Academic journal article Journal of Australian Political Economy

Unintended Consequences: One Nation and Neoliberalism in Contemporary Australia

Academic journal article Journal of Australian Political Economy

Unintended Consequences: One Nation and Neoliberalism in Contemporary Australia

Article excerpt

Much like the Brexit referendum result and Donald Trump's ascendency to the White House, the revival of Pauline Hanson and the One Nation Party's (ONP) 2016 federal election success has rocked Australian politics. With more than fifty-nine thousand first preference votes cast for the ONP group ticket nationally, the party secured 4.29% of the Senate vote, resulting in the election of four ONP senators including Hanson (Australian Electoral Commission, 2016a). Since then, the ONP has become influential in federal politics as the third largest non-government voting bloc in the Senate. At the state level, the ONP may yet repeat its 1998 success in the coming Queensland elections. It had a poor showing in the recent Western Australian election, but this setback can probably be attributed more to State-level issues like the reaction to the ONP/Liberal preference deal in Western Australia, rather than a rejection of the party and its politics.

This article adopts a political economy approach to examine the parallels between ongoing structural changes in the Australian economy and the (re)rise of the ONP in 2016. It has two aims. Firstly, to conceptualise the ONP as a populist radical right party in accordance with Mudde (2007, 2017), demonstrating the way in which the typological features intersect with economic developments. This also allows us to position the analysis within the extensive body of international research literature examining the conditions precipitating the rise of similar political parties in liberal democracies throughout in the West. Secondly, it argues that the ONP phenomenon is an unintended consequence of neoliberal ambitions in Australia. The increasing precariousness of the Australian labour market and the deepening of social inequalities in the transition to a service based economy, represent the material conditions which encourage the emergence of a populist radical right party like the ONP. These developments serve to dislocate significant portions of the working-class and threaten the financial security of the lower-middle class, as these socioeconomic groups find their skills increasingly redundant and their employment under increasing pressure.

One Nation as an expression of the populist radical right

The ONP may appear a curious phenomenon, distinct from the 'establishment' Australian Labor Party (ALP) and Liberal-National Coalition. To some extent, the Party demonstrates a synthesis of the defining features of the two: the Coalition's social conservativism and emphasis on the individual and free market, and Labor's former discourses of social solidarity and economic protectionism. Like most populist radical right parties, the ONP does not see itself as populist, or even radical. Instead, the party and its supporters insist they are above politics, representing 'Australian values' and the 'Australian people' (Pauline Hanson's One Nation, 2015c). Under the banner of 'One Nation, One People, One Flag', the Party has promised a return to a golden era of social and economic security (Curran, 2004: 40).

Although more heterogeneous than other party families, the populist radical right is distinguished from the conservative-right (Arzheimer and Carter 2006: 426) on the basis of the more 'radical' policy positions they present, which deviate from the current policy consensus (Rydgren and Ruth, 2011: 207). The precise nature of the radical 'core' remains contentious--Mudde (1996) outlines 26 different approaches to its scholarly definition, including 58 different criteria. In order to avoid this conceptual quagmire, this article adopts Mudde's (2007, 2017) heuristic typology of a populist, radical right defined by the synthesis of three key features: nativism, authoritarianism, and populism. While these elements may appear in the ideological matrix of other political actors, it is the unique combination of the three that makes a party of the populist radical right (Mudde, 2017: 5). …

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