant position they occupied before the 1967 referendum, when over 90 per cent of Australians supported the proposed Constitutional changes.

ATSIC (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission) chairman, Gatjil Djerrkura said at a recent UN working group on indigenous populations in Geneva that "there was evil in the Australian body politics but good in the majority of Australians" with Aboriginal Australians being "an ace away from achieving justice" before the Coalition won the last election and Pauline Hanson got into parliament. Just as the rest of the world is moving closer to an accommodation of the aspirations of the indigenous peoples, Australia's approach has hardened.

Another concern about this right wing 'turn' in Australian politics is that with all media eyes sharply focused upon Pauline Hanson and her racist antics, the other minor parties are finding it difficult to gain widespread media coverage for their policies on race, immigration, the environment, the republic and the broad spectrum of welfare issues. And this is also the case for the several Aboriginal candidates, including Charmaine Clarke, a young Aboriginal woman, a child of the Stolen Generation, selected as the Green Senate Candidate in Victoria. If successful Clarke would be only the second Aborigine ever elected to Federal parliament. And the first indigenous woman. If she wins, she will be carrying a huge burden. Working essentially inside white man's politics of which indigenous people are often suspicious, and sometimes downright rejects.

Despite many Australians being shell-shocked by the current political climate, there are positive signs of rebellion against the prevailing winds of economic fundamentalism and the politics of racial bigotry. The so-called movement for reconciliation has spread far beyond its modest city-based origins. Many country centres now have their own groups, which are steadily increasing their support. This is happening not only because of the growing awareness of the moral issues involved, but through the efforts of the Aborigines themselves. Mick Dodson, the figurehead of the national reconciliation movement, has played a pivotal role in this development and the new generation of young and forceful advocates, including many Aboriginal women like Charmaine Clarke, have taken their message to a much wider audience than has been the case in the past.

The growth and strengthening of the anti-racist movement is also evident in the massive protest organised by Resistance in July. It is the first time that so many high school students, some 10,000 have demonstrated around any issue in Australian history. Their youthful irreverence is evident in the current popularity of a record by Pauline Pantsdown I don't Like It currently played on the Triple J youth station. It is a cutting and pasting of Pauline Hanson's voice to make her recite lines such as: I don't like a puppet without a string/There's a Muppet in the wings/ and it's saying racist things. Young listeners find it humorous, particularly that Pauline Hanson can be made to say all kinds of silly things.

Faith Bandler, now in her eighties, who spent nearly 25 years fighting for the rights of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders is still optimistic. She recently said: "I have great hope for this country. And my hope is really fixed in the young people. Truly. There are an awful lot of thoroughly decent people in this country. Pauline Hanson might have a following, but we have the majority. The decent people."

I hope we will not dissappoint Faith Bandler at the election on October 3, otherwise Aboriginal Australia will continue to be under siege, multiculturalism will be made irrelevant and the living standards of the most disadvantaged Australians will continue to deteriorate if they are unable to find a foothold in the 'new' economy.

Anna Macgarvey migrated to Australia from Denmark with her husband and three month old baby son in 1975. She gained her academic qualifications in that country as a mature age student obtaining a PhD in 1996. Anna teaches sociology at Deakin University in Victoria and is an occasional social commentator on the SBS Danish language program.

For sources to this article, click here

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