Ups and downs of persistent Pauline
‘Please Explain: The Rise, Fall and Rise Again of Pauline Hanson’
By Anna Broinowski
Viking, 312pp $34.99
Anna Broinowski’s revealing documentary ‘Pauline Hanson: Please Explain!’ ran on SBS television a year ago. Throughout 2015 the award-winning filmmaker had unfettered access to Hanson and her Fed Up campaign, as Hanson attempted to win a Queensland Senate seat at the 2016 federal election.
This involved following Hanson on the hustings as she flew from Rockhampton to Sydney to Great Keppel Island and other parts of rural and regional Queensland in her Jabiru two-seater aeroplane, the purchase of which was subject to dispute.
A little over a year later Broinowski has produced an intriguing book, largely based on the above, which canvasses the fluctuating political fortunes of Hanson, who is now firmly entrenched in the Senate.
‘Please Explain’ tries to show how, after 18 years in the political wilderness, Hanson now speaks directly to a significant portion of the population who feel alienated in the 21st century, and also from the main political parties and their support of transnational free trade and multiculturalism.
Born in Woolloongabba, Brisbane, on May 27, 1954, the fifth of seven children and the youngest daughter, Hanson is deeply nostalgic for an idealised version of a monocultural Anglo-Australia of the 1950s.
Broinowski’s book is an intimate exploration of Hanson Mark I and Mark II. In particular it examines how the former Ipswich fish and chip shop owner, who in 2003 was wrongly imprisoned for electoral fraud, resurrected her parliamentary career.
This book is a compelling companion to Margo Kingston’s ‘Off the Rails’, a searing account of Hanson’s botched 1998 federal election campaign.
In March 1996, after the Liberals withdrew her nomination for her allegedly racist utterances, Hanson, who left school after Year 10, was the first female independent to become a member of the House of Representatives, winning the previously safe Labor seat of Oxley.
In September 1996, 42-year-old Hanson delivered an infamous maiden speech, crafted with the aid of uber-right, ultranationalist John Pasquarelli, with whom she soon fell out in favour of David Oldfield. Delivered to an almost empty chamber, Hanson’s first parliamentary speech attacked Asian and indigenous peoples as well as foreign aid and takeovers. In condemning what she termed “reverse racism” and “separatism in Australia”, she unleashed a media avalanche, provoking either strong and rabid support or bitter opposition, especially from progressives.
In 1987 Hanson co-founded One Nation with the aid of Oldfield and Adelaide-born businessman David Etteridge. At the 1988 Queensland election the party gained more than 22 per cent of the vote, winning 11 of the 89 seats in the state’s one-house parliament.
However after an electoral redistribution divided the seat of Oxley, in the 1998 federal election Hanson was defeated for the neighbouring seat of Blair. To some commentators her political downfall seemed assured.
But Broinowski recounts how Hanson managed to stay in the spotlight, as a jiving semi-finalist on ‘Dancing with the Stars’ in 2004, promoting her autobiography ‘Untamed and Unashamed’ in 2007, or standing nine times, unsuccessfully, for state or federal parliaments.
As this fine book demonstrates, Hanson is nothing if not persistent. Now after almost two decades in the political wilderness, she is more influential than ever. Hanson always sensed she and One Nation would be successful at the 2016 election. Indeed on July 2 that year, with 9.2 per cent of the Queensland Senate vote, Australia’s best-known right-wing populist and anti-Islamic agitator was returned to federal parliament at the age of 62.
Serendipitously, Hanson’s successful tilt at the Senate was finalised a few weeks before ‘Pauline Hanson: Please Explain!’ went to air. As it happens, Hanson’s sprawling 60ha rural southeast Queensland property, her sanctuary from the world, is named Serendipity.
Broinowski observes there was a movement gathering behind Hanson as she travelled the length and breadth of her target state of Queensland. Indeed by late 2015 Hanson’s sometimes surreal journey was in many ways mirroring Australia’s own.
There was a discernible shift, as Broinowski puts it, “from left-leaning multiculturalism to the deeply divided landscape we live in now”.
Predictably, Hanson’s maiden speech to the Senate on September 14, 2016, stressed the rise of Islam: “We are in danger of being swamped by Muslims who bear a culture and ideology that is incompatible with our own.”
Compare this with her maiden speech to the Reps on September 10, 1996: “I believe we are being swamped by Asians. They have their own culture and religion, form ghettos and do not assimilate.”
While Broinowski seeks to draw parallels between the resurrection of Pauline Hanson, Brexit and the rise of Donald Trump, the strongest parts of the book are when she lets Hanson’s Australian story speak for itself.
Ross Fitzgerald AM is Emeritus Professor of History and Politics at Griffith University and the author of 39 books, including the sexual/political satire ‘Going Out Backwards: A Grafton Everest Adventure’. Ross Fitzgerald’s blog is available at www.rossfitzgerald.com/
The Weekend Australian, September 16-17, 2017, review, Books p 21.