The Hanson Effect

Posted on Fri 09/12/2008 by


The way that the media are ‘handling’ Sarah Palin bears similarities to a degree on something that happened here in Australia.
The lady in question was Pauline Hanson.
She started political life as a member of her local council, and when an early Federal election was called in 1996, she was preselected to represent the Liberal Party for a seat near the Queensland city of Ipswich.

Where Liberal party is mentioned it is not the same as for the meaning of that word in the US. In the US, the party most resembling the Liberal Party of Australia is the Republican party. In the US you think of liberals as the Democrat Party, while in Australia, the party closely resembling the Democrats is the Labor Party.

The seat she was preselected in was a safe Labor Party seat, and she was not expected to win. During the runup to the election, she made some statements that were latched onto by the media, who termed them to be of a racist nature. The Liberal Party, probably aware of the bad press they were getting disendorsed her, but nominations had closed, and she was on all the printed ballot papers, and it was presumed that would be the end of it, because it was assumed she had little chance of winning the safe Labor seat in an area with numerous safe Labor seats surrounding it.
She got press, all of it bad, but it must have struck a chord with the local people, because she won the election, and won it relatively easily.
She entered Parliament as an Independent. Her maiden speech, even though quite innocuous, contained one or two lines that were considered inflammatory, and the media, ever on the lookout for sensation, again latched on and took what she said out of context, and then proceeded to blow it all out of proportion.
Again, what she said must have appealed to middle Australia, because, Pauline Hanson was all anybody talked about.
The Labor Party used her as a source to score points against the Liberal Party, saying that she was still basically a Liberal member.
The Liberal Party, again aware of the bad press, and there just was no good press at all, wanted to distance themselves from her at every turn.
The following year saw the peak of her political life. She formed her own Party, One Nation. In her home State of Queensland, she had immense support, and that was a really odd thing.
In a group of ten people, you could find one who supported her outright, a further one or two who might say one or two good things about her, and the rest would all say they didn’t support anything she stood for, and when pressed, only that one in ten would say out loud that he would vote for her.
Therein lies the truth of the matter. Because of the relentless media campaign against her, no one was willing to say out loud that they supported her, for fear of that same vilification.
At that Queensland State election her party contested every seat. All lead up polling said that she only had the support of one voter in ten.
There’s where the secrecy of the ballot process comes in. Under public questioning in the pre poll time no one would say out loud that they supported her. However, the ballot itself is secret, and no one knows at all how you cast your vote.
The results of that State election saw her Party receive almost 25% of the total vote, and the Party won 11 of the 89 seats in the State.
Now, a different political effect surfaced. Both the major parties saw her Party as a threat, this being that she could have sufficient numbers of sitting members to have a major say in how voting within the Chambers might go, so now, both major Parties were strongly against her at every turning, and every person from every Party was literally scared to be associated with her, so no one from any political party supported her.

She was still a member of the Federal Parliament, and for the following election, the boundaries were changed, something both major parties supported, virtually unheard of in times when the party in power changes boundaries to enhance their own vote, and the opposing side always registers complaint. The electorate she was a member of was now split into two, and was now considered to be a very safe Labor Party seat. Seeing the writing on the wall, Hanson moved sideways into the other half of the expanded electorate.
At that election, she received 36% of the vote, the highest polling person nominated in that seat. Such is the way of the electoral system here in Australia, that to win the election, you need 50% of the vote plus 1, so the seat went down to being decided by the distribution of second selections. Not one of the people running against her gave her their second preferences, the media carefully mentioning that giving her your second preference was akin to supporting her, and no one seeking election wanted to be seen as supporting her or her party.
She lost her seat.
That was the start of her decline. Factional disagreements in her home State, and the relentless pursuit by the media took their toll. She always put on a brave face, but this intense media pressure must have told on her.
In her home State of Queensland there was a careful approach to wording in the original registering of her party. The wording looked to be technical by nature, and whereas others may have been slapped on the wrist for what amounted to only a technical oversight, she was actually charged with electoral fraud. It was so obviously politically instigated, even the media grudgingly had to admit that, not that it stopped their feeding frenzy. The case was widely reported and even the media considered it to be of a technical nature only and other than being forced to pay back some money, not much else was expected to accrue from this.
In a shock, she was sentenced to 3 years imprisonment. She served 4 months and an appeal to a higher court saw the conviction overturned and all charges quashed.

However, the State Labor Government, at the instigation of the Premier, Peter Beattie, introduced legislation so that could not enter Parliament as an elected member, even though the conviction was overturned, and that prison sentence ruled wrongful. Legislation was also passed that she could not receive any financial restitution for that wrongful charge and wrongful imprisonment, despite public protest. This came back to haunt Beattie when the State’s Chief Magistrate, also a female, was also falsely imprisoned for something of a similar technical nature. The case of the magistrate was later overturned, and she did receive recompense, Beattie then being accused of double standards.

The damage had however been done. The relentless media smearing, and that’s all it was, told on Hanson, and she receded quietly into the background, a shooting star on the Australian political scene.

The phenomenon was that in the privacy of the ballot box, she had the support of a large number of middle Australians.

Not once has any of those media commentators ever said that they went too far.
Why should they? It sold newspapers.

Posted in: Australia, Politics