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One Nation is a polarising force, however, with smart moves with the economy, more swing voters may become endeared to Pauline.
Thanks to a substantial growth in membership registrations since its astounding electoral success at the federal level, it is said One Nation will look to expand its reach through Queensland state politics. This was in the week when Pauline Hanson delivered her maiden Senate address which, patchy though it was, hit precisely the mark she intended. It enlivened her supporters and provoked her detractors, including a nonsensical reaction from her Green peers in the Senate (this I will come to later).
Frustrating though it may be, her consistency is undeniable. By waiting for her appeal to wear off, we are making a similar mistake, of which most of us are guilty, to that of laughing off the nomination of Donald Trump. (Just look how well that turned out.) And there is still another great opportunity for her to take – and it is the government’s doing: A chance to seize the country’s economic narrative.
The Prime Minister, despite his unwavering enthusiasm, delivered a complete fizzer on the economy at the election. So unconvinced was the electorate of his pronouncements that by the time the polls were quantified, Malcolm Turnbull had to act quickly to give his “plan” some substance – or else walk the plank. Hence the opening weeks of parliament have been all about what “jobs and growth” actually looks like, including a fairly well-received omnibus bill and a bit of hyperbole about slightly-lowered unemployment figures.
Her rhetoric has been effective on the national identity question in the same way it is becoming so on the economic question. She is taking advantage of repeated mistakes by her opponents.
By hiring one of Trump’s former economic advisors (again in the same week), Hanson and Co demonstrated their awareness of the seriousness of the government’s predicament and what it might take to punctuate it for their own gain. They already have a significant backing in the white, middle and working class constituencies that Trump continues to appease in the United States. They have also persuaded many swing voters, a lot of whom can no longer cast an honest ballot for a major party. So long as these and other voters remain unconvinced by the economic consensus on Capital Hill they will continue to flock to alternatives.
And these alternatives need not just be One Nation; the Right wing of the Coalition might also benefit from such dissatisfaction. Its members, which dominate the government backbenches, already have an air of independence about them as if they are not bound by the rest of the party. And they have had little trouble changing policy to suit their ideological agenda. Just ask George Christensen, who has threatened to leave the party (and take the government’s one-seat majority with him) if the “backpacker tax” is pursued further. Invariably, disputations of this kind will continue to plague the government for the rest of its term.
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The story is not, of course, entirely economic. As I wrote some weeks ago, Hanson has acquired a large stake in the national dialectic of identity and multiculturalism. To many of us, this is rather vexing, as she does not offer very much on the policy side of things. The charm lies in her rhetoric. Though subject to frequent cliché and a bit of self-plagiarism, her rhetoric has been effective on the national identity question in the same way it is becoming so on the economic question. She is taking advantage of repeated mistakes by her opponents.
Most of these mistakes consist purely of condescension: that Hanson is wrong because she is Hanson, because she is cut from the same “deplorable” (to borrow from Hillary Clinton) cloth as Donald Trump. The Greens, as I mentioned at the beginning, exemplify this completely. By snubbing her maiden speech, they made not a stand of principle but a stand of unparliamentarily childishness; an unwillingness to engage in debate. They should have stayed. They should have listened, and they should have responded as though before them was a challenge of values to be debated, not an offence to be shunned.
Although things are especially unpredictable in the current parliamentary situation, before us are some important signals for the weeks and months ahead. Until they meet an adequate challenge, the far-Right will continue to exert great influence, and Pauline Hanson’s One Nation will continue to succeed. This is, for many, an unpalatable prognosis. But it cannot be denied. The economic policy narrative will be a major part of it, so long as Hanson can convince people of a loss of Australian jobs and culture; that they are her battlers. Of what it will take to reverse her success, I am not sure. What must change is a little easier to pinpoint. Firstly, the government must find a way to stop the rumblings of its backbench; a defeat there will constitute a broader defeat for far-Right politics. Secondly, One Nation must be forcibly challenged, not drowned-out by the wailings of identity politics. I think these (and other) changes can be made. I certainly hope I am not wrong.