Some people consider Pauline Hanson to be the Donald Trumpette of the Antipodes, the local queenpin of an international populist movement. Hanson herself promotes this narrative. Yet as David Marr asserts in White Queen, hers is indisputably “an Australian story”. But if the rise and fall and rise and rise of Hanson and her One Nation party seem at times like a riddle wrapped in a joke inside an enigma, it is a “puzzle with consequences”.
As the title implies, this is a story about the politics of race – or put another way, the role that race plays in the politics of this country. Hanson began her career attacking Aboriginal people for their supposed economic and other privilege – privilege that was news to many of them. She laid into Asian migrants as well, then “swamping” Australia at 8 per cent of the population. That was all ugly enough. She made herself into a pest, if a useful one for John Howard. She simultaneously energised white supremacists and tinfoil hat conspiracists (one of whom now holds a senate seat). But it was her full-throated embrace of Islamophobia, marshalling resentment towards immigrants, abhorrence of “boat people” and fear of terrorism into one toxic place that led to what Marr characterises as her “extraordinary impact” on this country.
Hanson and One Nation have other policies: relaxing gun laws, pursuing welfare cheats, and obliging newlyweds to sign prenups, for example. (Regarding the last, an amused Anne Aly tells Marr: “That’s sharia.”) Yet race is at the heart of her policies and appeal. Marr interviews psephologists and other researchers, including the Australian National University’s Ian McAllister, who has conducted extensive surveys of voters over three decades, mapping their concerns, backgrounds and intentions. The “typical One Nation voter”, like the typical Brexit or Trump voter, didn’t finish school. As Marr is careful to note, that “doesn’t mark them as dumb”. But that they “loathe immigrants” makes their choices undeniably about race, even if they don’t like being called racists.
Yet where many have fears and anxieties, Hanson has ideology. It’s a dangerous game and the government’s flirtation with her party makes Australia not just a more timorous and divided society but a less safe one as well. Hanson is, however, Marr insists, demonstrably far from what most Australians want – “a government that will take this good, prosperous, generous country into the future”. CG
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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on April 1, 2017 as "David Marr, The White Queen: One Nation and the Politics of Race".
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