It is hardly conceivable to have a politician quite like Pauline Hanson in a country which is said to be “the most successful multicultural society in the world” (Turnbull, n.d.). Australia, “an immigration nation” (Turnbull, n.d.), has seen Hanson disparaging Islam as a disease that needs to be vaccinated and belittling Asians for not assimilating and forming a ghetto instead.
Pauline Hanson's beginnings
Being told by her father at home by that politics was a dirty game, Pauline Hanson, a former single mother with four children and an owner of a local fish and chip store proved her father’s words wrong with her political success. She became a senator representing Queensland as well as the leader of the One Nation Party: “You must understand, I was a single woman with four children, running my small business trying to survive; My father, whom I had the utmost respect for, got it wrong” (Hanson, n.d.).
This 'is' her, a tough Australian single mother that made it all the way to the top, an inspirational story of a total outsider taking on a ‘dirty job’, trying to change it from the inside and giving power and representation back to the grassroots: “I am an ordinary Australian who cares about the future of my children, and my fellow Australians” (Hanson, n.d.).
Hanson’s depiction of her identity and personal values in her message creates an un-political, un-sophisticated image that paved the way for her political discourse.
Given Hanson’s self-portrayal as an exemplar of an ordinary Aussie, she glorifies her courage to pursue a political career because she wanted to defend the future of her fellow men and women. She also praised her novelty, being a female politician who works incredibly hard to raise her kids alone whilst also contributing to her community. Her message surely signals that we cannot relate her to the usual profile of a politician, who is born with a silver spoon in their mouth and has attended an Ivy League school. In fact, she even made it public knowledge that she previously owned a fish-and-chip shop.
The heterodoxy of her message lies in its candid nature and ‘unsophisticated-ness’. First and foremost, she presents herself as being a single mother with four children. This is a telling story about her hardship in child-rearing. Moreover, she has experience running a small business by herself, in order to provide for her children.
Altogether, the impression one gets from this story is nothing but tenacity, anything but privilege. Hence her discourse echoes the notion of message put forward earlier, which is an identity construction tool that aims at generating a desirable image with a carefully crafted biography and a moral profile, based on issues which are selected out of political interests (Lempert & Silverstein, 2012).
The image of a grassroots-born, hardworking single mother which is constructed in Hanson’s biography separates her from the political, economic elites. Thus, Hanson’s depiction of her identity and personal values in her message creates an un-political, un-sophisticated image that aims to pave the way for her success in discursive battle against her political competitors, as well as generating support among the electorate who share a background similar to hers.
Us vs Them
The moral foundation that was laid in Hanson’s biography conveys a great sense of concern to the public for the liberty and equality that ‘naturally’ belong to Australians. As Hanson states herself: “My only policy was equality for all Australians” (Hanson. n.d.). This leads to the following question: who are ‘these’ Australians and why does Hanson feel like their equality is being trampled, which she must then defend? I shall answer this question by asking and answering another question first: who are not ‘these’ Australians?
Hanson’s first criterion for defending ‘these’ Aussies is by separating the so-called elites from them, as we can see in the following quote: “High immigration is only beneficial to multi-nationals, banks and big business seeking a large market while everyday Australians suffer from this massive intake” (Hanson, 2016).
By homogenizing most people who hold leading positions within politics and the economy as a corrupt group, called “the elite”, that works against the general will of the people (Mudde & Kaltwasser, 2017), Hanson managed to claim the moral high ground. Here we see Hanson criticizing the elite for their lack of interest towards ‘average’ Aussies, whose rights for employment and wealth seem to be disregarded by legitimatizing immigration. “In response to my call for equality for all Australians, the most noisy criticism came from the fat cats, bureaucrats and the do-gooders. They screamed the loudest because they stand to lose the most - their power, money and position, all funded by ordinary Australian taxpayers” (Hanson, 1996).
Her discourse is imbued with empathy towards ‘ordinary’ Australians and antagonism towards the rich and powerful. Hanson’s discursive battle against the economic elites is in line with the moral foundation that pervades her biography, which describes her as a self-proclaimed defender of ordinary Australians. According to Mudde & Kaltwasser's definition of populism, the people are one of the three core components of any populistic movement. This is because “it (the common people) vindicates the dignity and knowledge of groups who objectively or subjectively are being excluded from power due to their socioeconomic status. This is the reason why populist leaders often adopt cultural elements that are considered markers of inferiority by the dominant culture” (Mudde & Kaltwasser, 2017).
