It must be tempting for Americans to assume that we Australians are simply Americans with weird accents.
After all, we speak English, sort of. Our TV stations (oops, "channels") are awash with the same voyeurist dreck as America's: the same Jerry Springer, the same Oprah, the same Ricki Lake. Our pubescent girls exist, for the most part, in the same state of Britneyish semi-nudity as yours. Our troops went in alongside yours in Korea, Vietnam, Gulf War I, and Gulf War II. Your President described our Prime Minister as a "man of steel." So we're basically the 51st state, right?
Every now and then an event occurs which shatters the illusion of blood-brotherhood with the Crocodile Hunter and his compatriots. Contrary to expectations fuelled by Karl Malden in Amex commercials, many of your own country's taken-for-granted privileges stop at the water's edge.
These reflections are triggered by a recent Australian event that Americans will find incomprehensible: the jailing of former anti-immigration politician Pauline Hanson ("icon of [the] far right", according to Britain's leftist Guardian newspaper). The highly technical charge: counting members of a supporters group as full-fledged members of her One Nation Party, which under Australian electoral law was then eligible to receive public funding (subsequently repaid). Judge Patsy Wolfe said this corrupted and undermined the political process. The sentence: an astonishing three years.
To convey the impossibility of this happening in an American context, suppose Pat Buchanan (admittedly a far more intelligent and morally robust figure than Pauline Hanson) was hauled off from The American Conservative's offices in handcuffs, on the grounds of having misrepresented the total number of Reform Party members years before.
Even if he had been found unambiguously guilty of electoral malfeasance, he would have several shots remaining in his locker. Little matters like the First Amendment. The Bill of Rights. Miranda. A largely free press.
Australians have none of these things. Pauline Hanson is an Australian. Ergo . . .
It's not quite true to assert, as many have done, that she constitutes Australia's first political prisoner. During World War II, an eccentric but harmless publisher named P. R. Stephensen—afflicted by an obsessive resentment of Jews—spent three years locked up without trial. There was never, of course, any suggestion that antipodean Communists should be punished similarly. A generation afterwards, in 1969, Melbourne Marxist union apparatchik Clarrie O'Shea briefly became a guest of Her Majesty for non-payment of fines. (See an unreconstructed Marxian interpretation of his jailing here.)
But what has Pauline Hanson done to deserve three years in chokey [Oz = slammer] without even the option of a fine?
It's difficult now to remember in 2003 that for a while during the second half of the 1990s, Pauline—every Australian knows her as "Pauline"—was Australia's most influential woman. Correction: make that Australia's most influential person.
She certainly didn't owe her power to the conventional political processes. Before entering Federal Parliament at the March 1996 election, most of even her fellow Queenslanders had never heard of her. Those who had, knew her as a fairly non-achieving councilor in the Ipswich municipality. Her own party, the Liberals, had disendorsed her for lamenting excessive Aboriginal welfare benefits. So she won her federal seat as an independent. Months later, without the faintest concept of her dam-busting potential, she uttered—on September 10—the speech that alone rendered her world-famous. (You can read the whole thing here.)
Everything else Pauline said or did, and virtually everything else others have said or done concerning her, has comprised essentially a series of footnotes to that speech. No more, no less. The entire bipartisan Australian consensus of mass immigration, endless welfare for indigenous peoples and multicultural palaver received, with her remarks, its first serious blow.
Not a fatal blow, of course. Nor was Pauline even the first Federal parliamentarian to attack it. Erstwhile Western Australian Labor MP Graeme Campbell, who comes much closer than Pauline to genuine Buchananesque intellectual significance, had been talking—and writing—similarly from the early 1990s onwards But where most of the media ignored Campbell, they could not ignore Pauline.
Her own party, One Nation, began in April 1997. It inspired in its enemies hysteria and, often enough, outright gangsterism. At the party's July 1997 public meeting, in Dandenong, Victoria, one Keith Warburton (not a One Nation supporter or, indeed, affiliated with any party) was bashed unconscious.
