Since making a return to parliament at last year’s federal election, Pauline Hanson’s One Nation has rushed forward in the polls. Despite this, the party’s conduct reveals that they have just as much contempt for working class people as the major parties. Hanson’s racist and anti-worker policies offer no way forward for those in search of an alternative.
The rise of One Nation stems from falling living standards, combined with widespread disillusionment and anger towards establishment politics. A Galaxy poll in February reported that One Nation’s support now stands at 23% in Queensland – a significant rise from 16% only three months ago.
Sympathy for Hanson’s party is strongest in areas like Townsville that have been hit hard by chronic unemployment. Over 90% of respondents to a Townsville Bulletin survey said the major parties “did not understand the needs of the region”.
This process is not unique to Australia; around the world, far-right parties have experienced a surge of support. People are frustrated with the inability of mainstream politicians to provide any relief in the context of economic stagnation. The weakness of the labour movement and the socialist left internationally means that right-wing populist, nationalist and protectionist ideas are currently getting the most exposure.
One Nation’s message pins the blame for the state of Australia’s economy on foreign businesses and immigrants. Hanson rails against globalisation, and promises to bring back well-paying manufacturing jobs through lowering taxes on Australian companies, putting tariffs on imported goods, and other measures that favour Australian businesses over their international competitors.
However, these measures won’t stop manufacturers from moving their operations overseas. The profit motive inherent in capitalism means employers constantly seek to reduce their costs; cheap international labour will remain attractive even with a lower domestic company tax rate.
At best Hanson’s proposals are a handout to local big businesses. Moreover, taxing imports will increase prices for local consumers. Australian businesses cannot be expected to lift wages in kind unless they are forced to do so by workers taking industrial action.
The record of One Nation in parliament similarly shows where their loyalties really lie. In the face of Pauline Hanson’s grand claims that her party offers “something different”, her senators voted alongside the Liberals and Labor last year for the Turnbull government’s Omnibus Bill. This package contained $6 billion worth of cuts, which included slashing job seeker bonuses, aged care allowances and subsidies to student loans. For some working families, the impact of this would have been devastating.
In the same way, the government relied on One Nation’s support to get the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) through parliament – legislation intended to break the influence of unions in the construction industry. Trade unions are critical for workers to protect their pay and conditions. When the ABCC was first introduced under John Howard, accidental deaths on construction sites soared because it blocked union control over workplace safety.
Clearly, when made to choose between big business and ordinary people, One Nation sides with the big end of town.
At its heart, Hanson’s platform is a capitalist one that puts profits first. It differs only in the sense that she strives to represent a specific section of the capitalist class. It is no alternative to the status quo.
The real alternative to profit-driven capitalism is democratic socialism. This would mean taking the largest firms out of corporate hands and putting them into public ownership. Production could then be planned with democratic input from workers in every sector to ensure efficiency.
The massive amounts of wealth created by the banks, mining companies and other top industries could be utilised to build public infrastructure, including schools, hospitals, transport and renewable energy facilities. This would create many thousands of ongoing jobs.
These types of measures could be won if ordinary people were united in a fight against big business greed. However, the rich and powerful will do everything they can to prevent people from waging a joint struggle.
To this end, they see the racism and xenophobia of One Nation as a useful tool – it is highly divisive and shifts focus away from the real causes of society’s problems. We must show solidarity across all racial, ethnic and national lines, because overcoming these divisions is essential for the struggle against those who exploit us all.
A socialist approach will be vital to counter One Nation’s regressive agenda. In Australia, there is no mass party that genuinely represents the interests of working people. This leaves the political sphere open for parties like One Nation to take the stage. A new party offering left-wing, socialist solutions would be a significant step forward in building the fight for a society that can provide jobs, homes and services to all.
By Jeremy Trott