Who is behind Pauline Hanson's racist offensive?

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By Peter Boyle

After a few months of media-driven celebrity last year, Pauline Hanson, the independent member for Oxley, seemed to drop from the limelight. But now she's back on the front pages as she tours the country promoting her new party, "Pauline Hanson's One Nation", launched on April 11.

Media attention has focused on Pauline Hanson — The Truth, published by her supporters, which includes some of her speeches as well as a number of articles, some anonymous. Some of these are crudely racist— portraying Aborigines as "cannibals" who do not deserve any sympathy and it tries to whip up fear of a future Asian-run Australia. They feature some of the favourite obsessions of right-wing sects.

But the more important story is the considerable crowds Hanson has drawn to a series of meetings in rural Queensland. A meeting in Kingaroy — Bjelke-Petersen territory — drew 650 in March, another in Hervey Bay attracted 1000, Goondiwindi 300, Rockhampton 1000 and Gatton 1000. Her party's launch in home town Ipswich took place before 340 supporters who paid $40 a head. Hundreds of anti-racist protesters confronted her outside the Ipswich and Rockhampton meetings.

The response to Hanson's new party has rung alarm bells in Queensland's National Party's headquarters. Premier Rob Borbridge warned that the federal Coalition government could face electoral devastation with "Pauline Hansons from one end of Australia to another". National Party Senator Bill O'Chee — who last year criticised Hanson for whipping up racism — was only able to attract 11 to a public meeting he recently held in Goondiwindi. This may explain, in part, the National Party's desperation to have its way on the native title issue.

The Liberals must also be worried about their base in parts of Queensland. Hanson's supporters claim that her $25-a-head function in Goondiwindi was organised by the local Liberal party branch. Hanson retains support with the Liberal Party, including the chair of the Liberal branch in the Oxley electorate, Steve Wilson. Members of the branch distributed how-to-votes for Hanson in the March 1996 election after she was disendorsed as the Liberal candidate.

David J Thomas, currently Hanson's press secretary and adviser, boasts of "many years working in electorate offices for both the National and Liberal parties".

The first major test of Hanson's support outside Queensland will be on May 2 when she is booked in for a public meeting at a 3700-seat stadium in Perth. While an attempt to launch a Hanson support movement in Bankstown, in Sydney's western suburbs, collapsed in January, Hanson's supporters in Perth are hopeful because, they claim, a May 4 breakfast for 400 with Hanson sold out within two days of being announced.

David Ettridge, the national director of One Nation claims to have joined up 5000 members in a month and to have the backing of some 40 support movements around the country. Ettridge, a professional fundraiser based in the Sydney harbour suburb of Manly, boasts that the party had raised $40,000 in its first week of existence. Ettridge formerly worked for World Vision on a commission basis but the aid organisation terminated his contract on April 17 when it discovered his role in Hanson's party.

Hanson has attracted the support of numerous right-wing groups, such as Eric Butler's League of Rights, National Action, the Citizens Electoral Council (followers of US rightist Lyndon LaRouche), Tony Pitt's Australians Against Further Immigration (AAFI) and Graeme Campbell's Australia First Party.

The League of Rights printed and distributed copies of Hanson's notorious maiden speech in Parliament and National Action and Pitt have announced their support in their publications.

Last year some of these right-wing groups set up Hanson support groups around the country and Hanson has intervened in some of them to insert people closer to her new party. She has sacked the former head of her support movement, Bruce Whiteside. One Nation's national director Ettridge warned on April 19 that if groups such as the League of Rights or the defunct Confederate Action Party tried to control One Nation they would be expelled.

Ettridge added that One Nation will look at swapping preferences with other parties like the Australian Reform Party (ARA). But Ted Drane, leader of the ARA which mobilised large right-wing demonstrations in Victoria, criticised Hanson for being unprofessional and her book for pandering to ignorant prejudice. He said in an interview on ABC Radio 2BL on April 24 that Hanson might have squandered a chance to unite the right.

While some right-wing groups appear to be on the outer, others seem to have the ear of the organisers of One Nation. Denis McCormack, a national spokesperson for AAFI, proudly announced on ABC TV's April 23 7.30 Report that he looked over the draft of Pauline Hanson — The Truth before it was published. He said he supported the views it expressed and had contributed some editorial suggestions.

