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There's more to the Hanson verdict than an open-and shut legal case

By Betsy Fysh - posted Thursday, 28 August 2003

There is no doubt that ultimately according to the strict letter of the law, Pauline Hanson's actions left her open to prosecution. But just as a significant number of people in our courts "get off" on a technicality, it seems to many observers that others - like Hanson - get convicted on a technicality.

It is possible to debate at length about the features of the registration of One Nation as a political party. There are a number of considerations. Among other things, members of its "support group" were undoubtedly de facto party members and indeed many believed they were members of the One Nation political party. Ironically the undemocratic arrangement whereby the party had in fact only three fully-fledged members plus a "support group" in order to protect it from being infiltrated and hijacked by hostile interests from within, was to prove its nemesis by causing disaffection among the group and making it therefore vulnerable to political attack from without.

In addition, there appears to be some confusion about the role of the then Electoral Commissioner, Des O'Shea, who initially at least, seemed to accept that One Nation fell within the guidelines for political parties. Electoral Commission of Queensland guidelines have been considerably tightened up and differ from those of its federal counterpart.


Judge Patsy Wolfe may have used The Queen v Karen Lynn Erhmann as a precedent but as far as the man in the street goes, it is possible to make a moral distinction between the cases of Karen Erhmann and Pauline Hanson. Hanson's "support group" constituted real people who supported her and her policies (whether they were technically "members" or not) while Erhmann's were a fiction - or dead - which made her preselection hinge on dishonesty of a more fundamental nature, and could be seen as representing a more serious perversion of the democratic process.

Be that as it may, what is at issue here, and what disturbs a great many people is the fact that our political environment has become such that an aspiring political party would need to go to these lengths to protect itself from those who saw it as a political threat; and that an individual could be pursued so relentlessly and so politically.

The additional charge of fraud against Pauline Hanson personally has apparently now been withdrawn. Her legal team contends that it was known to be unsustainable from the beginning, on evidence supplied by them. They ask why it was allowed to continue during the proceedings in the District Court case - and have alluded to the possibility that it prejudiced the outcome of the trial just concluded.

Hanson may well serve only half or less of her sentence but it needs to be noted that there was specifically no recommendation for parole in the judgement handed down by Judge Patsy Wolfe.

The vitriol that has been heaped on Hanson by the media, various politicians and some sections of the community appears on careful examination to be out of all proportion to the "sinfulness" of her original utterances ("xenophobic bile that spewed forth in Hanson's maiden speech" - come on) and her demonisation seems rather more reflective of something deeply and disturbingly mean-minded in our national psyche.

Furthermore, you wouldn't need to be excessively cynical to see the outpourings of moral indignation against Hanson by politicians to be less about a sense of decency and more about a perceived threat to the cosy political status quo. Revelations of the existence since 1998 of a trust fund, with senior political figures as trustees, to finance court action against One Nation would tend to support this view.


Moreover, it's churlish in the extreme to see One Nation as just trading on sectarianism and disempowerment. If there is a significant sector of Australian society that has been alienated by the slavish pursuit of free-market ideology (and it could certainly be argued that there is) then it is the job of the politicians to fix it - before someone far more dangerous than Pauline Hanson comes along to capitalise on it.

I find it faintly amusing that the ranks of the "politically correct" deride as "populism" any attempt to respond to the sentiments of the "common" people. Just goes to show that one man's "democracy" is another man's "populism", I guess.

The same people are dismayed that what they see as the predictably "redneck" voices of dissent over the Hanson verdict have been joined (shock, horror!) by some "progressives" like Bob McMullan and Natasha Stott Despoja who - presumably - should have known better.

But it should be a timely warning to them - and they should stop and reflect on this for a moment - that there is a significant number of ordinary and decent Australians across a wide political spectrum who are deeply disturbed by the events surrounding the Pauline Hanson saga; who value democracy equally as highly as they do; and who, like George Orwell, take the wider view that "if liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear".

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About the Author

Betsy Fysh is a graduate in politics from the University of Queensland. She was active in rural politics during her time in western Queensland, founding the Regional Women's Alliance. Now retired to a small farm near Brisbane, she continues to write and is currently working on a Masters Degree.

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