Support has risen around Australia for the racist right-wing party One Nation. One Nation pose as an anti-establishment party, and they attract a protest vote as a result. However, their pro-capitalist politics provide no answers for working people, and their racism plays a role in pitting working people against each other and preventing us from addressing the real problems in society.
A Newspoll early this year showed One Nation’s support rising to 8% – an increase over the 6% from a similar poll in October 2016, and the 1.3% of votes actually won in the July election. The Western Australia state election in March sheds light on what this support actually represents. At one point prior to the WA election, One Nation were predicted to receive as much as 13% of the primary vote, but their actual result was 4.9%, and they failed to win any lower house seats.
Part of the reason for this is that One Nation and the Liberals made a preference deal that damaged both parties. One Nation pretends to be anti-establishment, but their preference deal with the deeply hated Liberal government alienated people who would otherwise have made a protest vote.
In early March, ABC News quoted one WA voter, “I was going to give Pauline my primary vote and Colin Barnett my lowest vote possible, now that Pauline and Colin Barnett are sort of in the same party, I’m very undecided.” On the campaign trail, Hanson found herself having to address the issue repeatedly.
Even One Nation’s candidates in WA rebelled against the decision, with one candidate, Margaret Dodd, instructing supporters to ignore the how-to-vote cards and put the Liberals last. She then resigned only a day before the election, comparing Pauline Hanson’s control of the party to a “dictatorship”. The party’s campaign staff in WA have similarly complained to reporters about the level of control exercised from Queensland.
The party has disgraced itself on many fronts, most obviously by supporting racist and Islamophobic positions. One of their Senators, Malcolm Roberts, is an unbalanced conspiracy theorist who believes the United Nations is plotting to take over the world, and that climate scientists are part of the conspiracy. They have had to sack multiple candidates for offensive fringe beliefs, ranging from homophobia to claims that the Port Arthur massacre was staged.
However, for many of their supporters these issues will be viewed as superficial distractions, just part of the spectacle of politics. Even going back to their initial appearance in the late 90s, the party has always been marked by infighting and scandal. In many ways, it only boosts the perception that they are political outsiders. When most people are tired of the status quo and have seen that the political establishment is totally incapable of solving their problems, this perception can work in their favour.
The worse scandal, as far as One Nation supporters are concerned, is alignment with the establishment parties. The same sentiment elected Trump over Hilary Clinton in the US last year. Some on the left responded to this by attacking Trump supporters as incompetent for not seeing Clinton’s credentials, but the truth is that those credentials rightly worked against her.
The establishment parties do not represent ordinary people, but rather big business. The professional expertise of most politicians is an expertise in attacking the living conditions of workers. We need to reject the racist fear-mongering and conspiracy theories spread by One Nation, but we must also reject the supposedly better educated career politicians that they run against.
One Nation is capable of building support because there is no mass alternative that challenges the establishment’s legitimacy from the left. However, the potential is there. Tens of thousands of people have rallied in recent years for women’s rights, for LGBTIQ rights, for refugees, action on climate change, and against government agendas of tax breaks for big business and cuts for everyone else.
We must move towards the creation of a genuine working class party, based on trade unions, protest movements and community groups, that puts forward socialist solutions to the housing crisis, the unemployment crisis, and the constant attacks by bosses on wages and conditions. If a real working class alternative existed, it would easily highlight the fact that One Nation is completely incapable of solving any of these problems.
We live in a society that creates enough wealth to provide for everyone, but this wealth is hoarded in the form of profit. It is the failings of this system that creates parties such as One Nation to begin with. We have to fight for a socialist alternative, or these problems will come back again and again.
By David Elliott