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Battling the Pauline Hanson battler myth

Osmond Chiu |  15 September 2016


The big surprise of the recent federal election was the success of Pauline Hanson's One Nation party. Not only was Hanson elected but three other One Nation Senators were as well. Their election has led to much soul searching about Hanson's ongoing appeal, and public discussion about how to respond.

Pauline Hanson stands proudly beside an Australia flag toilet. Original artwork by Chris JohnstonA recent SBS Insight episode suggested that those who voted for Hanson predominantly were disillusioned with the major parties and believed Hanson had a passion and authenticity that the others lack. Hanson benefitted from the perception that she is a political outsider who speaks for 'ordinary Australians'.

This affirmed polling by Essential Research that found 62 per cent thought she speaks for a lot of ordinary Australians and 65 per cent thought she spoke about issues politicians are too scared to tackle.

It is ironic that Hanson thrives on the perception that she is an authentic outsider against 'the system' when in fact she is part of that system. Think about how she is constantly given paid platforms by television networks.

She hasn't been silenced by 'the system', her voice is heard and has been amplified. She is also no amateur, she is a professional and knows exactly what she is doing. She is not some 'battler' being picked on, and that needs to be emphasised.

The resonance of Hanson's message goes beyond being seen as an outsider. Part of it also comes from her portrayal of her views as 'common sense'. Her perspective is never complicated or sophisticated; it is matter of fact, and based on practical intuition. Think back to her maiden speech and her comparison of immigration to being allowed to choose who she invites into her home.

A good recent example of how Hanson uses 'common sense' was her comments about squat toilets in the Tax Office. Her simple message was that if you cannot figure out how to use something as simple as a toilet, how can you know how to run something complex like a tax system?

Her messages are not based on facts, so fact checking is pointless, as are overtures to diversity or that it does not matter. They are simple 'common sense' messages, so they cut through.


"Hanson is not some poor downtrodden member of society, but very much a part of the system and a beneficiary of it."


That 'common sense' approach thrives in the current media landscape and explains why it favours populists. Simple messages cut through the noise and grab media attention, in an era where resources for serious journalism are limited. It is a vicious cycle where the media and populists have an almost parasitic relationship.

While Hanson is not the only One Nation senator, the party's success has always been reliant on her. There has been increasing scrutiny of some of the other One Nation senators but it seems unlikely to damage the party. One Nation, like other similar parties, is reliant on a charismatic figure. As Ben Moffitt points out, populist parties tend towards extreme personalisation where party leaders 'speak for, represent and embody the hopes, desires and voice of 'the people';. The re-branding of the party as Pauline Hanson's One Nation is a case in point. So long as One Nation and Pauline Hanson are seen as synonymous, the other senators might cause some embarrassment but will not undercut the party's base level of support.

Given all of this, how should those who want to challenge Hanson respond? Firstly, Hanson and One Nation should not be indulged, but the broader concerns of her voters should be acknowledged. Acknowledging is not the same as agreeing.

The myth that she is an authentic outsider also needs to be challenged. She is not some poor downtrodden member of society, but very much a part of the system and a beneficiary of it.

The attempts to correct her using facts or talking up the benefits of what she opposes should stop. When responding to Hanson, don't fact check; point out how her view's lack 'common sense' and respond to them on that basis.

Finally, try to avoid giving attention that aids her. Every time she says something and we feed the frenzy, she gets more attention from the media, which ultimately aids her. Nuanced replies on her terrain do not win.

All of this is easier said than done, but relying on reasoning or facts will not undercut Hanson's appeal.


Osmond ChiuOsmond Chiu is Secretary of the NSW Fabians. He tweets @redrabbleroz


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Submitted comments

So much to agree with in this article, thanks Osmond. Pauline Hanson's appeal is to a particular demographic and these voters are not an insignificant minority. And should not be treated as such. It should also be acknowledged that people of all political persuasions in Parliament can behave badly and utter outrageous words. A general lifting of standards of parliamentary behaviour can counter Hanson's more bizarre take on issues. As the saying goes "good luck with that"!

Pam 16 September 2016

"Hanson and One Nation should not be indulged, but the broader concerns of her voters should be acknowledged. Acknowledging is not the same as agreeing." I think that this needs to go a step further, to offer a different object to direct resentment towards other than immigrants... this requires a political analysis regarding the causes of the loss that these people feel.

Anne O'Brien 16 September 2016

We may well need "uncommon sense" to really tackle some of the problems already facing and about to face us human beings. "Common sense" has grave limitations!.

