We were a bit apprehensive as we drove to the Civic centre having heard on the news that thousands of protesters had dogged Pauline Hanson’s visit in both Hobart and Launceston. We were amazed at the number of cars parked in and around the venue, unusual for our small community to turn out in any great numbers unless there was a football match or something really special.
As we approached the venue we were confronted by six Klu Klux Klansmen who stood silently holding a banner declaring, “Pauline you’re our girl”.
There were about 150 other protesters standing quietly along the pathway and the entrance holding candles. They were obviously well organised and financed with costumes (such as the Klu Kux Klansmen) being professionally made and the candles being identical.
In fact we heard later unsubstantiated reports that the protesters were paid Au$10 per hour to be there and that funding came from the Department of Dramatic Arts. The claims were made in an ABC talkback show, 'Lateline with Tony Delroy'. Also protesting at the meeting was Ms Ann Lacardo Wells and her hierarchy from the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs.
A journalist at the event was overheard by one of the police saying, “These protesters are a bit ho hum, you hit me in the face and I’ll hit you and let’s see if we can get things going.”
I was amazed that so many people had travelled so far because of their feelings against Ms Hanson without taking the opportunity to hear what she had to say - depending only on the media and their interpretation of Ms Hanson’s stand.
Every seat in the auditorium was filled. As we waited for Ms Hanson we noticed the entry of an Aboriginal elder, Albert Deverell, a former ATSIC Councillor, who took off his coat to reveal a jacket adorned with the Aboriginal flag. The chit chat in the room abruptly stopped as those gathered there wandered what would happen when Ms Hanson arrived.
In true democratic fashion Deverell was given the platform to express his views. We were all surprised when he came out in support of Ms Hanson outlining the following points which he considered important:
When Pauline Hanson entered the auditorium there was spontaneous, thunderous applause and a standing ovation as she stood behind the microphone.
She started by talking about her entry into federal politics and how challenging it had been. She talked of her decision to resign from the Liberal Party during the 1996 election campaign as the party had refused her a platform to discuss issues that went against the party line.
She then talked about where she saw Australia was going saying,
We were all Australians together, whether born here or immigrants and that we must have undivided loyalty to the country we live in.
We must acknowledge the acts and misdeeds of our forebears against the indigenous peoples of Australia but that the guilt from these acts committed over two hundred years ago should be shed and that all Australians should work together to face the future as One Nation.
Ms Hanson said that the current charge of racism was hypocritical as current policies discriminated against a large number of tax paying Australians.
That people must stand on their own two feet and be responsible for their actions.
Ms Hanson also said,
The statements that struck me most were the comment “that if nothing else came of her campaigning at least people were starting to talk about the state that Australia had fallen to and issues related to securing a better future for Australians” and the point that “she wanted to represent Australians rather than shove her views down our throats”.
After her speech the Aboriginal elder, Albert Deverell, presented Ms Hanson with a bunch of Aboriginal flowers.
Over 1,000 membership forms were distributed during the evening... quite remarkable for such a small community.
Here was someone who had guts. Someone who stood for her people and who was willing to fight on their behalf. I left both inspired but troubled.
I think Pauline Hanson could do good but I am very concerned about people who could attach themselves to One Nation.
In the drive to attain political power Pauline will have to remain focussed and be careful about the critical decisions that she must take.
Notwithstanding, I believe that Pauline Hanson needs to be heard, and at best supported at the ballot box, giving her the encouragement to continue the fight and for the rest of us, who watch from the sidelines, to continue to think about this country of ours and to call to account the major political parties who have consistently sold us out over the past thirty years.