17 Nov 2018

Kerry-Anne Walsh on the Pauline Hanson phenomenon

From Saturday Morning, 9:07 am on 17 November 2018
Pauline Hanson at the Birdsville Races in Queensland, 31 August 2018

Pauline Hanson at the Birdsville Races in Queensland, 31 August 2018 Photo: Saeed KHAN / AFP

Pauline Hanson's colourful and controversial political career has been so riveting to watch, and has so influenced the rest of the world's perception of Australia, that journalist Kerry-Anne Walsh tells Kim Hill she "simply couldn't leave it alone".

In the new book Hoodwinked: How Pauline Hanson Fooled a Nation, Walsh surveys Hanson's 23-year career, from her stint as an accidental local councillor to her surprise emergence as a national political figure in 1996 and political resurrection in 2016. 

She also examines Hanson's careful media profile-building, the friends she has used and discarded and the money trail of her party and her personal finances.

Walsh stresses that while she herself has "no respect" for Hanson as either a politician or a person, Hoodwinked is based on fact and accounts from those close to her.

She says that her aim with the book was to thoroughly research and accurately document Hanson's place in and influence on Australian politics.

Kerry-Anne Walsh

Kerry-Anne Walsh Photo: supplied

Pauline Hanson's story is significant on many levels, Walsh says.

"To me, the story of her trajectory over the last 23 years since her first entry into politics in the council in 1995 is so important to our political history, is so important to the perception of Australians and the perception of Australia, that I simply couldn't leave it alone, as a journalist. [Hers is] one of the most relevant and riveting stories of the last generation of politicians.

"To pussyfoot around and tiptoe around her because it might fire up her supporters, who are going to get fired up by the slightest thing otherwise, to me is not a reason not to do it."

The idea that Hanson has been victimised is simply incorrect, Walsh says.

"If we rely on facts – which we're supposed to in this day and age – the facts simply do not support that contention.

"Nearly 90 percent [of that perception] is based on the voices of those around her, and her own statements and her own actions. Now, if this adds up to a bleak picture, so be it."

The 'non-political' political operator

One of the great contradictions of Hanson, Walsh says, is how she fosters the impression of her own central role in the Australian political landscape while simultaneously trying to maintain the image of a political outsider.

"She's actually a naive and unpracticed politician, but she gives this appearance that she's been a main player for a very long time."

Walsh points out that in the 22 years since Hanson's debut as an MP, she has been in Parliament for only four of them.

"She tried to get back into parliament – really any parliament, it didn't matter. She stood for the federal senate, she stood for the federal lower house, she stood for the Queensland parliament, she stood for the NSW upper house. She tried many times to get back into a parliament but it was only in 2016 that she was successful.

"There's this sort of assumption out there – because of her high profile – that she has actually been in politics, but she hasn't."

An election billboard informs Sydney drivers 03 September that either the moderate Democrats or Pauline Hanson's far-right One Nation Party could control the balance of power in the Australian Senate after the Federal elections 03 October.

An election billboard in Sydney Photo: AFP PHOTO/Torsten BLACKWOOD

Hanson's political success in 2016 was more due to her anti-establishment sentiment than her anti-Muslim messaging, Walsh says.

"The anti-Muslim thing was a factor – a very, very, very small factor. What mainly her support was from was that she based her campaign around the slogan 'Fed Up'.

"She started campaigning a good year out from the election: she was visiting regional and remote areas, she was visiting capital cities. Her message was 'if you're fed up with the main political parties – and a lot of people were – then vote for me'.

"It's hard to put into words just how sick and tired Australians are of... the prime ministerial churn, and this feeling that the major political parties and their leaders do nothing other than squabble about the privileges of office and don't listen to what the taxpayer and people want."

Walsh says that while researching the book she spoke to many opponents of Hanson and the One Nation Party.

"They all said to me that [Hanson] voters said to them 'it's not necessarily that we agree with her'. Some even said 'we don't know what she particularly stands for in terms of policy – but she's not one of you'.

