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Embracing Pauline Hanson

By Ian Cook - posted Tuesday, 26 July 2016

This is not a call to hug Pauline Hanson or her supporters. It would change things up if her critics tried this approach, but I mean embrace in the sense of connect to, empathise with and try to see from the perspective of. We, people who disagree with her position like me, had the chance to embrace Hanson and the people she represents twenty years ago and we didn't. I'm hoping that we don't miss this opportunity again.

For this is the time of Brexit and Trumpism and we don't want to end up in either of those places. Can we try to be smarter than the British and Americans and not think that we can deal with them by shouting at them or turning our backs and knowing these people are just plain wrong and maybe evil, and pretending they'll go away if we can deny them an opportunity to enter public debate? Please.

I can still remember a message about the shadow of Hansonism from a former Vice Chancellor of my university. Something struck me as wrong. I see the same sort of responses now and, once again, I think they are wrong. Thankfully, there are people trying to approach the return of Hanson differently this time. I'm trying to add to their voices.


I had been thinking that the most disappointing thing about the return of Hanson is that she has returned older but no wiser and that it was a pity that her supporters and people like them were not being represented by a more mature, thoughtful and just plain wiser Pauline Hanson. But I was wrong to think that. She hasn't changed because our response to her over the years she's been out of the limelight hasn't changed.

First, though, I have to say that I believe that she speaks for a relatively small number of people; but not an insignificant number of people. I think it's more than just the people who vote for her and that the same fear of immigrants, homosexuals and Muslims can be found amongst Labor, Liberal and National Party voters and, of course, Rise Up Australia and others of this type of minor party. I certainly agree with her that John Howard tapped into Hanson's message to gain and hold office. Do "Tampa" and "Children Overboard" ring a bell?

Anyway, while they are a relatively small number of people, Hanson represents enough Australians for us to think carefully about how we want to respond to their many fears.

I believe that people are fearful when they feel insecure. Truly strong people fear very little. People who feel secure don't fear others. They might be wary, but that's not the same as fearful. Nor is concern the same as fear.

Waleed Aly was right to say he was as concerned about Islamic terrorism as Sonia Kruger. Now we need to go further and not only share our feelings about potential threats from Islamic terrorists but understand the other ways in which her supporters feel threatened and that cause Hanson and her people so much fear.

So the question that I think we have to answer concerns why Hanson and her supporters, and the people like them who vote for other parties, feel threatened and cause them to respond with fear.


Partly it is because many of them are older. Age doesn't necessarily make you fearful. The various ways our bodies deteriorate make it harder to feel like we can deal with the shocks and challenges of our times, though. But it is so much worse in a society in which youth is idolised and older people treated with diminished respect. Hanson and many of her supporters were raised in a different Australia and it is hard for them to feel they have a place in this changed Australia.

Partly their fear comes from the fact that they are both older and have lower levels of education than the younger workers, or job seekers, around them. This means that they fear that they don't have a place in the new economy. When Malcolm Turnbull took over as Prime Minister he enthused about the new economy and how we had to become agile and innovative. Does anybody really think that this would reassure older and less-educated Australians that they have a place among us?

And what happened to all those critics of Neo-liberalism? Isn't the loss of jobs for these sorts of workers, as the work they could do was being done for much less in sweatshops in China, Bangladesh, the Philippines or wherever cheap labour could be sourced, exactly what we expected? Hanson's people and the ones like them who vote for other parties are the people we said would suffer from globalisation and free trade agreements. And they have. But now we belittle them, as if they were only useful to us as support for our attacks on Neo-liberal economics.

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About the Author

Ian Cook is a senior lecturer in politics at Murdoch University.

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