The White Queen: One Nation and the politics of race

David Marr discusses One Nation and the politics of race. Photo: Natalie Foord
David Marr discusses One Nation and the politics of race. Photo: Natalie Foord

The intertwining of politics and race has mostly been part of the Australian political landscape, but its current mode is one which we may not return from.

The rise of Pauline Hanson and the One Nation party has been mystifying to many, which makes it an ideal topic for close examination.

One which political journalist and commentator, David Marr, took up for the March 2017 Quarterly Essay The White Queen: One Nation and the Politics of Race. His session, chaired by The Saturday Paper editor, Erik Jensen, explored Hanson’s rise as both a politician and celebrity within Australia.

Yet Jensen kicked off the forum bluntly, saying to the audience: ‘If you’re here because you’re a big One Nation fan… you’re in the wrong tent.’

Jensen and Marr then discussed how Hanson and John Howard jointly worked in the late 1990s to re-introduce race to politics.

Hanson had managed to attract a significant percentage of votes through her anti-immigration stance. She had caused a stir among voters who wanted to see Australia return to the way things were in the past.

Howard used this disenchantment among voters towards multiculturalism to appeal to Hanson’s supporters and draw them back to vote Liberal. In 2001 Howard ramped up the race dog whistle with the Tampa Affair and during the September 11 hysteria that followed.

Race was back in the game in Australian politics.

Marr said that until then race had been effectively removed from Australian politics following the end of the White Australia Policy after the second world war. The policy had caused a large sense of embarrassment and shame among many Australians.

But, Marr said, there was still a minority of people who felt perturbed about the opening of Australia’s borders. This created a niche of voters to which Hanson later appealed.

Marr said that he had sat at his desk furious when working as a journalist because he couldn’t believe the things that Hanson was publicly saying.

‘Something so cheap…and devastating [re-entered] politics,’ he said.

Marr highlighted however, that there has been a shift in attitudes toward racism between Hanson’s period of popularity in the 1990s and now. He said that commentators were previously bluntly labelling Hanson and her supporters racist, but by 2016 that had stopped.

Marr said that commentators today refuse to say, ‘this woman is banging the race drum’.

Instead, Marr said that there was a political cost for other politicians to call out One Nation’s racism, as her supporters interpret it as a personal attack on their attitudes towards race.

But, Marr was very clear about One Nation’s intentions: ‘One Nation doesn’t want to make Australia great again. [They] want to make Australia white again’.

Marr highlighted One Nation’s profound hostility towards immigration to back up his claims.

One Nation voters also were not off the table, with Marr saying that it is much too easy to claim that their supporters are people that have been ‘left behind’. He said that their concerns generally are not economic; instead, they are driven by a vague nostalgia for a past Australia.

Often One Nation’s support is strongest where education is lowest, Marr said.

‘That is a very clear correlation,’ he said.

In regard to Hanson herself, Marr explained the public attention she receives by saying, ‘she’s a showgirl. She adores performing’.

From her rise in popularity in the 1990s, to her brief imprisonment for fraud (later overturned on appeal), to her stint on Dancing with the Stars, it is evident that Hanson consistently creates public interest.

Marr concluded the session: ‘If she walked across this arena [at Byron Writers Festival] now, every face would turn.’

Cloe Jager is a Southern Cross University Bachelor of Media student.

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