"She has always given this impression… or tried to convince people that she is an 'anti-politician' politician, whereas in actual fact what she has been desperate to do is to rejoin political ranks and be seen as one of the main players."

The battling single mother

Anti-Asian MP Pauline Hanson (R) serves fish and chips at a shopping centre in Cairns 12 June as support for her One Nation party surges on the eve of the Queensland state elections. AFP PHOTO/Torsten BLACKWOOD (Photo by COURIER MAIL / AFP)

 Pauline Hanson serves fish and chips at a shopping centre in Cairns on the eve of Queensland state elections 1998. Photo: AFP / Torsten Blackwood

Hanson's image as a battling single mother has been inaccurate for a long time – if it ever was accurate – Walsh says.

"It is a very, very, very long time since... That was the Pauline Hanson that first got elected to Ipswich council in 1995. She has not been a battling single mother since then and indeed when she went into council she was not a battling single mother – she was a successful small businesswoman.

"She went on to become a celebrity serial political candidate and a celebrity star in her own right. She went on to Celebrity Apprentice Australia, she went on to Dancing with the Stars and came second on that. She became a paid political commentator for Channel 7, she's in partnerships with others in commercial real estate.

"She has done exceptionally well for herself since she went into politics in 1995."

'Voice of the people'

Walsh does not believe Hanson is simply saying what many Australians think, but are afraid to say because it would not be politically correct.

"What she represents is not indicative of what mainstream Australians feel. She represents a certain cohort of people there is no doubt, but they are in the minority.

"Let me just take one line out of her [first] maiden speech … She said we were being 'swamped by Asians'. When the figures were put to her she refused to listen. She didn't want the hard evidence.

"In her maiden speech this time around to the senate … she said we are in danger of being swamped by Muslims.

"Muslims comprise 2.7 percent of the Australian population. She then went on to say that they gathered in clusters, they did this, they did that. I use demographic analysis that had been prepared by various academics and researchers who do this for a living to show that was an inaccurate statement."

Pauline Hanson returns to the Australian Senate wearing a burka.

Hanson set out to shock people by wearing a burka into the Australian Senate  Photo: Screenshot / Parliament of Australia

Pauline Hanson's cause isn't helped by her lack of concrete policy positions, Walsh says.

"She's found herself in a position were she's changed her mind and swung around on a number of pivotal policies. For instance, company tax cuts. And people are confused now – 'what does she actually stand for?'.

"It wasn't just on that, there were other policies that did not represent the people that she claimed to represent: the battlers.

"For instance, before there was a massive backlash against her she was prepared to support the cut in penalty rates for weekend workers … they're among the lowest paid in the country.

"She was also prepared to back the government on a huge omnibus bill that slashed welfare across the board – that was going to really throw a lot of lower-income people and those on benefits under a bus."

Hanson has possibly served some democratic purpose as a rallying symbol for those feeling disenfranchised, Walsh says.

"And there's no doubt that the major political parties now appreciate that they need to do more to make voters believe that they are acting in their best interests."

Victim of hateful media

The perception that Hanson has been attacked by an uncaring, unremorseful media is simply not borne out by the facts, Walsh says.

"She's got a lot of media spruikers.

"She has basically an open-mic invitation on all the [Sky TV] commentary programmes. She goes on any time she likes to [the morning show hosted by] Ray Hadley, who's got a large audience on commercial radio, on [The Alan Jones Breakfast Show].

"She gets off very very lightly. She doesn't do press conferences, she does video messaging."

Former Australia rugby coach Alan Jones.

2GB radio talk show broadcaster and former Australia rugby coach Alan Jones, a supporter of conservative politics who has been involved with political lobbying. Photo: ABC

Walsh says that criticism of Hanson by herself and other journalists is not personal, but based on her politics and approach to others.

"It's fascinating, that so-called visceral loathing. I don't believe it's accurate.

"I mean, I make no bones of the fact that I have no respect for Pauline Hanson as a politician or as a person – as a politician because of some of the fearmongering and race-based policies that she has advocated for a very long time that do nothing to advance the common good of our society and secondly as a person … because of the way she has treated people.

