How @margokingston1 saw Hansonism in 2004

Margo Kingston

Margo Kingston

Co-publisher & editor-in-chief at No Fibs
Margo Kingston is an Australian journalist, author, and commentator. She is best known for her work at The Sydney Morning Herald and her weblog, Webdiary. Since 2012, Kingston has been a citizen journalist, reporting and commenting on Australian politics via Twitter and No Fibs.
Margo Kingston
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Margo Kingston

 

Intro: Extract of Still Not Happy, John: Defending our Democracy (Penguin 2007)

Democracy v. the Beast

Her appeal was simply that she represented something authentic  in a culture of artefact. She was transparent in an era during  which the political class have become expert at concealment. She was a still point in a culture of spin. She advanced our politics even if it was only to the extent of showing us what we might be up against if we chose to get involved as she did. Maybe others will learn  from her mistakes Webdiarist Dr Tim Dunlop, an opponent of Pauline Hanson’s policies

I do not believe that the real life of this nation is to be found either in the great luxury hotels and the petty gossip of so-called fashionable suburbs, or in the officialdom of organised masses. It is to be found in the homes of people who are nameless and unadvertised and who, whatever their individual religious conviction or dogma, see in their children their greatest contribution to the immortality of their race Robert Menzies, ‘The Forgotten People’, from The Forgotten People  radio broadcasts, 1942

Last year a woman named Pauline approached me at a café in Marrickville and thanked me for a talk I’d given on refugees at the Marrickville town hall. She sat down for a chat and mentioned that she and her sister in Wollongong had long been at loggerheads over the boat people. Now they were in dispute over the recent jailing of Pauline Hanson – to her dismay, her sister believed that Pauline Hanson should not have gone to jail. For her sister, Ms Hanson represented the little people, who had virtually no influence in society and whose voice the politicians did not hear.

The women’s family had grown up dirt poor in a housing commission house in Wollongong, and Pauline said she’d always voted Labor because no kid should have to endure such a deprived childhood. She was gay and had left her church when it refused to accept you could be gay and Catholic. But after attending the refugee meeting, Pauline – an alternative dispute resolution officer – had wanted to help the cause and approached the priest at Marrickville’s Catholic church. He had invited her to join the church, and she became involved in its refugee activism.

How could her own sister feel such anger at refugees, Pauline asked in wonder. How? I asked why her sister supported Pauline Hanson. She had recently separated from her husband, Pauline said, and one of her sons had been a drug addict. She was desperate for help but there was none. Pauline Hanson had provided the scream she needed.

That scream wasn’t really about refugees – but that’s the part you wanted to hear, John.

These two sisters seemed loving and compassionate women; the kind of Australians you’d reckon would instinctively open the door and help someone less fortunate than themselves if and when the crunch came.

Of course I will be called racist, but if I can invite whom I want into my home, then I should have the right to have a say on who comes into my country. Pauline Hanson’s maiden speech, 10 September 1996

They were both, in their own way, lamenting the lack of justice for the world’s strugglers. To me it was easy to see them working together instead of turning their backs on each other or simply agreeing not to talk about politics.

A memory flashed into my head, and I suddenly understood its meaning. During Pauline Hanson’s Queensland campaign in 1998, in a shopping centre in Mareeba, a far north Queensland town economically devastated by the closure of its timber mills, an Aboriginal man of about 50, wearing an Akubra, diffidently shook her hand. ‘Thank you, Pauline,’ he said. ‘I’m with you.’ I asked him if he knew what he’d done: that Pauline Hanson was against funding for special Aboriginal services to address their disadvantage. ‘I know, but ATSIC is real corrupt, and nothing gets to us here. She’s promised to stop that.’

