[Also by R.J. Stove: Pauline Hanson—Political Prisoner]
When Mrs. Gandhi returned to power in a 1980 landslide, Sydney's Sun-Herald summed up her achievement in three words: "INDIA: SHE'S BACK."
Of Australian politics in late 2003, it can similarly be said, "SHE'S BACK."
"She" is anti-immigration insurrectionary Pauline Hanson, freed from her Brisbane cell late on November 6—along with her One Nation Party co-founder David Ettridge—after 78 days' imprisonment.
As I reported here in August, Hanson was sentenced to the astonishing term of three years' jail on an alleged technical violation of election law. Now the Queensland Court of Appeal has overturned the original conviction and announced that there will be no retrial. The appeal judges accepted that all One Nation's accredited supporters were de facto registered members of the party—just as the defense had maintained from the start.
Pauline herself is, of course, ecstatic. "The truth has set me free," she told reporters. Throughout her incarceration, she had been forbidden all physical contact with visiting relatives—including her ill 84-year-old father—unless she was strip-searched. Contrast this with the indulgence shown to triple murderer Paul Denyer, who last May launched a taxpayer-funded crusade for the right to wear makeup in his Melbourne cell. No-one can say Australia's New Class doesn't have its priorities straight.
Pauline's imprisonment even drew criticism from Australian Prime Minister John Howard and other leading Australian politicians—such as New South Wales Premier [= governor] Bob Carr. Evidence of the extreme Establishment anguish that Hanson causes, Queensland judge Margaret McMurdo, while freeing Hanson, took the opportunity to complain that these criticisms "could reasonably be seen as an attempt to influence the judicial appellate process and to interfere with the independence of the judiciary for cynical political motives."
Whither Pauline now?
Because her original conviction has been quashed, she has a legal right to stand for Parliament again. She herself has scorned the idea with her celebrated command of colloquial Australian ("I'd need rocks in my bloody head if I thought about it again"). But a TV opinion poll conducted by Melbourne's Channel 10 on November 7 found that 78% of respondents hoped Pauline would return to politics.
Others certainly hope not. Sydney Morning Herald correspondent and Hanson biographer Margo Kingston reported one reaction from reader Tim Evans, under the provocative headline "Hanson—the left's new poster girl?":
"Will Pauline rise again? That's the question everyone is asking. It's the hot topic of conversation at work here today [Friday]. Me, I think not - I think she's dead and buried. Listen to what she's been saying—the bleeding-heart stories about all people in prison being innocent.
"Her 11 weeks in jail have turned her into a soft, left-leaning namby-pamby.
"Listen to her language. She's become the very thing her core constituents hate. Her time in jail has taken away her tough-on-crime, pro-'Laura Norder' stance. So, after the current sympathy thing subsides … [t]he left will still hate her, and she's about to alienate the right in a big way. She'll be left with no support whatsoever."
Perhaps Pauline will develop an interest in prison reform, like Nixon enforcer Charles Colson after Watergate. But, as Melbourne's Sunday Age veteran columnist Michelle Grattan noted:
"Even when she's out of politics with her future totally up in the air, Pauline Hanson can cause an extraordinary amount of trouble for the most senior of politicians. … Hanson is a political firecracker, and that sends a lot of players into real or contrived spins. Just when they thought she was an absolutely spent force, she produces yet another spray of sparks."
Already the fear of a Hanson Rising in her home state of Queensland has spooked Labour Party Premier [= governor] Peter Beattie—a sort of antipodean Tony Blair, smirking, smooth, modish, publicity-obsessed, contemptuous of old-style working-class mores—into accepting the resignation of the State Justice Department's Director-General , Ken Levy, as fall guy for the failed prosecution. For the first time since Beattie won office five years back, he and his government actually look like potential losers in the state elections due 2004.
The other conspicuous casualty of a Pauline comeback is on the (nominal) Right: Federal Health Minister Tony Abbott, once considered the Great White Hope of Prime Minister Howard's cabinet and heir-apparent. The aftermath of Hanson's conviction revealed that Abbott ran an anti-Hanson slush fund quaintly-styled, "Australians for Honest Politics."
Abbott's grudge against Pauline goes back at least to 1998, when his staffer David Oldfield—now a One Nation member of the New South Wales legislature's upper house—jilted him to become Pauline's chief confidant. "Even the best of us," Abbott complained at the time, "get saddled with our own personal Judas." The Sydney Morning Herald's Margo Kingston concluded: "He [Abbott] can say goodbye to ever being Prime Minister."
In Pauline's future, the biggest imponderable is her relationship with the One Nation party itself. It is indubitably down from its 25% popularity levels in 1998. In Victoria, Tasmania and South Australia, the party now hardly exists.
But it is not yet out. It still has representatives in the Parliaments of New South Wales, Queensland, and Western Australia, as well as one Senator—Queenslander Len Harris—in Canberra. Pauline herself could gain a Senate place, under Australia's proportional representation system, with as little as 14%, and possibly even 7%, of the vote.
Even if Pauline cannot translate public sympathy over her maltreatment into a revived political force, the mere possibility tells Australian incumbents: "Be afraid. Be very afraid." It puts Australia's major parties in the position once jeeringly invoked by that boisterous proto-Hansonista, George Wallace, when marshalling voters three decades ago: "You can send them a message. You can give 'em a case of St. Vitus Dance, and you know how to do it."
R. J. Stove [send him mail] lives in Melbourne, Australia. His recent book The Unsleeping Eye: Secret Police and Their Victims has made a dizzying leap on the Amazon bestseller list from #817,651 to #703,513. Articles by him have appeared in The American Conservative, The New Criterion, and Chronicles. Nobody has asked him to join Pauline Hanson's political campaign.