One Nation's biggest electoral success occurred in the Queensland poll of June 1998. There, One Nation's candidates scored 11 of a possible 89 seats. For establishmentarians, this was scary stuff. So a copy of the party's membership list found its way to The Australia-Israel Review, which the following July published the list, shrieking on its cover "Gotcha!"
Had the New Class but known it, 1998 represented Pauline's apogee. In the nail-biter Federal election of October that year, she lost her seat, although the party as a whole scored one million votes and a place in Australia's Senate.
During 1999 the Queensland parliamentary bloc disintegrated. One of its members, Charles Rappolt, killed himself. The control over Pauline exercised by her minders, David Oldfield and David Ettridge, aroused ever-increasing rancor among the party faithful. She dismissed her best and most educated staffers, John Pasquarelli (her eventual biographer) and Jeffry Babb (now at the China Post, Taipei).
Today, One Nation exists in a curious legal limbo. One senator, Len Harris, continues to use the party name—he refused to take any reporters' calls about Pauline's imprisonment—as do David Oldfield (in the New South Wales Parliament's upper house since 1999) and a handful of Queensland and Western Australian state legislators. The same Brisbane District Court jury that found Pauline guilty also found David Ettridge guilty.
Even the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's psephologist Antony Green, of mildly leftist yuppie persuasion, admitted the eccentricity of the case against her.
"The charges," he wrote,
"were of fraud under the Queensland Criminal Code, including dishonestly inducing registration of a political party and dishonestly obtaining benefit in electoral funding. No offence of falsely registering a political party exists. Legislation governing political parties did not exist until the 1980s, and even now provides only a bare framework. . . There are no rules on preselection, on the process of forming party policy, or indeed any requirement for internal democracy. Before the case that de-registered One Nation, the view was that almost any structure was valid for the registration of a political party . . .
"Hanson's criminal charges came about as a result of a civil action by an ex-One Nation candidate, Terry Sharples. In August 1999 the courts backed his claim that One Nation had not had the required 500 members when registered, merely the triumvirate of Hanson, Ettridge and David Oldfield as members. The members' names put forward had been part of a Hanson support group."
[Perils of Pauline: her breach of 'club' rules was technical rather than deceit, August 22, 2003, Sydney Morning Herald]
So the triumvirate gave false data about the number of members One Nation had! A day that will live in infamy!
Here is a random sampling of recent Australian criminals who have been luckier than Pauline:
Some of Pauline Hanson's own supporters may have done her no favors. Was it really necessary for them to liken her to Nelson Mandela?
Yet such indiscretions matter less than her career's true importance.
When Australia's Prime Minister John Howard defied the augurers by winning a third term in November 2001, he did so partly because the 9/11 political fallout would have favored any incumbent. But mainly because he adopted, not before time, key Hansonista attitudes.
I have lamented to an American audience before John Howard's contempt for Australians' right to bear arms. (As bad as Canada or Britain. Americans still have a lot to be thankful for.) Still, in two respects he has been a better leader than I for one had dared to hope.
He has ended the twenty-four-year-long Australian myth that foreign affairs should consist of truckling to Indonesia's goons over East Timor. And he has taken seriously the political, cultural, medical and social threats posed by millions of illegals from the Third World. Only the fear of a One Nation revival permitted him to hang tough on the immigration issue.
Similarly, the government's Aborigine policy no longer consists simply of throwing money at them.
Howard could not, and would not, have done this but for Pauline Hanson's example. With only the vaguest awareness of what she was doing, by simply challenging them, she brought down the walls of Australia's multicultural Jericho.
That is why the chattering classes hate her.
That is why she is rotting in jail today.
R. J. Stove [send him mail] lives in Melbourne. His recent book The Unsleeping Eye: Secret Police and Their Victims is currently Amazon's 817,651st-best-selling volume. His articles have been published in The American Conservative, The New Criterion, and Chronicles. Neither currently nor at any past time a One Nation officeholder, he voted for One Nation precisely once, in the 1998 Federal Election.