Pauline Hanson’s core appeal was never about race.  Sure, she attracted racists to her cause. Sure, she made

I was told I was part of a [Liberal Party] team, and the trouble is I’m too much of an individual and I tend to speak my mind at times. If I really believe in something I will speak up. So I’m quite happy now to be that individual, and I can have my own voice now. Independent Member for Oxley Pauline Hanson, 17 March 1996, on why the Queensland Liberals disendorsed her – a decision Howard backed

I come here not as a polished politician but as a woman who has had her fair share of life’s knocks . . . I won the seat of Oxley largely on an issue that has resulted in me being called a racistPauline Hanson’s maiden speech, 10 September 1996

In a sense, a pall of censorship on certain issues has been lifted . . . I welcome the fact that people can now talk about certain things without living in fear of being branded a racist. John Howard, to the Queensland Liberal Party, 22 September 1996

We will decide who comes to this country, and the circumstances in which they come. John Howard unveils his unofficial election slogan,  October 2001

repellent statements about ‘Aboriginal states’, and framed some ugly policies on immigration – policies Howard later ran with for all he was worth. But these were just the surface symptoms, not the underlying disease. What Hanson and her supporters suffered from wasn’t a disease anyway, but a very rude case of democratic good health.

Hanson’s scream mattered because it was authentic and timely. Her mobilisation of the disaffected, most of whom had never been involved in politics before, saw the resurrection of the passionate town hall political meeting. These people – like Bob Brown and the Greens – were frustrated with the loaded Big Party rules and wanted some honest answers, now.

Hanson’s catchcry – ‘Please explain’ – was heartfelt. The government was terrified by that virulent outbreak of grassroots democracy. In the beginning John Howard hoped that if he stroked it, it would be soothed. Then he thought he could get away with only treating the superficial manifestations.

Every time Hanson’s voters screamed about a social issue, Howard sought not to explain or even engage – but to appease. Then, after One Nation devastated the conservative vote at the 1998 Queensland election anyway, he knew he had to do more to hold the battlers’ vote he’d so assiduously cultivated. Soon after, a young Howard protégé named Tony Abbott signalled a shift in tactics when he wrote that ‘the only viable Coalition strategy is to find ways of undermining support for the Hansonites’.

Yet five years, many more policy thefts and a lot of ‘undermining’ later, and even after Pauline Hanson had been disgraced and jailed, her supporters were still screaming at John Howard – and this time they were joined by a hell of a lot of Australians who couldn’t stand most of her policies. A Brisbane poll on the weekend following Hanson’s successful appeal against her conviction in November 2003 revealed that nearly one in three Queenslanders would have given her their primary vote in an immediate election.

What about smug progressives like me?

When Hanson first arrived on the scene I was among the many who thought that if the media ignored her, her scream would soon die out. Next, we overreacted to her growing popularity, helping stoke bitter divisions over issues such as race and immigration – the ones that would drive the Marrickville alternative dispute resolution officer and her sister apart – while ignoring what lay behind that scream as wilfully as the conservatives. These were mistakes I still regret today, for into the mainstream vacuum that greeted her 1996 election to Parliament as a representative of the people of Oxley stepped the worst kind of exploiters: those who heard in her scream only political opportunity.

Dick Morris, former spin doctor to President Clinton, says in his book The New Prince: Machiavelli Updated for the 21st Century ‘The media play the key role in bringing the private pains and needs of real people to public attention.’ This role, along with its corollary – to scrutinise the powerful to ensure they are telling the people the truth – is the reason the media have a privileged role in a democracy. The Hanson phenomenon exposed it as unfulfilled.

Eight years later we’re still not bringing the private pains and needs of those who once supported Hanson to public attention, and we’re still not scrutinising the powerful to ensure they are telling the truth. Not by a long shot.

The scream was always about money, power and democratic exclusion, John.

If this government wants to be fair dinkum, then it must stop kow-towing to financial markets, international organisations, world bankers, investment companies and big business people. Pauline Hanson, 10 September 1996

So far the Trust has raised nearly $100,000, almost all of which is committed to supporting the action brought by  Mrs Barbara Hazelton in the Queensland Supreme Court to test the validity of the Queensland registration of One Nation – which may not have been brought but for the Trust. Tony Abbott explains the purpose of a new trust to the Australian Electoral Commission, 20 October 1998

Pauline Hanson’s political career represented the first people’s revolt against what both Labor and Liberal governments were doing to our core Australian value: the fair go.

