The Politics    Thursday, June 22, 2017

Hanson is as Hanson does

By Sean Kelly

The Liberal Party has cosied up to Pauline Hanson, and should be ashamed of itself

It seems very easy to pick on Pauline Hanson. That’s especially so after her mean, miserable, hurtful comments yesterday about children with autism.

So it’s important to remember that it was not long ago that some of Australia’s most senior politicians were actually defending her.

Michaelia Cash, a member of Malcolm Turnbull’s cabinet, hugged Hanson in the minutes following her maiden Senate speech – a speech in which Hanson warned Australia might be swamped by Muslims, and appeared to blame the murders of women on the Family Court, rather than the men who committed those murders.

Tony Abbott, only a year after having been this nation’s prime minister, recorded a video with Hanson in which he told her, “Pauline there are half a million people who voted for you and you’ll be a strong voice for their concerns.”

Earlier this year, Turnbull himself, while willing to criticise Hanson’s views, refused to condemn the WA Liberal Party’s preference deal with One Nation, or rule out a similar preference deal at the federal level.

Most infamously, cabinet minister Arthur Sinodinos defended potential dealings with One Nation because the party was “a lot more sophisticated” than it had been 20 years ago, when John Howard had preferenced the party last.

If the Liberal Party actually agreed with Hanson’s policies, all this would be pretty bad, though for different reasons. But at least a party cosying up to a party whose principles it shares is acting in sincerity.

What really bowls me over is that all this was entirely cynical, and openly so. Sinodinos put it most clearly. For him, the sophistication was not about policies, but politics. Here’s the context of his oft-quoted quote:

“Barrie, the One Nation of today is a very different beast to what it was 20 years ago. They are a lot more sophisticated, they have clearly resonated with a lot of people. Our job is to treat them as any other party. That doesn’t mean we have to agree with their policies.”

Politics is – let’s not be dumb about this – always compromised by pragmatics. Every party makes decisions partly about principle, partly about what they think will work politically. And of course the Coalition will continue to deal with Hanson in the Senate.

But what flabbergasts me about the above is that the contemporary Liberal Party has said, loudly, with both words and gestures, that when it comes to Pauline Hanson’s One Nation party, principle plays no role at all. If it will help the Liberals get elected, then they’re happy, via preferences, to help Hanson get elected too. If a photo-op might help her, then hell, give her the photo-op.

That’s why you should ignore any Liberal MP expressing outrage this week about Hanson’s latest comments on autism. The comments should not have been a shock. She’s the same Hanson she was when Cash hugged her, when Abbott recorded a video with her, when Turnbull indicated his party might preference her, and when Sinodinos said her party had changed.

Hanson wants a royal commission into whether Islam is a religion. She has encouraged parents to “do their own research” on whether to get their kids vaccinated. She supports Vladimir Putin, whose government murders and assassinates people. And that’s before you get to the views of her other senators, or candidates [$].

Yesterday, Hanson said that children with autism should be moved to special classrooms. It’s true that some people argue special schools and classes can be helpful for kids with autism in certain circumstances. But if you think that was Hanson’s concern, you have wildly misjudged her.

“I hear so many times from parents and teachers whose time is taken up with children – whether they have a disability or whether they are autistic – who are taking up the teacher’s time in the classroom … Because most of the time the teacher spends so much time on them they forget about the child who is straining at the bit and wants to go ahead in leaps and bounds in their education. That child is held back by those others, because the teachers spend time with them … It is no good saying that we have to allow these kids to feel good about themselves and that we do not want to upset them and make them feel hurt”.

As with all of Hanson’s rhetoric, this was about the ugly, ugly politics of envy. It was classic Hanson: feeding off the resentment felt by those doing it tough towards those doing it even tougher. Hanson’s entire governing philosophy is that there is only so much sympathy (and government funding) to go around, and her voters deserve the lion’s share.

And in cosying up to Hanson, Turnbull, Abbott, Sinodinos and Cash have bolstered her authority. They have given her terrible words more force, not less.

Labor MP Emma Husar, whose son is on the autism spectrum, gave a moving, angry and emotional statement today. It’s worth watching in full, but the end in particular hits you like a punch. Talking about Hanson, Husar said she wanted every single child on the autism spectrum to know that they matter and that “even on the days that are hard – when you’re frustrated, and your disability makes you angry – you are still better than she is on her best day.”

Husar is absolutely correct, not only in her support for kids dealing with challenges most of us can’t imagine but also in her brutal assessment of Hanson’s character.

It is long past time that the Liberal Party, including its leaders, past and present, came to the same conclusion, and sent a message to the public that Pauline Hanson does not deserve the time of day.

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Sean Kelly

Sean Kelly is a columnist for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, and was an adviser to Labor prime ministers Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd.


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