Indeed, at the 1998 Queensland State election, which took place two years after Hanson’s maiden speech, “the geography of the One Nation (ON) vote was positively related to the presence of unskilled workers and workers in either blue-collar or agricultural industry” (Davis & Stimson, 1998); “ON supporters are more likely to be male and in blue-collar or working-class occupations. In addition, older voters (those between 45 and 65) and those living in rural and regional Australia are disproportionately drawn to the party” (Goot, 1998; Bean, 2000; Reynold, 2000). Similarly, “among Queensland's farmers and rural townsfolk, hit hard by economic decline, Mrs Hanson evidently strikes a chord” (The Economist, 1998).
The grassroots element that is embedded in Hanson’s biography creates recognition amongst her supporters, particularly the marginalized, the unemployed and rural blokes lured into Hanson’s ‘us versus them’ discourse. As a result, Hanson’s separatistic style of drawing a distinctive line between the economic elite and the ‘suburbanite’ fabricates her persona of a ‘grassroots defender’. This brings us one step closer to award her with the title of a populist, which is characterized by “some kinds of appeal to 'the people’ and a denunciation of the elite” (Muddle & Kaltwasser, 2017).
Responding to the ‘threat’ caused by immigrants is in large part of a strategic design to exacerbate the fears of economic insecurity that were already in the minds of many ordinary Aussies.
Will of the people
‘Where there is a will there is a way’ appears to constitute the final criterion for Hanson as the ‘guardian’ of her constituency. “For far too long, ordinary Australians have been kept out of any debates by the major parties. I and most Australians want our immigration policy radically reviewed and that of multiculturalism abolished” (Hanson, 1996). This quote leaves the impression that Hanson is generalizing a concern for most Australians, namely that multiculturalism and the country's immigration policy are part of a scheme by the cultural, political, elite to tip the scales against the public interests.
Hanson’s wish for doing away with the immigration policy and multiculturalism echoes the concept of the ‘general will’ in populism, referring to “the capacity of the people to join together into a community and legislate to enforce their common interest is realized” (Mudde & Kaltwasser, 2017). Indeed, Hanson’s speech occurred at a period in which public aversion to immigration was intermittently on the hype in Australia. Following the aftereffect of Hanson’s speech, “It is clear that the 1998 election occurred at a time when around 40 per cent of voters believed that too many immigrants were being allowed into Australia” (Goot, 2000a; Gibson & McAllister & Swenson, 2002)
Hanson’s denunciation of the swarm of Asians to Australia was, according to her, not motivated by racial prejudice. Rather, responding to the ‘threat’ caused by immigrants is part of a strategic design to exacerbate the fear of economic insecurity that was already in the minds of many ordinary Aussies. “Immigration must be halted in the short term so that our dole queues are not added to by unskilled migrants not fluent in the English language. This would be one positive step to rescue many young and older Australians from a predicament that has become a national disgrace and crisis” (Hanson, 1996).
Thus, for Hanson, channeling her discourse into racial prejudice is to legitimize the apprehension of wealth redistribution by the advent of Asian immigrants. “While there is some evidence that economic concerns did motivate ON voters, it seems that they did so only when linked to anti-immigrant feelings” (Gibson & McAllister & Swenson 2002).
Pauline Hanson and the Hansonists
Prior to her 1996 maiden speech, Pauline Hanson saw an opportunity that allowed her to turn a feeling of uncertainty about foreign immigrants into sheer irrationality based on racial prejudices. Owing to her construction of the ‘Hansonists’, she gripped the opportunity to instill her will in them. With her biography, that not only resonates with her constituents, but also confirms their prejudices, Hanson plowed her xenophobic discourse through the parliament and made it believable to many from the fringes of society, who were ready to abandon treason. As a populist, Hanson’s manifesto is fashioned in such a manner that the incapability or disinterest of the establishment or elite is to be vilified and that the will of the people is then to be amplified.
Goot, 2000a. More “Relaxed and Comfortable”: Public opinion on immigration under Howard. People and Place vol. 8, pp. 32–49.
Gibson, R., McAllister, I. & Swenson, T. 2002. The politics of race and immigration in Australia: One Nation voting in the 1998 Election .
Hanson, P. 1996. maiden speech delivered to the Senate of the Federal Parliament.
Hanson, P. 2016. maiden speech delivered to the Senate of the Federal Parliament.
Hanson, P. n.d. Biography.
Mudde, C. & Kaltwasser, C. R. 2017. Populism: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press.
Silverstein, M. & Urban, G. 1996. Natural Histories of Discourse. Chicago & London: The University of Chicago Press.
The Economist, 1998, The Hanson factor.
Turnbull, M. n.d. Australia’s multicultural statement. Australian Government.