A fair share in our growing national wealth.
A fair say in the way we shape our collective future.
A fair degree of access to power and privilege.
A fair shot at a decent job, a decent home and decent health care.
And – one of Hanson’s key messages never taken up by the media – a fair education for our kids.
A fair bloody go, John.

Hanson’s scream was never an articulate or informed one, but it was loud, real and made on behalf of many of  Australia’s powerless and disfranchised, and unlike many

such screams it was expressed in the right way: using our democratic institutions. That’s what made it so frightening to all the elites – Labor and Liberal, left and right,  progressive and conservative – and Big Party, Big Money and Big Media. Pauline Hanson was screaming at the threeheaded Beast of Australian power not from some wacky fringe, but from right at its heart.

Of course the Beast was going to destroy her.

August 1998
Imagine this. You’re a fly on the ceiling at Bistro Moncur, Damien Pignolet’s splendid French bistro in the fashionable Sydney suburb of Woollahra. How fashionable? Paul Keating himself lives not far away. The clientele on any day at Moncur might be as famous as its Sirloin with Café de Paris butter, which melts in your mouth. You can’t book a table – patrons must wait in the Woollahra Hotel bar for a nod from the staff. They reckon it’s first come, first served – no ‘queue jumpers’ here.

Although being a Sydney MP known to be close to the PM probably doesn’t hurt.

From your position on the ceiling you can see that the table below is occupied by four stalwarts of the neo-liberal scene, including a couple of associates of its most influential intellectual forum, Quadrant magazine, published from another fashionable Sydney suburb, Balmain. There’s former NSW Liberal leader and ex-federal MP Peter Coleman, a Woollahra resident, father-in-law of Treasurer Peter Costello. There’s former Whitlam minister turned economic ultra-rightist John Wheeldon. The third bloke, who’s just selected another bottle of crisp chardonnay, is the Daily Telegraph’s fervently pro-Howard columnist Piers Akerman. The last man is the Member for Warringah and Parliamentary Secretary.

The reason for this lunch – the first of several – is to create a new private trust. Its purpose? To nail Pauline Hanson through the courts. One Nation is riding so high on its recent Queensland election successes that it now threatens John Howard’s chances at the upcoming federal poll, and these neo-liberal power-players have decided upon a dual strategy: let John woo her voters in public while they destroy her party in private.

There’s at least two One Nation dissidents up in Queensland willing to go after Hanson with civil actions. Abbott’s already convinced Terry Sharples to seek an injunction stopping One Nation getting the cheque for $500,000 in public funds due after her Queensland success, to deprive her of resources for the coming federal campaign. He’s given Sharples two top Liberal lawyers who’ll do the work for free, and a guarantee he won’t be out of pocket – but it’s getting messy and Abbott’s already misled the public about what he’s up to, as we’ll see.

He now wants a more formal arrangement to fund the injunction application of another dissident, Barbara Hazelton.

Some top Liberals down in Melbourne – Jeff Kennett, and even Coleman’s son-in-law Peter Costello – have been calling for the party to take on Hanson the honest political way: preference her party last while arguing the case against her policies out on the voting stump. Jeff even went north to eyeball her in a shopping mall during the Queensland election campaign. But John Howard isn’t having any of that democratic nonsense. ‘Speaking freely and openly’ in public about ‘certain subjects’ with Hanson voters?

No one at this exclusive restaurant table today wants that.

Instead Howard has long been publicly empathising with Hanson’s voters on the strictly social issues – land rights, refugees, family breakdown, law and order. And especially on the way our nation’s cherished fair go is being destroyed by those damned elitists – the kind of moralising lefty hypocrites who chatter on endlessly about doing good for the battlers, while enjoying an excellent steak and a crisp chardonnay in some flash restaurant in some fashionable suburb.

