Asia - Pacific

Stirring the Political Cauldron

Pauline Hanson
Pauline Hanson, founder of Australia's One Nation party, has been found guilty of unsavory electoral practices (Greg Wood/AFP-Getty Images).

Pauline Hanson, the former fish-and-chips shop owner and founder of Australia’s racist One Nation party has, after a 23-day trial, been convicted of electoral fraud and sentenced to three years in jail. Hanson was also found guilty by a district court jury of dishonestly claiming almost A$500,000 (US$320,000) in reimbursements from the Electoral Commission Queensland.

On Aug. 25, right-wing columnist Paul Sheehan quoted Queensland’s Labor Party Premier Peter Beattie in The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age as saying the harsh sentence “will martyr Pauline Hanson, and will see a significant increase in [One Nation’s] support. It will put my government at risk....There will be significant political ramifications.” After founding and registering the party in 1997, Hanson went on to take 11 seats and 23 percent of the vote in the following state election—a better showing than the Liberal and National parties, as Paul Kelly reminded his readers in The Australian on Aug. 30. “One Nation’s fraudulent registration changed the result of that 1998 election, a serious situation for a serious democracy,” Kelly said.

Through resignations, defections, and falling public support for extremists, One Nation now has only a scattering of elected representatives left in Parliament. Even Hanson was tossed out of her federal seat of Ipswich, west of Brisbane. Still, as Phillip Adams, the veteran left-wing commentator  wrote in The Australian on Sept. 2, Hanson “is still stirring the political cauldron.” Indeed, Prime Minister John Howard has been linked to her prosecution—one of his senior ministers, Tony Abbott, leader of the House of Representatives in Canberra, admitted several years ago that he had helped establish a trust fund to challenge the validity of One Nation in the courts. Adams argued that the Liberals “have guaranteed the Witch of Ipswich life after death, helped exhume her from her political grave.”

A national news poll published in The Australian on Sept. 2 found that 70 percent of Australians felt the three-year sentence was “too severe,” and Howard’s support fell from 62 to 60 percent. Meanwhile, One Nation’s only senator, North Queenslander Len Harris, told Sydney Morning Herald reporter Greg Roberts that following Hanson’s sentence for fraud, the party’s Ipswich office was receiving “2,000 phone calls per day from people wanting to donate money for Pauline’s appeal, or to join the party.” Roberts said a local poll showed support for One Nation in Queensland had rocketed to 21 percent and that tensions were emerging in the National Party over the poll’s findings. “The National Party is especially vulnerable to a resurgent One Nation,” he wrote.

If this latest One Nation kerfuffle ends up pushing the dominant governing coalition Liberal Party away from the conservative right of John Howard, and closer to the center of the political spectrum, that will be an outcome the naive Hanson surely had failed to anticipate.