In search of the causes of Hansonism


Two Nations: The Causes and Effects of the Rise of the One Nation Party in Australia
Bookman, 1998. $14.95

Review by Suriyakumaran and Michael Cooke

For most of the year we have been saturated with news of the rise and rise of One Nation. Our political pundits have been pontificating about the danger posed to our identity, history, democratic traditions, culture and, most importantly, our beloved economy, but have little to say about developing a concrete political program to deal with the phenomenon.

This book, written during and after the Queensland election, follows this "Cassandra" tradition. In it are a range of the usual gurus.

The right is represented by Malcolm Fraser, Tony Abbott and Ron Brunton from the Institute of Public Affairs, the middle by Robert Manne, Michelle Grattan and Margo Kingston. On the left (mostly of the non-socialist variety) we have Philip Adams, Henry Reynolds and Marilyn Lake. Paul Kelly also appears, with a spirited defence of economic rationalism.

Overall, though there are some intelligent articles, the book represents the standard ideas of the ruling elite concerning the effect of One Nation on trade figures and our bold economic experiment. The effects are given greater prominence than the causes, and there is nothing at all on how to combat the threat.

Tony Abbott expresses bewilderment: we have the most conservative prime minister in memory, and a credible economic program — so why are we whingeing?

A similar shallowness is found in many other articles. Michelle Grattan blames the rise of One Nation on our current PM's failure of nerve; Ron Brunton blames the "politically correct" cabal that appeared during the Keating years; Padraic McGuinness claims that the progressive elements in society have a lot in common with One Nation — an argument expressed in the irritating and rhetorical style we expect from him.

The articles by McGuinness and Brunton show the insidious nature of the "anti-politically correct" brigade and their ideological links with One Nation: to attack the dispossessed and the marginal elements in society because they have too much power is both absurd and mischievous.

The erudite Philip Adams lets his metaphors get the better of him and compares Pauline Hanson to a bag lady, collecting all the political resentments of the feral right.

The most substantial article in terms of size and passion is Paul Kelly's. Kelly is spot on when he observes that One Nation is a protest movement with populist targets.

These include Asian immigrants, "political correctness", the ALP, the media and international capital. In other words, it is an isolationist party that feeds on the isolationist tendencies and xenophobia so prevalent in this country.

He is on less sure ground when he asserts:

"There is an absence of intellectual leadership and a failure to put a sustained case for what should be the majority position — an open competitive economy and inclusive social policies. This is the position of Bill Clinton and Tony Blair ..."

Therein lies the paradox and weakness of his article. He argues that the flaw in John Howard's approach is not economic, but cultural. What he does not say is that a competitive economy cannot be inclusive — there are winners and there are losers.

An article by Judith Brett points out that, since the '50s, the people who represent us have seldom shared the social class and working experience of their constituents. There is a predominance of professional people, usually with a legal qualification.

The worst culprit in this regard is the ALP. So it is not surprising that there is a schism between the ruled and the rulers. This does help explain the appeal of One Nation and its band of "amateurs".

In the same vein, Murray Goot looks at the social and economic background of most One Nation supporters. What he finds is that a typical backer is male, over 50 and from an Anglo-Celtic background, and that Hanson's support is strong in areas where there is not a large migrant population (i.e. Tasmania and Queensland).

These are people who have been the casualties of the economic restructuring that has been taking place since the early '90s. What distinguishes them from supporters of the major parties is their obsession with guns, the "Aboriginal industry" and Asian immigrants.

Henry Reynolds, in the most lucid article in the book, puts the Hanson phenomenon in historical context.

Pauline Hanson is most popular in her home state. Queensland is the least urbanised of states, has the lowest percentage of people with tertiary education and is the most Anglo-Celtic. It also has a strong tradition of politicians who come across to the rest of the country as ignorant, racist and corrupt, though to Queenslanders this is an advantage.

The state's largely rural-based economy has felt the cold winds of business closure and the resultant unemployment. It has also had a very virulent approach to its indigenous population. Margo Kingston quotes One Nation member Bob Jessop on race relations:

"He said that when he was a boy in the area, kids kicked around Aboriginal skulls like footballs. If a black misbehaved, the local policeman would tie his arms to his stirrup iron, drag him into the bush on his horse, and kill him with a stick. Jessop recalled Aboriginal tribes being pushed off the land when a farmer moved in. Yet he wanted ATSIC abolished on the familiar Hansonite basis that everyone should be treated equally. 'I like Aborigines. They're my brothers', he said."

This persistent and nasty racism highlights the hard-core racist backbone of One Nation and the need for a strong response.

This collection of essays summarises most of the weaknesses of the mainstream media. There is nothing from an Aboriginal or Asian perspective. If you are trying to be inclusive, why not have an essay from somebody with a Marxist bent? The book is dominated by the same group of "experts" who are trotted out whenever there is a crisis.

The book does not make clear the economic basis of Hansonism, in particular the fact that, as the Keynesian system became sluggish with high unemployment and low growth and profit rates, it was transformed into a more deregulated system.

The growth rates and profits might have been high (for a while) under the new "miracle", yet income inequality and unemployment were also high, and security of employment low. This intensification of exploitation has bred discontent in people who expected their standard of living to rise, not fall.

While this discontent was simmering at the base, we embarked on the great multicultural experiment and an immigration program which brought increasing numbers of people from Asian backgrounds to our shores.

These two processes, like the San Andreas fault, rubbed against each other. The "free market" system imposed on us offered no way of economically or socially integrating the people coming to this country, and at the same time was destroying jobs.

For Tony Abbot, the answer is in a more conservative social agenda with the economic fundamentals largely in place. Paul Kelly criticises the conservative social agenda of the government but applauds its economic program. The ALP offers a mildly revisionist economic message, yet has no wish to tamper with the fundamentals.

With the right being ascendant in the ideological, political and economic sphere, parts of the left are in the thrall of the "third way" (the Tony Blair dream), while the rest are too small and fragmented to have much impact.

This unfortunately leaves a space for Pauline Hanson and her reactionary and contradictory message. It is a diversion that allows the mainstream media to attack her racist and reactionary agenda, while ignoring the market-driven system which helped give rise to it.

On the whole, the book must be judged a failure. It discusses the causes of the Hanson phenomenon, but fails to develop concrete political strategies for dealing with it.

This would require a critical view of the social relations of production and its complex and dialectic interaction with cultural diversity. Instead we have the usual sermonising on the evils of racism, with Keating or Howard being blamed for the conservative or radical social agendas. To do justice to the topic, we need a collection of articles from the left.

If you like our work, become a supporter

Green Left is a vital social-change project and aims to make all content available online, without paywalls. With no corporate sponsors or advertising, we rely on support and donations from readers like you.

For just $5 per month get the Green Left digital edition in your inbox each week. For $10 per month get the above and the print edition delivered to your door. You can also add a donation to your support by choosing the solidarity option of $20 per month.

Freecall now on 1800 634 206 or follow the support link below to make a secure supporter payment or donation online.