The trust’s money-men – there are twelve wealthy donors lined up, for the law is an expensive business – know that what they’re about to fund is just business as usual from the three-headed Beast of Australian politics: Big Party, Big Money, Big Media.

The details will come together quickly, but there’s an early snag: nobody can think of what to call this new trust. We imagine Piers – who, despite later claiming to crave ‘greater transparency’ in politics, will not write a word about these lunches for five years – suggesting another  bottle while they think on it some more.

Tony Abbott brightens. He’s got it! Three heads turn his way and Tony grins his trademark grin. You’re gunna love this, fellahs: let’s call it ‘Australians for . . .’

Their laughter hasn’t stopped when the waiter arrives with the Moet five minutes later.

It’s just a silly, made-up conspiracy theory, of course. Or is it? Let’s have a look at what actually happened.

The whole process of political funding needs to be out in the open so that there can be no doubt in the public mind – Australians deserve to know who is giving money  to political parties, and how much. Kim Beazley commends new laws requiring disclosure of political donations, 2 November 1983

There are some things the public has no particular right  to know. Tony Abbott explains why the laws don’t apply to his trust,  5 September 2003

13 October 1997
Pauline Hanson applies to register in Queensland a political party she calls Pauline Hanson’s One Nation. A major  benefit of registration is that election costs are recoverable from the public purse. To satisfy Queensland electoral law a party without a sitting MP in the state Parliament must have at least 500 members. She lodges more than 500 names and addresses and the constitution of a very unusually structured and centralised party.

4 December 1997
The Queensland Electoral Commission, having confirmed the membership in the standard manner, accepts registration of Pauline Hanson’s One Nation. John Howard’s party raises no objections.

10 May 1998
On the Sunday program Peter Costello states that One Nation will be preferenced last in his Melbourne electorate at the next federal election.

12 May 1998
John Howard argues in the party room against placing One Nation behind the ALP on Liberal how-to-vote cards at the federal election. He says he would prefer to work with One Nation than the Democrats in the Senate. Tony Abbott agrees, advocating the Voltaire approach: ‘I disagree with what she says, but I’m happy to defend her right to say it.’

13 June 1998
After the Coalition in Queensland gives its preferences to One Nation above Labor, Brisbane liberals desert the Liberal Party for Labor, and One Nation decimates the Nationals’ vote, gaining eleven seats. The ALP wins office in Queensland.

Mid-June 1998
Tony Abbott begins attacking the legality of One Nation’s registration in Queensland. He tells the House of Representatives on 2 July, ‘I am not a lawyer, but it seems to me that . . . One Nation, as registered in Queensland, does not have 500 members, it is not a validly registered political party, and it cannot receive any public funding.’ He personally lobbies the Queensland electoral commissioner to investigate One Nation’s legality. He travels around the country encouraging One Nation dissidents to take legal action.

7 July 1998
Abbott meets One Nation dissident Terry Sharples in the Brisbane offices of establishment solicitors Minter Ellison to nut out the legal and financial support needed for Sharples to launch a Supreme Court injunction to stop One Nation getting $500,000 in public funding due after its strong vote in Queensland before the impending federal election. Abbott brings with him two top lawyers with Liberal Party connections – one is Queensland Liberal Party President Paul Everingham – who will run the action for free. Sharples later claims that Abbott tells him that any  Liberal Party connection should be kept secret, but that he will financially underwrite Sharples’ intended civil action testing the legality of One Nation.

11 July 1998
Abbott gives Sharples a signed and witnessed ‘personal guarantee that you will not be further out-of-pocket as a result of this action’. Sharples issues his Supreme Court writ for an injunction. Abbott has obtained the financial backing of someone – who he still will not name – to stump up $10,000 to meet that guarantee.

31 July 1998
Tony Abbott and journalist Tony Jones have the following exchange in an interview for an ABC Four Corners broadcast  on 10 August.