"It's on the record, it's cited, it's sourced. There are dozens and dozens of examples in my book."

Victim of hateful political opponents

Hanson's own approach to her political opponents – and even to her allies – is consistently acrimonious, Walsh says.

"Many, many, many people who join [the One Nation Party], who contribute time, who contribute money, who contribute loyalty, their lives, 20 years of their lives, in many instances - to her and the cause only to be ditched overboard.

"[Hanson does this to people] when she believes either that they have transgressed her in some way – but she doesn't say why or what they've done – or when they have disagreed with something and she's cut them adrift."

Hanson's rancourous approach has a long history – with political allies such as John Pascarelli, David Ettridge and David Oldfield – as well as in her romantic relationships with some of those very same people.

"This is a pattern that goes back many many, many years and it has caused the implosion of the One Nation Party on a number of occasions."

 Picture dated 13 June show Anti-Asian MP Pauline Hanson (C) being congratulated by phone as One Nation national director David Ettridge (R) and supporters celebrate in the Brisbane tally room after their fledgling party captured 23 percent of the vote during the Queensland elections.

Pauline Hanson is congratulated by phone as One Nation national director David Ettridge and supporters celebrate in the Brisbane tally room during the '98 Queensland elections. Photo: Torsten Blackwood / AFP

This approach usually backfires for Hanson and her political aims, Walsh says.

"The most recent example is she came into the Senate with a very powerful block of four senators – herself, another running mate from Queensland, one from New South Wales, one from WA.

"She's been reduced to two because she's had spectacular fallings out with two of her senators who she's dumped.

"So rather than sort out differences to ensure you maintain your power block – which was a significant one – she held the balance of power in the senate… she's been reduced to two, an insignificant two."

Pauline Hanson, victim of greedy lawsuits

In 2003, Hanson and Ettridge were convicted of electoral fraud and dishonestly obtaining property and Hanson was imprisoned for 11 weeks before the charges were overturned at the court of appeal.

However, Walsh says there are still questions about her handling of funds.

"There are questions about the way she structures the political party One Nation, how she has done in the past, where all the money's gone.

"Public funding in Australia is handed to political parties to compensate candidates for money spent on their campaigns.

"This Terry Sharples who launched the investigation into One Nation and its finances and its membership, he had been denied his rightful share of funding that Pauline Hanson and the two Davids had received from the Australian taxpayer to help fund their election campaign.

"[Terry Sharples] spent $12,000 or $15,000 of his own money and he wanted his recompense. Now, if that money had been rightly paid to him he wouldn't have launched any proceedings so that's the genesis of it."

no caption

Photo: 123RF

That particular rule about public funding of political campaigns is now under scrutiny, Walsh says.

"One Nation, or [Hanson] as an individual, has got a lot of money from the Australian taxpayer over the years because of the way our system is funded.

"In fact, that rule or that public funding is currently under scrutiny because there have been a lot of issues raised over the years about candidates who do not spend the money on campaigning and they pocket the dough.

"This is costing the Australian taxpayer ... hundreds of millions of dollars every election – state and federal."

Pauline Hanson, victim of political machinations

Hanson's claim that the Queensland voting system was changed to a preferential system just before the 2016 Australian federal election to stop her One Nation Party winning seats is simply false, Walsh says.

"This is one of many Trumpian-like statements she's made over the years … at a federal level, we've had preferential voting for decades.

"The Queensland parliament changed its voting system just before the last Queensland election, which had nothing to do with her – although it's one of the many times she did stand she very, very nearly got in. It's just wrong, it's simply inaccurate. It is not a truth."

Hanson's claim that she won the biggest share of the vote in the 1998 Australian federal election, yet lost her parliamentary seat because of a gang-up by the major parties is also untrue, Walsh says.

"She didn't win the biggest share of the vote – she won a modest primary vote.

"She's just as complicit in preference swapping, which is quite legal, as every other major political party. [When] it doesn't go her way is when she cries foul."

Kerry-Anne Walsh was in the Canberra press gallery for 25 years, occupying senior posts in print, radio, and TV. She has now left reporting to write books and consult.