It is ironic that Pauline Hanson began her second maiden speech with the word “welcome” – except that irony requires a wit beyond her possession.
Hanson is this country’s jittering id. Her speech to the senate on Wednesday pulsed with a sickly paranoia, a world view contorted by victimhood.
“If we do not make changes now, there will be no hope in the future,” Hanson warned. “Have no doubt that we will be living under sharia law and treated as second-class citizens with second-class rights if we keep heading down the path with the attitude, ‘She’ll be right, mate.’ ”
Hanson’s cry is for a ban on Muslim immigration, a ban on headscarves, a ban on Halal certification, a ban on the construction of mosques and Muslim schools, and the unspecified surveillance of those that already exist “until the present crisis is over”.
In Hanson’s Australia, migrants are taking the dole or are offered government jobs ahead of others. They are responsible for hospital waiting queues, for the crowding of schools, for house prices, for road traffic, for lack of water.
Welfare, in Hanson’s mind, is exploited by Muslim men with multiple wives having more and more children to increase their benefit payments. “How many have ever held a job? Why would anyone want to work when welfare is so very lucrative?”
For Hanson, there are no qualifiers. Islam is, ipso facto, evil. It is a colonising ideology bent on remaking our culture. Its women are oppressed; its men, violent. “How many lives will be lost or destroyed,” she asked, “trying to determine who is good and who is bad?”
In the 20 years and four days since her first maiden speech – a time separated by multiple failed election bids and prison – Hanson has only become more inflammatory and more bigoted. Her speech was 30 minutes of unsourced anxiety.
It was full of specious declarations, variations on the claim that “globalisation, economic rationalism, free trade and ethnic diversity has seen our country’s decline”. It was a screed against “the mantras of diversity or tolerance”.
Hanson’s speech was not a tissue of lies so much as a phonebook. But the great lie, the one that gave dignity to her other lies, was the lie of secularism. “The separation of church and state has become an essential component of our way of life,” she said, “and anything that threatens that separation threatens our freedom.”
This is a worthy principle, but it is not one Hanson defends.
Nowhere does she mention the illegal payments made by the Abbott government to the school chaplaincy program. Nowhere does she mention the influence of church groups on issues such as same-sex marriage or euthanasia, issues in which the clouding of church and state produces policy at odds with the will of the public.
Hanson pretends the cloak of secularism to cover her real bigotry, to generalise a target that is deeply specific. “Islam does not believe in democracy, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, or freedom of assembly,” she says without evidence. “It does not separate religion and politics. It is partly a religion, but it is much more than that. It has a political agenda that goes far outside the realm of religion.”
There is an argument that says Hanson’s views should be left unreported. This view correctly argues that her first maiden speech changed Australia, that it permitted and emboldened an expedient racism. But it incorrectly argues that Hanson’s views are only amplified by interrogation.
Hanson is wrong. In being wrong, she harms an entire community. She demonises women in headscarves, mothers in prayer rooms, young men in mosques. But the only way to counter her wrong is to reject it, to examine it, to explain to her and to those who follow her the error of their prejudice. Silence will not answer Hanson. And she must be answered. It is in the darkness of silence that her paranoia grows.
In the next six years – a period about which she gloats in her speech – Hanson will be a conductor for all manner of division and intolerance. It is too easy to leave these intolerances unexamined because of their self-evident incorrectness, to allow Hanson to make unchecked claims because their entire basis is so unserious. But each small thing Hanson says should be checked and corrected. Her rejection by this country should be one of mounting counterpoint. And it should start with the malformed conspiracy theories and half-truths from which Wednesday’s fanciful speech was cobbled. Surely, in 20 years, this country has matured to a point where it owes itself that.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Sep 17, 2016 as "Hanson cad". Subscribe here.