JONES: So there was never any question of party funds —
ABOTT: Absolutely not.
JONES: Or other funds from any other source —
ABOTT: Absolutely not.
JONES: — being offered to Terry Sharples?
ABOTT: Absolutely not.

21 August 1998
In the witness box during what will be an unsuccessful action for an injunction, Terry Sharples is cross-examined on his funding relationship with Abbott. Asked whether Abbott ever talked to him about ‘providing an indemnity for this action or any action you may bring’, he replies ‘No,  he didn’t.’ (Later, on 11 March 2000, in an interview with Sydney Morning Herald journalist Deborah Snow, Abbott will recount his reaction to Sharples after the August 1998 cross examination: ‘Terry, this thing is out of control . . . you should just terminate this action and there’ll be a costs order against you and I’ll look after it.’ )

Soon after 21 August 1998
Abbott disassociates himself from Sharples’ civil action.

24 August 1998
Tony Abbott establishes the Australians for Honest Politics Trust. Its stated objective is ‘to support actions to challenge the activities of a political party or association within Australia which is alleged to conduct its affairs in breach of the laws of Australia’. First cab off the rank is former secretary and estranged friend of Hanson, Barbara Hazelton, who duly issues a Supreme Court writ also seeking an injunction against payment of the $500,000 before the federal election.

29 August 1998
The Sydney Morning Herald’s Marian Wilkinson reports Abbott’s Australians for Honest Politics Trust under the headline ‘Lib MP Backs Trust to Attack Hanson’. Abbott denies any Liberal Party involvement in AHPT, and says he is acting ‘as a citizen and a democrat, because One Nation is a fraud on the taxpayers and must be exposed’. Hanson’s senior adviser, former Liberal David Oldfield, who’d worked for Abbott before defecting to Hanson, claims that AHPT ‘is a clear example of big business money being used to stop Pauline Hanson’s One Nation. It is the filth of the Liberal Party at its worst, and Abbott’s involvement in such nefarious activity is appropriate and understandable.’

I saw One Nation as a threat not so much to civilisation as to the Coalition. It had brought down the Borbidge government in Queensland and was defeating Coalition MPs and candidates all over the country . . . [Tony Abbott] deserves a medal. Peter Coleman reminisces in the Australian , 28 August 2003

Peter Coleman and . . . John Wheeldon used to hold their irregular meetings over lunch at the Bistro Moncur in Woollahra . . . I know, because I joined the gathering for a few pleasant meals. Conspiratorial? Hardly . . . Those attempting to demonise Mr Abbott, however, would be better employed arguing for an overhaul of the nation’s electoral laws to ensure that all political parties are forced to operate with greater transparency. Piers Akerman reminisces in the Daily Telegraph , 28 August 2003

3 October 1998
John Howard is returned to government with a reduced majority. One Nation polls 8.4 per cent of the national

vote, but only has one senator elected. The result earns One Nation about $3 million in public reimbursement.

20 October 1998
Tony Abbott’s response to a request from the Australian Electoral Commission on 18 September 1998 to disclose the trust’s donors is to say that he is not required by law to do so.

10 June 1999
The AEC writes to Abbott accepting his assurances that the trust is not an ‘associated entity’ with the Liberal Party and therefore need not disclose its donors.

18 August 1999
Justice Roslyn Atkinson of the Queensland Supreme Court finds for the plaintiff in the Sharples civil action. (Barbara Hazelton had dropped her action.) She rules that Electoral Commissioner Des O’Shea’s decision to register Pauline Hanson’s One Nation was ‘induced by fraud or misrepresentation’ because the people on the membership list were ‘supporters’, not ‘members’. One Nation is ordered to repay the $500,000 of public funds. A police investigation commences. Although victorious, Sharples is considerably ‘out of pocket as a result of this action’. He pursues Abbott to honour his indemnity pledge.

Late 1999
Abbott’s lawyer writes to Sharples asking him to accept $10,000 to call it quits, maintaining this is not ‘an admission of liability’.