Terry Beahan 17 September 2016

You overlook her cynicism. I recall her dramatic leave taking of Australia, berating this country she now claims to love, Off she went to England. .And then she came back; more plum political pickings here, I suppose. .

Louis van Laar 19 September 2016

Most if not all of Senator Hanson's policies and the 'facts' on which they are based can be sourced to the front page stories of News Limited tabloids. Try talking to a Daily Telegraph reader in the pub or a bowls club about politics and they will trot out the usual DT sensationalised examples of politicians (except the arch conservatives) behaving badly. Left leaning elites may console themselves by reading The Age or SMH with their breakfast but most Australians are reading the Herald Sun or the Tele - back page first and then the stories with the eye catching pictures or headlines. Many Australians want a simple message. Hanson gives them one. So did Bill Shorten with his Medi-scare campaign. It's obvious the PM has difficulty giving a simple message on any subject. Keep it simple stupid may be shallow advice but it wins Rugby games. Just ask The Wallabies!

Uncle Pat 19 September 2016

"The attempts to correct her using facts or talking up the benefits of what she opposes should stop." Couldn't agree more, Osmond. Trying to deal with irrationality using reason reflects badly on the creativity and knowledge of the respondent. We ought know better. Often as you suggest calling her silly gives her the victim status she craves. Another Furphy. "All hail the conquering victim". We would do better to really listen to what she is saying Viz that she is frightened, that she wants others to be frightened,or she needs us to hate or dismiss etc. Otherwise as you suggest she becomes another lazy media fallback like Trump whom the media has largely made.

Michael D. Breen 19 September 2016

One of the things our self-confessed 'progressives' need to be very, very careful about is not to assist the rise of the Extreme Right - I'm talking Neo-Nazis or extreme 'Christian' organisations here - by helping to see Pauline Hanson off. People like Pauline Hanson, Corey Bernardi and Jacqui Lambie are mainstream. Their concerns - quite legitimate ones - about the rise of the Wahhabi 'Islam' stable, as typified by Daish/Isis, should not be put down as 'Islamophobia'. That is an unfair, unintelligent, bizarre and pejorative label. Pretty close to a hate crime. Yesterday's Q & A program on the ABC had a range of speakers, including Fiona Nash and Jimmy Barnes, saying that, although they disagreed with La Hanson's views, she needed to be able to express them in a vigorous, democratic society. Someone on the same program mentioned the fact that One Nation's vote is down from its glory days.

Edward Fido 20 September 2016

Thank you for your article. Those who say the most outrageous, rude, hateful things (which may even bear no semblance to the truth) seem to get the most publicity - history does not appear to teach us anything.

nila 20 September 2016

"The myth that she is an authentic outsider also needs to be challenged. She is not some poor downtrodden member of society, but very much a part of the system and a beneficiary of it." Just as middle class kids who graduate as lawyers and become union officials with an eye to a parliamentary seat in the future (eg., Bill Shorten) are not authentic members of the working class? It's not 'being an authentic member of' but 'representing the authentic views of' that is important. In order to be an authentic representative of the non-English speaking and probably media-clumsy residents of an offshore detention facility, does one have to be illiterate in English and un-savvy in Australian media management? If so, none of the writers of articles in Eureka Street about offshore detention should be contributing to these pages. What, anyway, is a Fabian socialist but often someone from the middle class privileged to have a university education who takes up pen or keyboard to advocate on behalf of those without that same privilege?

Roy Chen Yee 22 September 2016

I'd be willing to wager that Pauline Hanson never saw her fish and chip shop make $300,000. Yet here we are paying her that and more as a member of Parliament. That is what is wrong with our system. The so called "lucky country" has never learnt to value education so we're happy to see migrant Doctors drive taxis and fish mongers run our parliaments.

James 23 September 2016

I found this deeper and more penetrative than the nonsense I've read on her in the mainstream media. Hanson thrives on her put-upon status...a lone woman waging war against insuperable unseen forces, prepared to seduce and charm in odd-ball style a constituency that has been largely forgotten, such as rudderless white men. Given to scaremongering in otiose ways, she's embarrassingly patronising in modes that became passe after Barry Humphreys set to work on creating gargoylesque Edna and deconstructing Moonie Ponds. Its come back to bite us with a vengeance.... There's no escape...St Joan?...Nah! More like Madame Defarge.

Michael Furtado 29 September 2016

Anyone with commonsense could not take Pauline seriously after her foot in mouth comments ( pro-Putin, Qld GST to WA and un-enforced child immunisation). Unfortunately the nation is looking for an alternative, and she is seen as the only choice. However it is more depressing now, because there is no shining light politically.

Cam BEAR 18 March 2017

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