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Hansonism is normal and everything is not fine

  • 17 February 2017


There's a meme that's been doing the rounds online for a few years: a top-hatted dog sits at a kitchen table with a mug of coffee as flames engulf his house and smoke billows throughout the room. In the next panel, the dog is shown in close-up; he's smiling and the speech bubbles reads, 'This is fine.'

It's a handy metaphor for thinking about how politics is often reported in Australia. The 24 hour news cycle, the constant polling, the appetite for scandal and intrigue, the imperative to report the day-to-day minutiae, the isolation of Canberra and the close bonds between journalists, political staffers and MPs mean journalists and commentators often lack the perspective to place events within a broader context.

Politics, in this sense, is just shortsighted managerialism; the goal is victory at the next election. There can be no vision for building a better society. It's all risk-management. Everything's fine until it's all coming down.  

Recent election reporting in America was unquestionably plagued by many of these same problems. 'Experts' were almost universal in their pronouncement that Trump couldn't win. Then, once elected, many of these same pundits — still dumbfounded as to how they could have got it so wrong — turned to warning the public not to normalise him or his behaviour.

But, again, that ship had sailed: Trump, by virtue of being elected president, had already been normalised in the very way they were cautioning against.  

Lagging fashionably behind as is our wont, this week it was the Australian commentariat's turn to warn against a process that has already occurred. Writing for The Conversation, Michelle Grattan intoned, 'One Nation has now been "normalised" in the Liberals' firmament of political players'.

The article is about the Western Australia Liberals' preference deal with One Nation, but, as Gratten points out, it speaks to a broader national trend. She quotes cabinet minister, Arthur Sinodinos, who told the ABC: 'They [One Nation] are a lot more sophisticated; they have clearly resonated with a lot of people. Our job is to treat them as any other party.'

But this is not the beginning of the normalisation of Hanson and One Nation — it's the end, and Sinodinos, as John Howard's former chief-of-staff, has played a not insignificant role in it. In a piece for The Monthly, Dominic Kelly highlighted how large swaths of the rightwing commentariat have embraced the 'more mature', 'disciplined' and 'principled' Hanson