Magazine article The Spectator

The Perils of Pauline Hanson

Magazine article The Spectator

The Perils of Pauline Hanson

Article excerpt


In his heart of hearts, everyone believes in long prison sentences; it is just that no one agrees about who should receive them. The three-year sentence handed out last week to Pauline Hanson, the former fish-and-chip shop owner who for a time was Australia's answer to Jean-Marie Le Pen, has excited a lively, if not always entirely lucid, debate in Australia. Political liberals who usually cannot wait to forgive criminals for the harm they do to others now crow in vindictive triumph, while the hanging-not-punishment-enough brigade, of whom Hanson herself was once a prominent member, are outraged by the severity of the sentence.

Pauline Hanson irrupted on to the Australian political scene in the early 1990s, giving voice to blue-collar Australians who resented the immense social changes that had been brought about without their consent. They felt that the world of ice-cold tubes and meat pies was under threat, economically and culturally, from the world of kir and sun-dried tomatoes, a world in which the mainstream politicians, of whatever political stripe, increasingly lived and moved and took their being. When Hanson spoke in crude terms of the dangers of Asian immigration (a return to the yellow peril) and of the feckless Aborigines, she immediately won 22 per cent of the vote in her native Queensland. The proletarian lava had suddenly broken through the bourgeois crust.

From an outsider's point of view, Hanson's crime seems to have been relatively trivial. She registered her party - One Nation without the number of members required by law, claiming that mere supporters at meetings were members. It is even possible that she failed to understand the law, rather than that she broke it deliberately, for the one thing upon which all educated Australians agree is her stupidity. Her one lasting achievement so far is to have bestowed upon Australian English the catchphrase 'Please explain', which she asked whenever anyone used a word of more than two syllables, such as 'xenophobic'.

Having thus registered her party illegally, she and her co-founder, David Ettridge, who was also sentenced to three years' imprisonment, accepted a subsidy of A$500,000 from the public purse to fund her election campaign (election campaigns are publicly funded in Australia). Although she subsequently paid the money back by raising it from her supporters, she was nevertheless charged with fraud. There arc also charges pending that she used A$20,000 for her own private purposes.

Hanson had never been convicted of anything before, and it was swiftly pointed out in newspaper editorials and letters pages that killers have been known to receive lesser sentences. On the other hand, a former convict was reported as saying that since Hanson had asked for longer sentences, it was only right that she should receive one. And the only Aborigine in the Australian senate requested that Hanson be given special protection, because the prison to which she had been sent was full of the very Asians and Aborigines whose immigration and conduct she had so vociferously condemned. Truly, the whirligig of time brings in its revenges.

The Prime Minister, Mr Howard, at once expressed the view that the sentence had been too harsh. No doubt his opinion was compounded of a balance of many considerations. His own party, the Liberal party, hates Hanson because it believes that she delivered the normally conservative Queensland to the Labor party by splitting the vote. …

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