MELBOURNE–The stunning return to parliament of an anti-immigration firebrand who once warned of Australia being “swamped by Asians” has prompted concern for the future of the country’s deep economic ties to Asia.
Pauline Hanson, who became famous for her 1996 parliamentary speech railing against multiculturalism, will enter the Senate following a federal election on July 2 that has guaranteed her a place in the legislature for the first time since 1998. While ballots will continue to be counted for up to several weeks, Hanson’s One Nation party is on course for its best-ever election result at the federal level. After entering the election with no national representation, the party is likely to emerge from the final count with three or more seats in Australia’s upper house.
With center-right Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull only managing a narrow win for his Liberal Party-led coalition government, One Nation, which argues for zero net immigration and the establishment of a special commission into Islam, could enjoy kingmaker status in the deeply fractured Senate. The prospect of the far-right party wielding such influence over the national agenda has raised fears of major damage to Australia’s reputation overseas.
Racial ripple effect
Bob Carr, who was foreign minister when the center-left Labor Party last held power in 2013, said last week that Hanson’s election would prove to be an “embarrassment to Australia in Asia.”
Members of the Asian community in Australia expressed similar alarm. Speaking to the Australian Financial Review newspaper, Anne Bi, chairwoman of property developer B1 Group, said Australia’s “development and ability to attract investment could be a problem” following Hanson’s return to the mainstream.
“It’s still early days since the election, a lot of the Asian Australians are still getting their heads around the overall result, let alone Pauline being re-elected,” Kenrick Cheah, president of the Australian Chinese Forum, told Asia Times. “Although the Asian Australians aren’t the primary targets of her recent comments, we remember back in the 1990s when we were, and thus are concerned about her impact socially and economically.”
While Hanson has directed much of her ire toward Islam in particular in recent years — calling for an end to the building of new mosques and the installation of CCTV to monitor the places of worship — she has continued to sound the alarm about Asian immigration and investment. In recent remarks that again invoked the idea of being “swamped,” she lamented that “a lot of Australians feel that Asians are buying up prime agricultural land, housing.”
One Nation declined to comment for this article.
React to Chinese home buying?
The effect of Chinese buying on already sky-high house prices has been a sore spot for some Australians, despite the findings of a parliamentary inquiry that foreign investment actually helps keep costs down. Purchases of large tracts of land have also generated negative attention: earlier this year, the government blocked the sale of the S Kidman & Co. estate, the country’s largest private landholding, to Chinese concerns on the basis it would not be in the “national interest.”
Nevertheless, Australia’s economy has become increasingly linked to Asia in recent years. China and Japan are the country’s top two trade partners, while four Asian economies — China, Japan, Singapore and Hong Kong — rank among its 10 biggest inward investors.
One Nation attracted waves of negative attention across Asia when it first emerged in 1997, the year after Hanson entered parliament for the first time in a short-lived stint as an independent MP in the lower house.
In an article titled “What Asia’s top business leaders think of Hanson,” the Sydney Morning Herald reported on fears about Australia’s image at the time.
“Many branded her a racist and said she was anti-Asia,” the article said of a poll of 200 business people that found increased hesitance about doing business with Australians.
But with One Nation set to have a bigger platform than ever before, history seems to be repeating itself, and loudly.
“Pauline Hanson is a bandwagon-jumper,” said Cheah. “Right now the flavor of the month for her attacks are Muslim people but it won’t be long before debate will turn to foreign investment and housing supply. This is when her focus will shift back to the Asian-Australians and we can expect economic relations to be impacted by her negative attitude.”
John Power is a journalist who has reported on North and South Korea since 2010. His work has appeared in outlets including The Daily Mail, The Christian Science Monitor, Mashable, NK News, Asian Geographic, The Diplomat, The Korea Herald and Narratively, among others. He is currently based in Melbourne, Australia.
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