Film and Book Reviews

Mother of the Nation?

BOOKDr Gordon Preece reviews The White Queen: One Nation and the Politics of Race

By Gordon Preece

June 15 2017The White Queen: One Nation and the Politics of Race, by David Marr (Quarterly Essay 65, 2017 $19.25)

David Marr is perhaps Australia’s best literary (Patrick White) and political biographer (Mark Latham, Tony Abbott, Kevin Rudd, Pauline Hanson). He has a racy but elegant journalist’s style, often laced with touches of acerbic wit as seen regularly on ABC TV’s Insiders. Marr does not shirk, nor does he unnecessarily seek controversy. His over-psychoanalysis of an anger outburst from Kevin Rudd, made public only a week or so before his ousting, was something he came to regret. He is relatively restrained here.

Quarterly Essay has a name for being timely, topical, concise (c.100 pages plus letters). It’s a punchy, pithy format that has developed quite a following. This essay opens with the catchy section title “Ranga Redux”. Here he captures a sense of the fiery passion of Hanson celebrating the Trump presidential victory, Brexit and her own One Nation’s part in this global people power movement.

Before accepting her own instant assessment of her party’s global importance, Marr seeks to put her in local context, filling in gaps between her two semi-messianic comings, and using qualitative research findings to show up some of the differences of Hanson’s relatively well-off supporters from Trump’s and Brexit’s not so well-off ones. Victims of globalisation Hanson’s supporters are not, living as they are in a nation with an uninterrupted quarter century of growth, and being, like her, relatively prosperous.

But the self-proclaimed “mother of the nation” is only really a bit player on the global stage. It is telling that her attempt to go back to mother England came to a quick end. She felt smothered by too many immigrants – especially Muslims. It’s Muslims, not the previously targeted Asians or Aboriginals, who are now the main targets of her wrath. She was quick, with main aide James Ashby’s prompting, to irresponsibly and ignorantly exploit the alleged crazed murder of several Melburnians and other bystanders near Bourke St, by a Greek Australian, by describing it as an Islamic terrorist act.

The well-researched Marr paints Hanson’s 2016 supporters as the “Aussie children of Aussie parents”, “proudly working class”, a third under 45, and surprisingly, half from big cities. They’re increasingly female, after being mainly male 20 years ago. Most, like her, left school at 15 and prospered by their 40s.

Marr enumerates the reasons for her popularity among her supporters:

“First is their affection for her. Second is their deep disenchantment with politics. Third is their fierce nostalgia… for the country of our childhoods. Fourth is their profound hostility to that great agent of change, immigration. Fifth is the driver of race”.

Despite Marr’s abhorrence for Christians displayed in his 1999 book The High Price of Heaven, he notes, to many Christians’ relief, “There’s not a whiff of faith-based moralising about One Nation. It’s a rare Hanson voter who ever darkens the doors of a church. These people are secular, working-class conservatives who see eye-to eye on a short list of big issues.”

One Nation is a protest party, not a policy party. It wants migrants to go back to where they came from; a homogeneous Australia, where, as telling anecdotes in focus groups reveal, you can leave your wallet on the bar with no worries because they’re all like you. Much of what One Nation wants, the Government seems happy to deliver: “more pork for bush electorates; stiffer citizenship tests; new cruelties for boat people; fresh barriers for Chinese investment; … more coal-fired power stations.”

Marr uses Scanlon research survey analysis to show that in part contrast to Hansonites, Australians are largely: happy with their lot; committed to their country; welcome mass immigration; don’t want refugees coming here by boat; appreciate multiculturalism.

But there’s a dark side. About 50% want all Muslim immigration ended. The once liberal Malcolm Turnbull is no Malcolm Fraser but is morphing into John Howard who stayed silent while Hanson rose higher, borrowing her policies for the “Tampa’d” election.

As pollster Scanlon says, “The sad part about our current democracy is that the two major parties can’t work out they will die if they don’t work together… They’re … allowing the fringe to take the control”. He sees it taking 25 years until Middle Eastern Muslim kids are accepted, like Italians, Greeks and Vietnamese have been accepted. But this fails to take account of low rates of inter-marriage between Muslims and others, one of the key factors which led to mutual tolerance and hospitality between Catholics and Protestants, and between the above ethnic groups and white Australians.

Marr sees Hanson as having learnt from last time, and being likely to be around for a while longer – at least a full six year Senate term. But in 25 years Hanson is unlikely to still be in politics, and One Nation is unlikely to have successfully moved beyond her charisma to a more institutionalised and policy-driven stage, like the Greens have started to.

However, like the Greens, they’ll find, as they are already, that the longer you’re in, the harder it is to maintain that you’re there, like the departed Democrats, just “to keep the bastards honest”; and that pragmatism leads to doing deals with the “bastards”, as we have seen One Nation doing with the Liberals in WA and by voting 90% with them in the Senate. This essay, and a recent Four Corners exposé of Hanson’s use of undeclared private plane, show how hard it is to be an apolitical politician.

 

Dr Gordon Preece is Chair of the Melbourne Anglican Social Responsibilities Committee, Director of the University of Divinity’s Centre for Religion and Social Policy (see www.centrerasp.org), and Senior Minister at Yarraville Anglican Parish.