The return of Pauline Hanson

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The recent federal election saw a decisive shift away from the established parties. Around 26% of people voted for candidates outside of the major parties. Quite significantly, Pauline Hanson’s One Nation party won 4.1% of the national Senate vote.

While counting continues, Pauline Hanson herself has been provisionally elected to the Senate in Queensland, and One Nation is still in the run for a couple of other Senate spots.

Hanson briefly sat in the federal parliament during the late 1990s. Her return to the political stage is a setback as her racist views will once again have a national platform. This will embolden elements of the far right but it will also make it easier for the major parties and the mainstream media to use divide and rule tactics to push their big business agenda.

Many people are rightly concerned about Hanson’s rise and while it may be tempting to dismiss everyone who voted for One Nation as a racist, the situation is far more complex.

There are certainly racist elements among her supporters, but Hanson also attracts people as she styles herself as a champion of the underdog. A layer of people seem to dismiss the racist elements of her political platform while being attracted to what she has to say about the lack of jobs, the demise of manufacturing, protecting farmers and investing in public infrastructure projects.

Her support mainly comes from areas with high unemployment such as regional Queensland, an area that has been ravaged by the slowdown in mining. One Nation has been able to attract support precisely because these areas have been ignored by establishment politicians. Hanson presents herself as an alternative to ‘business as usual’ politics.

Hanson first came to prominence at the tail end of a serious economic downturn in the 1990s. During that time, she scapegoated Asian people claiming that immigration was the source of all our problems. Today she has shifted her focus to scapegoating Muslim people.

The late 1990s was also a time when the Labor Party and the trade unions shifted to the right, largely giving up on struggle and accepting neo-liberal capitalism. This rightward shift led to defeats and setbacks for the working class and a huge transfer of wealth from wages to profits. Hanson was able to capitalise on the anger that existed amongst a layer of more backwards thinking workers.

During the relative economic stability of the 2000s Hanson’s appeal faded but she maintained a public profile thanks to mainstream media outlets giving her spots on reality TV shows and as a commentator on news and current affairs programs. Now, as Australia heads into a more uncertain economic times Hanson has been able to once again tap into the anger and distrust that some people feel toward the establishment.

Hanson wins support because there is an element of truth in what she says. The issues that ordinary people face – like job insecurity, housing stress and a lack of services – are real. However, the people she chooses to blame, migrants and minority groups, are not the source of these problems.

The source of the problems is big business and the system that puts profits before all else. They are the ones who choose to offshore jobs, push up housing costs and slash social services. Plenty of wealth is being created, the issue is that it’s being hoarded at the top and not distributed fairly.

Blaming migrants for issues they have no control over only lets the big end of town off the hook. While some people voted for Hanson thinking she was anti-establishment, the truth is that her approach lets the establishment get away with what they do unchallenged. Hanson only serves to divide ordinary people, which makes it harder to unite and campaign for society’s wealth to be distributed more equally.

When there is no mass left-wing alternative that can take up these issues, right-wing populists like Hanson fill the political vacuum with racist and ultimately anti-worker content. The best way to push back against the rise of the far-right is to rebuild the workers’ movement. We need fighting unions and a new workers party that links the fight against racism with the fight against capitalism.

By Meredith Jacka