24 September 1999
In Victoria Jeff Kennett’s government suffers a stunning 4.5 per cent statewide swing against it, rising to 10–15 per cent in rural and regional seats, and is ousted. The backlash is attributed to voter anger after seven years of neo-liberal economic reform. Labor, which had made it its business to promise better services to regional voters, and Independents poll strongly in rural and regional seats. One Nation wins only 0.3 per cent of the primary vote.

January 2001
After extensive fundraising drives, Pauline Hanson finishes reimbursing the $500,000 owed by One Nation to the Queensland Electoral Commission under Justice Atkinson’s judgement.

10 February 2001
One Nation polls 10 per cent of the primary vote in the WA state election, and up to 30 per cent in some rural seats. Its decision not to preference sitting members is crucial in the ousting of Premier Richard Court’s Coalition government.

 17 February 2001
One Nation polls 9 per cent in the Queensland state election in which the ALP is returned with a record majority and the Coalition Opposition is further devastated. Twentythree per cent of Queenslanders abandon the main parties, mostly fleeing the conservative side to vote for One Nation, the One-Nation-derived City Country Alliance or ex-OneNation Independents.

27 May 2002
Pauline Hanson is committed to stand trial on one count  of fraudulently registering a political party, and two counts of  fraudulently obtaining public funds.

22 March 2003
Hanson is narrowly unsuccessful in her bid for an Upper House seat in the NSW election.

15 July 2003
Hanson’s trial commences before Judge Patsy Wolfe.

20 August 2003
After nine hours’ deliberation, a jury convicts Hanson on all charges. Judge Wolfe sentences her to three years’ imprisonment, noting that the publicity surrounding the case has severely damaged any chance of her resurrecting her political career.

22 August 2003
John Howard tells Neil Mitchell on Melbourne talkback radio:

‘Like many other Australians, on the face of it it does seem [to me] a very long unconditional sentence for what she is alleged to have done. And you’re dealing here with a breach of a law which is not based on something which is naturally a crime . . . Can I talk generally about the issue of registering political parties? . . . I’ve always had some reservations about whether the requirement that you register political parties is justified as necessary . . .’

28 August 2003
In an article for Sydney’s Daily Telegraph Tony Abbott writes, ‘I’m sorry that Pauline Hanson is in gaol. I believe that the sentence she received was too severe. But I’m not sorry for trying to expose the fact that One Nation was never a fair dinkum party. It was a company with three directors, not a party with 500 members.’

6 November 2003
The Queensland Supreme Court upholds Hanson’s appeal and orders her release. Chief Justice Paul de Jersey writes, ‘The preponderance of available evidence points to the conclusion that the applicants for membership became members of the political party.’ Pauline Hanson’s One Nation was a fair dinkum party in Queensland, after all.

7 November 2003
Outside prison Hanson agrees with a Channel Seven reporter who suggests that the inmates with whom she has just shared eleven weeks have ‘obviously touched you deeply’:

‘The whole thing has. I’ve learnt a lot from it. I was a person that had my opinion and, yes, I thought I knew everything – as a Member of Parliament to go and look through the prisons you know nothing, and these politicians and bureaucrats that make the legislation have no idea. And, yes, it’s been a very daunting, distressing time. I could never explain what it’s done to me, but in so many ways I’ve learnt so much from it . . .’

15 January 2004
Hanson announces that she is quitting politics:

‘I’m sick and tired of seeing people elected to Parliament who haven’t got the determination or the integrity, and who sell their souls to get their positions. I’m not feeling sorry for myself. I’m just really angry for the system we have, because I’ve seen the breakdown in many aspects of Australian life – education, the family unit, health, Australian ownership, even the Australian way of life.’

The Beast – Big Party, Big Money, Big Media – has  finished off Pauline Hanson’s political career. Tony Abbott is being called an underhand thug by some and a future prime minister by others. John Howard has already moved on.


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