Because of my unholy love for unwieldy metaphors, let me tell you about this rash I have that comes and goes. It first flared up in 1996 after a dodgy meal of butterfish and hot chips, a mere annoyance that soon became a genuine aggravation. Finally, something had to be done, and in 1998 I was prescribed the magic ointment. The angry red rash disappeared (grudgingly) and I thought that would be the end of it. But in 2001 it made a surprise reappearance — out came the magic ointment. Throughout the noughties, and as recently as 2013, it reared its ugly red head and had to be quashed. Hardly a cure, then, this ‘magic’ ointment. But for wont of better, I keep this nostrum handy to palliate the symptoms of a condition that seemed, I feared, to lurk within me for good, biding its time until conditions became favourable for its return.
Metaphor complete, we find ourselves in 2016 with the resurgence of an especially persistent rash in the steamy genitalia of Australian politics. Newly elected to the Senate, Pauline Hanson, a disendorsed Liberal candidate for the seat of Oxley in the ’96 election, has once again raised her Medusean head. Yes, I can hear you: didn’t we chase this thing through the village with pitchforks and kill it with fire back in ’98? Apparently not. Seems reports of her political death were greatly exaggerated, because, like psoriasis, it appears that she never truly goes away. In my search for answers, I felt obliged to concede that, for once, it is not Tony Abbott’s fault. Yes, yes — ring a fuc*ing bell or something, go on — the return of the Wicked Witch of the North is not Tony Abbott’s fault.
Or is it? My humble theory is that we house a healthy population of racists in this country. The haters need someone to give voice to their intellectually-stunted world view. Back in ’96, Pauline Hanson’s anti-multiculturalism, anti-Asian rhetoric made her a poster-child for rednecks on the conservative fringe. But then that unscrupulous PM John Howard took up some of Hanson’s ideas and incorporated them into mainstream LNP policy, making her effectively redundant. A blue tide of haters flowed back into the heartland of conservative politics, and for the next twelve years we suffered the hate-enablers among the media elites (Bolt, Devine, Jones, Murray, Sandilands, et al) who all strove to make Tony Abbott’s hatchet-job on Labor so easy.
Little surprise that when PMs Rudd and Gillard briefly raised their heads, the by-now firmly established and somewhat complacent right-wing consensus was shaken to the core, incensed that someone would dare rethink immigration policy, review Howard’s mistreatment of refugees, or (even worse) apologise to the Stolen Generation. The incandescence of conservative outrage prompted Minister for Hate, Tony Abbott, to mount a coup within his own party and lead them to bitter defeat in 2010, and Pyrrhic victory in 2013. Job done, languishing in the polls as Australia’s most reviled politician, an international laughingstock, two days shy of his second year in office he was knifed by the very man he had knifed six years earlier. Malcolm Turnbull, the man who lost his captaincy in 2009 because of his centrist views, was now poised to become the PM in 2016.
Like bacteria multiplying in a stagnant pond, Pauline Hanson would have felt the conservative tide turn, would have sensed the gibbering misanthropes on the loony fringe deserting the LNP in droves, and felt the sucking need of those who yearn for a White Australia. Needing a new rhetoric now that Asians are a respected, valued and integral part of Australian society, Hanson plunged her fangs into our latest cultural pariah, the Muslim community, and with frequent paid guest spots on Sunrise, a podium at the Murdoch press, and the sympathetic ear of the usual suspects (Bolt, Devine, Jones, Murray, Sandilands, et al), she raged incoherently on behalf of those even less coherent. Our Prime Minister breaking bread with Waleed Aly? Quoting Quranic verse?? Not on my watch, she screams.
If Tony Abbott had been less of a square peg in a round hole, he might have survived to contest the 2016 election. If he’d had another arrow in his quiver, or more than one trick for his pony, he could have saved us this farrago. Because of him, One Nation is back. The most influential politician of the modern era (yes, I’ve said it now), Pauline Hanson, has returned. Let’s see what the LNP has to do this time to appease her followers. We will know that they’ve succeeded, because Hanson disappear, melting back into the ooze. Malcolm Turnbull has already demonstrated that he’s not monstrous enough to satiate the haters; so the only real question the political intelligentsia have to ponder is this: will it be a fresh face from the ultra-right like Cory Bernardi, or (god help us all) do we go another three rounds with Tony Abbott? Would we prefer cancer over chlamydia? Ebola over eczema? Aegrescit medendo. What happens when the remedy is worse than the disease?