A probably unpopular take on the return of the female redhead who challenges our parliament and how we see ourselves as Australians.
Ms Hanson would have got in anyway. The changes to the senate rules didn’t make her return any more likely. What made it inevitable was the failed economic and social policies of state and federal governments that led the same anti-modern voters who elected Ms Hanson 20 years ago to come full circle.
After Ms Hanson was ‘betrayed’ by her own party apparatchiks, these voters tried minor parties. They muddled about trying to find a voice that reflected their own thoughts. Suddenly Tony Abbott gave them true hope that Australia would return to the halcyon and mythical days of the 1950’s, when men were Men… and White. Then he got the sack, and was replaced with an urbane do-nothing who was completely clueless about what was going on below the executive floor, let alone at the bar in the country pub.
The last few months under Turnbull gave voters time to think. Time to realise that maybe they’d been conned. For years, many of these voters have bought the ‘aspirational’ market-will-provide line trotted out by the LNP… It’s only recently that people are actually figuring out that trickle-down doesn’t work; but don’t yet understand what happened. People voted to stop the boats, and then lost the farm.
This time, just as last time, Pauline Hanson has attracted groups with an axe to grind. The Socialist Alliance, Animal Justice Party, and other groups on the Left are just as guilty of this sin. It should not call into question the legitimacy of Ms Hanson as a representative, or the legitimacy of those who voted for her.
We are in the midst of another labour-force revolution, coupled with major shifts in social identity. Types and terms of employment are in flux; and so far, no one has any clear answers on how we can transition from where we are into the future. That scares most people. For people who have missed out on a promised life of stability; and who feel marginalised and under siege by changing labour, cultural and social norms, it is terrifying.
Hanson appeals to people who cannot cope with contemporary life, let alone the future; different cultures or skin colour are not really the issue. When pressed only the true believers have problems with race and sexuality. For the majority, those things are an obvious symptom that they can use to define their position. The real problems come from change, from different ways of thinking, the rise of technology and change in labour, the shifting sands of meaning, being unable to trust the local newspaper (if you still have one).
If you read the One Nation website, it is an almost incoherent rant. It is filled with the confused and bitter ramblings of everyday people, who have no comprehension of the policy and economics that have led to their current condition. This is a group of people who have no particular political, economic or social ideology. They thought our society was still based on the True-Blue, Fair-Go, rustic simplicity represented by the 1950s. Now they have awoken post GFC to discover that the new century is a complex and frightening place, and they want someone to blame.
We need to accept, despite how they express their concerns; people do have valid reasons to be concerned. In the last 20 years Australia has become one of the least protected markets in the world. However, the prosperity promised as result of these changes never arrived. Instead services and businesses have shrunk and vanished. Lives have been whittled away by neo-liberal economics and globalisation from the Right; and shifts in worldview and social justice from the Left. This is a group of people who are no longer at the centre of Australia’s life, and they have been left to fend for themselves without any help to transition or understand the change. They feel justifiably marginalised…
…as an intermission, I suggest you all take a moment to watch THIS and then come back.
Peoples is People
Supporters of Ms Hanson don’t see themselves as racist or homophobic; just as their mirrors on the Left probably don’t see themselves as social fascists. They are just humans who are uncomfortable with diversity, and don’t know how to express themselves. The intellectual Left has had decades sitting in ivory towers to reform language to accommodate diversity. For most in regional Australia or outer city suburbs, casual sexism and racism is a way of demonstrating affection. Labelling a person as racist, sexist or homophobic doesn’t make them so, it only shames… and then angers them. But, again, they do not know how to express their confusion. Pauline Hanson gives them voice. She is representative of the views of thousands of Australians. The difference is that she is happy to take money from David Koch to air these grievances in public, rather than just bitching into a pot of Four X.
These Australians (and they exist on the Left as well) don’t care about facts, they just know how they feel. They don’t want to think about consequences, or geopolitics, or climate change, or complexity; they want things to be simple, and they don’t want to have to change. They don’t want to think about policy, they just want government to take care of them; and they will give their vote to anyone who promises to do that. Last election it was Tony, this time it’s Pauline.
The saddest thing about all this reaction to Ms Hanson, is that it didn’t have to be this way. Pro-environment sentiment in the bush is at an all-time high. The Greens candidate Jeremy Buckingham has large support for his pro-farm stance. The Greens and ALP could have gone into the regions and actually spoken to these people.
If they had heard their grievances, and took them seriously enough to have the lengthy conversations needed to bring understanding, then the past two elections would have been very different.
A classic example of this is renewable energy. Regional and outer suburban manufacturing is collapsing. Ironically, if a ‘jobs and growth’ argument for renewable energy and action on climate change had been prosecuted more effectively, it’s likely we would be a lot further along to reaching our emissions target. Instead we are facing the prospect of a Royal Commission into climate science. All because no one bothered to address the dog-whistling from the Liberals, and actually explain the issues and opportunities.
The shrill and uncompromising front presented by angry voters is just that; a front. However, while anti-corporate ranting is accepted without question; too often intellectual and urbane progressives have not bothered to engage with the people Ms Hanson represents, purely because of their views on social policy.
Which is unfortunate, as those views are rarely concrete, and more often simple, easy targets for confusion and anger: It’s a lot easier to blame an immigrant (or a corporation) than unravel the economic and policy choices responsible for ones current state. If anyone took the time to talk, they’d find reasonable, if uninformed people who are willing to give up acting on social prejudice for better work opportunities and better services.
As seen by the non-partisan cooperation between progressive greens groups and conservative farmers in the Liverpool plains or The Great Barrier Reef, on many levels Ms Hanson’s supporters are natural allies against the destructive aspects of corporate neo-liberalism. If the socially and economically just future we all claim to wish for is to become a reality, complaining about Pauline Hanson isn’t going to help.
If the elections of 2010 and 2013 should have taught us anything, it is that mud-slinging and ignoring citizens only further fractures our society; with serious deleterious effects on our economy, civil society and democracy. If progressive, intellectual, inclusive citizens are truly concerned about what’s happening in regional Australia; then they need to stop criticising and start having conversations.
Will you have to swallow your own prejudices? Yes.
Will you have to work with people you do not like? Yes.
Will it be hard work?
Yes, democracy is hard work; anyone who tells you different is selling something.