Misreading Hanson a national pastime

by Michael Duffy

June 6-7 Weekend Australian

One of the most depressing things about politics is the enormous pretence that a significant drop in unemployment rates is always just around the corner. For 20 years, governments have been elected on a promise to achieve this, and day-to-day politics is often dominated by arguments over minute changes in figures which represent a national tragedy, whichever way the percentage fractions moved in the last quarter.

The pretence is a farce, but those who promote it by pretending in public that tiny changes mean something - most politicians, journalists, economists and money dealers - have done well out of it.

Unemployment in their ranks remain relatively low’ It’s in their interest to pay no more than lip service to the ‘unemployed class”, which consists of between 1 and 2 million Australians who are unemployed or very underemployed, and their extended family and friends who share their experience, even if not unemployment themselves. For these people - possibly 6 million or more - the term “battler” is not merely a warm rhetorical device for expressing non-binding concern.

The most important single thing about Pauline Hanson is that she has given many of these 6 million a public voice, and the employed class doesn’t like what it’s hearing. Perhaps Hanson and her followers are being racist by using Aborigines and Asians as scapegoats for their financial problems.

But its curious that the reaction of the employed class has been simply to criticise her for this - to criticise her for not sharing the enlightened views of an employed university graduate - and largely to ignore the suffering of millions of fellow Australians which give rose to it.

We await a statement from either party acknowledging that mass unemployment is here to stay, and that something serious is going to be done to improve the lives of those who are suffering. (No, I’m not talking about the work for the dole scheme, or programs that train people for non-existent jobs.) This is the effective way to combat social scapegoating. But instead, we receive almost daily misrepresentations of Hanson’s views ignoring most of what she says and focusing obsessively and exclusively on anything to do with Aborigines and Asians.

According to the dictionary, a racist is one who believes that different races have different sets of inherent qualities. A racist may also (and usually does) believe that some races are superior to others. I have heard Hanson speak, and read everything I could find by her. I can’t find anything there to support the charge of racism which has been hurled at her so often. She might be stupid, unkind, inept or even deranged, but she has said many times that she’s not racist, and defies her critics to come up with the evidence. It’s a fair enough request.

Some critics have gone to strange lengths to tar her. Many people I’ve talked to base their belief in her racism on Robert Manne’s article about the book Pauline Hanson: The truth published in this newspaper in April 1997. It was taken out of print shortly after the publication (which implied Hanson had something to hide) so presumably most of those who read Manne’s column have not read the book.

Manne is perhaps the most respected commentator on race in this country. In his article he said that the book claims a new elite has three strategies to destroy Anglo-Saxon Australia. “The first is Asianisation,” wrote Manne, paraphrasing several paragraphs from the book. “At the behest of the secret forces dominating the new world order, the new class elites have decided to open Australia to the surplus population of Asia, particularly of China and India. [The Author] imagines Australia in 2050. It has a population of 1.8 billion. Its capital is Vua Wah. Its president is a lesbian called Poona Li Hung.” Poona is partly a cybernaught. It is Manne’s account of this passage that seems to have been recalled by many people.

My reading of the passage differs completely to Manne’s. The above scenario is not a “strategy” or a forecast, but an analogy or, in the book’s words, a “parable”. It comes at the beginning of a chapter on gun laws, and its purpose is to try to express how alienated country people felt after the Port Arthur killings, when these laws were imposed on them by a Prime Minister who wore a bullet-proof vest to a meeting in the bush. The passage might be florid, paranoid, even unpleasant, but why Manne presented it as the portrayal of a strategy for a new class’ domination of the world is puzzling.

The rest of the chapter from which this brief passage is taken presents extensive and detailed accusations that the metropolitan media misrepresented the gun issue. (For example, declining rates of gun murders were ignored, and ownership of automatic rifles was presented as widespread and legal, when in fact it was rare and illegal). The point seems clear enough: guns have important, different cultural meanings in the city and the bush. Whichever side you stand on, it’s interesting stuff, and tells us a lot more than beaten-up charges of racism do about Hanson’s appeal.

Manne also wrote that passage in the book “concerning the Asianisation of Australia contain some of the most vicious examples of anti-Asian racism I have ever seen in print in Australia”. He did not quote these passages; I assumed they were so disgusting he didn’t want to offend us. The problem for me now that I’ve read the book is I can’t identify these passages. It would be helpful had Manne given us a taste, so we could compare our own sensibilities in this matter with his.

Like many people, I think Hanson is wrong to focus on Aborigines and Asians. But as a member of the employed class I wouldn’t think that would I? If she had ignored them, the reality is that no-one would have heard of her. The ideological and political apartheid which keeps the concerns of the unemployed class out of federal parliament in any meaningful sense would have remained unbreached, and the employed class could have got on with the good life, which still exists for many Australians.

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