Paul Kemp, NSW branch secretary of the AAFI, says his party strongly supports Pauline Hanson's One Nation and is seeking negotiations to become part of it in future elections. Kemp is proud of a letter he has from Hanson saying she fully supports the AAFI's views.

George Merritt, the only one of four right-wingers who authored parts of Pauline Hanson — The Truth to have been identified, admits to being a member of Campbell's Australia First Party and the founder of the South Australian branch of the Pauline Hanson Supporters Movement.

Merritt, a retired consulting engineer from Adelaide, told the Advertiser that two of the other anonymous authors were "respected academics" who were "afraid they'll lose their jobs and be ridiculed by the media for what they've written". When pressed for more information, he allegedly threatened to hit the reporter with a cask of port.

Among others who have recently declared support for Hanson is former Australian swimming Olympic medallist and former NSW independent MP Dawn Fraser. She says that she supports Hanson's call for the restoration of national service for youth and parts of her policy on immigration and Aborigines.

One of the organisers of Hanson's impending visit to Perth is independent WA MP Paul Filing, who attended the One Nation launch in Ipswich.

Filing, the former Liberal now independent MP, claims that a number of federal members of Parliament are considering joining One Nation. "They know from their intelligence that she [Hanson] is picking up supporters and money", Filing is quoted in Australian National News of the Day, an internet webpage operated by Hanson supporters.

"According to a Bulletin poll late last year, she would walk into the next Parliament with up to 12 Senators", Filing added.

However according to a Newspoll taken for the Australian after the launch of One Nation, Hanson has the support of 4% of voters nationally, 6% in Queensland and 5% in NSW. Election analyst Malcolm Mackerras told the April 23 Australian that while this meant that Hanson could be re-elected, her party could not win a Senate seat with its current level of support. However it could win a Senate seat in a double dissolution, in which the minimum quota would be only 7.7%.

In his recent visit to Queensland, Prime Minister John Howard insisted that Hanson was not a racist and he attacked Brisbane's Labor Mayor Jim Soorley for accusing Hanson of using Nazi-style tactics to instil fear and suspicion across Australia. While Howard has been silent on the crude racist propaganda in Hanson's book, which panders to the most ignorant and blind bigotry, he called Soorley's criticism of Hanson unintelligent, over the top and "some of the most uninformed comments" he had heard.

But the relationship between Hanson and the federal Coalition government as well as the Labor opposition is a curious one.

"Hanson's racist movement plays a role is helping the government sell some of its racist policies, such as its attacks on Aboriginal rights, immigration and refugees' rights", Reihana Mohideen, convenor of Asian Australians Against Further Intimidation, told Green Left Weekly.

"We see the same thing in France, where Le Pen's racist National Front helps the Chirac government get away with what can then be presented as 'more moderate' attacks on migrants. But they are not moderate at all. Nor is the Howard government's plan to extinguish the very marginal rights to share some land under pastoral leases in anyway moderate. But it can seem moderate compared to the 'Aborigines and Asians are subhuman' message being pushed by the Hanson movement.

"Howard laid the ground for this racist offensive with his attacks on so-called political correctness. What he was saying is that it is OK to be as racist, sexist and homophobic as you want, but it is not acceptable to call a racist a racist, a sexist a sexist and a homophobe a homophobe.

"Labor laid the ground with its attempt to restrict the consequences of the Mabo High Court ruling through the Native Title Act. It began the attacks on refugee rights. Even now Labor politicians are quietly discussing how they can pander to the fears of former supporters who have been attracted to Hanson's racist politics. It is part of the fashioning of a so-called 'New Labor' image for future elections.

"Any government trying to implement the dictates of big business today needs a reactionary political movement to help divide mass opposition and to help buy acquiescence, if not support, for its most painful policies. You could say that Howard would have had to invent Hanson if she didn't exist."

Hanson supporters sense the ambiguous attitude the major parties have towards their movement. Paul Filing MP brags that the government and opposition were already accommodating Hanson's position in many areas — such as immigration — even while formally criticising her. In return, Hanson supports Howard's work-for-the-dole scheme and calls for an attack on single mothers supposedly bludging on welfare.