As noted in places as far away as Singapore, Pauline Hanson is standing as a candidate in the Queensland election. Appropriately for a walking headline, tonight’s Channel Nine News noted that celebrity agent Max Markson will accompany Hanson when she officially unveils her candidacy in the town (and seat) of Beaudesert next week. While Markson denied today he had encouraged Hansen to run, he admitted he was helping her out and handling her media affairs. However 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 today Hanson will either sell her candidacy story to magazines and television or else make a pitch for a reality TV show.
The news came just 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 because we are part of the media,” 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 her public life as an independent Ipswich city councillor where she quickly found she possessed 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 where she 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.
In some respects 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-fellow Nat Bob Katter complained about aboriginal funding and the influence of “slanty-eyed ideologues who persecute ordinary, average Australians". Both Burgess and Katter got re-elected with above-average swings.
Nor were they disendorsed before the election, unlike Hanson. When Ipswich Labor councillor Paul Tully brought The Queensland Times letter to national attention, she was promptly disendorsed by John Howard when she would not retract her position. But the public exposure backfired on Labor. The newly independent Hanson won the sympathy of the locals who saw her as a victim of political correctness. Though still listed as Liberal on the ballot paper she took the seat with a massive 19 percent swing.
By now, the media spotlight was firmly on her. Hanson became the focus of a race debate. Helen Dodd’s authorised biography questioned whether the media’s aim was to sensationalise the idea that racism was alive and well in Australia. Dodd says the debate never occurred among average Australians but that it was “written, orchestrated and performed by the media”. But Hanson herself bought into the argument. In September 1996 she stood up in front of an almost 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 a lot of people. She proved a hit on television and talkback radio. Hanson had opened a Pandora’s Box of forbidden opinion. As a result, 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 and her anti-Asian attitudes were noted in Jakarta and elsewhere. In 1998 her newly founded Pauline Hanson’s One Nation party (significantly, the first Australian party ever to be branded with its leader’s name) contested the Queensland state election. They attracted 23 percent of the vote and won eleven seats with the help of Coalition preferences.
As Margot Kingston noted, Hanson had ruptured the stability of political discourse. Only then did John Howard realise how serious the phenomenon was becoming. He did a deal with independent Senator Brian Harradine to compromise on Wik and resolved to put One Nation last in preference voting in the impending federal election. But Hanson had to move to fight that election. A redistribution made Oxley unwinnable. She would have been a certainty to be elected to the Senate, but instead chose to fight in National heartland in the new seat of Blair. Placed last on the 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 (brilliantly chronicled by her unlikely ally Kingston in “Off the Rails”) went the way of the title of the book. Hanson fell just short with 37 percent and One Nation’s only victory was a Senate seat in Queensland.
The party didn’t take long to unravel without its raison d’etre in parliament. Hanson’s star was on the wane by 2001 and she narrowly failed in a Senate tilt. Nevertheless Howard was still learning from Hanson in that poll. Earlier that year Hanson 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 was listening and he skilfully manipulated the fear and loathing generated by the Tampa crisis and wedged the Opposition whose lead in the polls quickly evaporated. Hanson rightly complained that the Coalition had stolen her refugee policy clothes. Hanson was gone but the views she left behind 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 again featuring her name “Pauline’s United Australia Party”. She recontested the Queensland half-Senate election that year and showed she still held substantial support by taking 4.16 percent of the vote across the state. 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 now and her results over the years shows she has retained a loyal constituency. It is questionable whether much of it is in Beaudesert but Pollytics says her candidacy there has thrown a spanner in the works of the LNP’s hopes of retaining the seat. The current margin is 5.9 percent but sitting member Kev Lingard is retiring. 30 year old Logan City councillor Aidan McLindon is the new candidate. In 2005 McLindon was fined on a public nuisance charge. He barged on to the set of that year's final episode of Big Brother during the announcement of the winner in a protest against the show’s exploitative nature. Hanson has now made McLindon’s life more complicated. If she can poll 20 percent and her preferences exhaust, the seat “could become marginal if a large swing away from Labor doesn’t manifest.” Meanwhile Hanson can walk away from the mess with a pile of money from Max Markson and plan her next campaign with the proceeds.