Pauline Hanson, the fish shop owner who became a political powerbroker while campaigning to keep Asians and Muslims out of Australia, is now battling to keep her One Nation faction alive after a spate of defections.
The departures of senators Brian Burston and Fraser Anning in the past week have reduced the party’s parliamentary strength to just two — Hanson and Peter Georgiou — and there are signs that Georgiou won’t hang around much longer. One Nation has no seats in the lower house.
Hanson faces another period in the political wilderness, but a more immediate impact will be felt by the ruling Liberal Party-Nationals coalition headed by Malcolm Turnbull, which has lost the casting votes it needs to guarantee legislation is passed in the upper house Senate.
One Nation has managed to elect 30 legislators to the federal and state parliaments since Hanson burst onto the scene in 1996 with a provocative speech that called for an end to Australia’s policy of multiculturalism.
“I believe we are in danger of being swamped by Asians,” she said. “They have their own culture and religion, form ghettos and do not assimilate.”
Turnbull’s Liberals and the opposition Labor Party initially rejected any political arrangements with One Nation, but the coalition declared it had “evolved” after Hanson turned the rhetoric down and selected two Chinese as candidates to show that “I’m not a racist.” Neither won a seat.
Needing eight crossbench votes in case Labor and the Greens party veto its legislation in the upper house, the government formed an alliance with One Nation in return for endorsing some of that party’s less extreme views. This continued even after Hanson switched her xenophobic focus to Muslims.
Last year she declared that Islam was a “disease” that should be banned: “Debate the issue and make sure that we do not have this religion that is really an ideology that is eventually going to eventually cause so much havoc on our streets, not only for ourselves but for future generations.”
Nor has Hanson budged on her views on Asians. Recently she accused Chinese in particular of forming city “ghettos”, and noted that 9% of Australians were now Asian, almost double the 1996 ratio of 4.8%.
Other One Nation senators have sought to broaden the party’s appeal by moderating its policies, but have paid a hefty price for crossing Hanson. In all, 22 legislators have been expelled, disqualified or simply quit the party.
As president for life, Hanson decides on all party policies, candidates and membership. Burston this week said Hanson was running a “dictatorship.”
“I think it should be called Gone Nation instead of One Nation,” he said. “There is no democracy in the party – every single decision made is made by Pauline Hanson, and if you don’t agree, then you’re gone.”
Burston got in Hanson’s bad books for insisting he would support cuts in company and personal tax rates; Hanson had initially agreed to back the government, thus allowing the policy to pass, but then changed her mind.
The government will also soon need help in passing its controversial laws on foreign meddling in politics, which One Nation had backed in principle.
Now Turnbull will have to negotiate with a hodgepodge of independents, as well as the newly-created Center Alliance and a conservative bloc that operates across party lines.
Center Alliance, based on the former Nick Xenophon Team, has two senators and a lower house member, while the conservatives have four senators, including two One Nation defectors.
In theory the government should be able to count on support from the conservatives, but may have to make some unpalatable trades. One of the bloc’s leaders, Liberal Democrat senator David Leyonhjelm, wants laws against carrying weapons to be abolished and is a climate change skeptic.
Rebuked by a woman for defending US President Donald Trump’s admission of sexual assaults, Leyonhjelm told her in an email message: “Go away and stop proving you are a bimbo. You are not fit to use a computer.”
Another leader, Cory Bernardi, left the Liberal Party because he thought it was too left wing. He is anti-Islam, opposed to same-sex marriage because it would “lead to legalized polygamy and bestiality” and is against abortion.
Meanwhile, Hanson is plotting a comeback — her third since 1996 — but nobody is taking much notice. While One Nation could retain some support among disenchanted urban working class voters, especially in Hanson’s state of Queensland, it appears to be a spent force in the federal arena.