Pauline Hanson’s brand of burqa-wearing, alt-right populism is the new normal.
That was the frightening realisation of award-winning filmmaker and Please Explain: The Rise, Fall and Rise Again of Pauline Hanson author Anna Broinowski when she started following the One Nation figurehead in 2015 for SBS documentary Hanson: Please Explain!
Assuming she was doomed to fail again, it soon became clear the once-imprisoned politician was back with a vengeance.
“She’s our version of [Donald] Trump and we need to know what she’s all about, who she’s appealing to and why,” Broinowski says.
“This book is my attempt at some detailed analysis of how Hanson’s trajectory mirrors Australia’s own – a long, slow, inevitable slide to the right.”
Peeling back the conflicting and often chaotic layers of the redheaded Queenslander’s appeal, early in the book Broinowski notes, “Not since the true believers handed Gough Whitlam their unconditional loyalty on a platter have I seen an Australian politician display such visceral, godlike appeal.”
Is that a bit much? “You had to be there,” Broinowski insists.
“People were coming up to her with battered T-shirts she signed in ‘96 with tears in their eyes, saying they drove seven hours to meet her. Men were looking like they were about to fall on their knees and propose marriage.
“These are the forgotten people of regional and rural Australia who genuinely see her as some sort of antipodean Joan of Arc.”
Claiming federal success once more was just the start for Hanson. While checking One Nation’s incendiary Facebook page that connects them direct to their followers, Hanson’s right-hand-man James Ashby made it clear to Broinowski they’re gunning for the upcoming Queensland elections.
“It’s the seat of her most stunning victory in 1998,” Broinowski notes.
Hanson raised four kids single-handedly after leaving two abusive partners, but has been an outspoken critic of welfare support and women’s rights.
“That’s the conundrum of the woman,” Broinowski says. “She’s self-made and proud of it. If you’re from the school of hard knocks, you see that left-wing, middleclass compassion, which talks about society looking after everyone, as indulgent.”
This is the biggest lie Hanson and former PM John Howard sold Australia, Broinowski argues. “The elite are not the intellectuals and the artists and the left-wing ideologues, they are not people working in media. They are business. It’s so disingenuous and disempowering.”
Nor is Hanson the unpolished politician she claims to be, she claims.
“She’s still positioning herself as this unmediated raw voice, but I actually think that is a carefully constructed façade now, because no matter what she says, she is definitely a seasoned operator. She’s sort of playing herself.”
With Hanson’s ire shifted from Asian immigrants to Islam, the One Nation leader refused Ms Broinowski’s requests to meet moderate Muslim Australians.
“She knew that if she changed her stance … she’d lose her influence,” Ms Broinowski said.
“She would rather thrive on anxiety and worry. That’s what drives her, this deep fear that we’re losing this mirage of the 1950s Australia of her childhood she still holds dear.
“There’s no way anything’s going to get in the way of that.”
- Please Explain: The Rise, Fall and Rise Again of Pauline Hanson is out August 28, published by Penguin Australia.