Saturday, June 30, 2007

Untamed and Unashamed, The Autobiography of Pauline Hanson

What on earth was Pauline’s beef? She strode upon the political scene huffing and puffing, laying blame with Aboriginals and Asians for the country’s woes, rode a Zeitgeist of Keating era discontent, began to see herself as a political messiah (well, according to David Oldfield), won a swag of seats in the 1998 Queensland State election, made a whacky ‘if you are seeing this, I am dead’ video, landed herself a short stint in prison, and eventually re-surfaced as a song and dance act on the RSL club circuit. What a career trajectory!

Pauline Hanson’s autobiography is as bland as you could imagine it to be. If you were an outsider reading her book, you’d never know what a huge national sensation she was. You get merely the bare facts of her life and controversial times. It’s almost like she missed half her own story, while being at the centre of it. So this aspect of the book makes it an anti-climax. The paradox is, Australia’s most controversial woman gives us an underwhelming book.

It’s badly edited too, with frequent misspellings of people's names. For such a self proclaimed major political player, you'd think she'd take care to get someone to check all these details out. Poor Tony Jones of the ABC becomes Tony Smith on one page. Kim Beazley's name is spelt incorrectly. Perhaps the best illustration of the poor quality of the writing is Hanson's over reliance on exclamation marks to show her jovial good naturedness. Like, every page seems to have at least one exclamation mark at the end of a sentence. (I was tempted to use one myself just then.)

What else could you expect though of someone who scorned intellectuals and ‘elites’, a word she borrowed from the right wing intelligentsia – ironically enough. Pauline’s no political commentator, psychologist or media analyst. All she can offer is a very dull, matt surface.

But getting back to the question of why Hanson was so angry (throughout the book she’s always muttering ‘rubbish’ and ‘to hell’ with this and that). It seems to me that because she was from a lower socio-economic group herself, someone who had worked and struggled very hard to bring up her four children virtually on her own, that seeing others in a similar position ‘taking the easy way out’ by accepting welfare galled her no end. Why should I bust my gut running my own business and bringing up my children as a virtual single mother, when others bludge off the system, not lifting a finger? she must have wondered.

Reading about Pauline’s personal life, it’s clear she got one rough deal. Both her husbands were pretty useless, not contributing much emotionally or financially to her and the children. If I had to live such a life, I’d be plunged into an abyss of despair. Yet Pauline seems to have put this to one side, and put all her effort into getting ahead as best she could in life. She successfully ran several businesses, brought up her children, bought a house and established herself.

Maybe a question she constantly asked herself was, Why did I have to struggle so bloody hard, why didn’t my lousy husbands do their jobs and act as providers? Why won’t people pull their weight and stop bludging off the system?

Well, that’s my bit of amateur psychology.

Pauline Hanson was someone who led a bleak life, who struggled and found the rewards didn’t match up to the effort entailed. She looked around her and wondered, why do all these people not work like me? Why do they bludge off the system.

If you’re like me, you feared and loathed Pauline Hanson when she arrived on the scene. She’s undoubtedly harsh and narrow minded, with little empathy.

For example, fancy being asked to turn up to citizenship ceremonies as a Federal Government MP, only to tell those about to become Aussie citizens that if they don’t obey Australia’s laws and respect its customs, that she’ll be the first one to drive them to the airport and send them back to where they came from. No wonder she was never invited again after a second performance of saying this. Imagine if John Howard invited Tony Blair to visit Australia, then said the same thing to him.

Her naivety is something to behold. On page 180 she describes how the women in prison were not allowed to have cigarette lighters, and had to use some contraption out in the recreation yard. To get around this ban on cigarette lighters, Pauline learns from one of the inmates that she conceals her lighter in her vagina so she can spark up after lockdown. Having described this, Hanson’s next sentence is: ‘I have no idea what male prisoners must do to hide contraband’. You’d think she’s making a little joke, but of course she’s not. Pauline Hanson is not noted for her sense of humour or irony. Isn't it common knowledge that male prisoners hide things up their rectums?

Nor does prison or her experiences at the heart of Australia’s political and media life seem to have had any effect on her. She has no penetrating insights about how the media or politics works.

Although there are some interesting insights she unwittingly gives away. You have to admire her as a new MP, trying to do all her homework and keep up to date with all the legislation that is passed through the House of Reps. She describes people like Alexander Downer mirthfully asking her what kind of legislation they were voting on, and her informing him. This is something we in the general populace have no clue of. Government MPs blindly voting though bills.

Pauline Hanson really had a chance of creating a powerful political force. As I see it, she could have created an old working class style party that looked after the interests of workers and the lower paid. After getting all the Aboriginal welfare and non-assimilating immigrants rhetoric out of her system, she could have concentrated on working her support base into a viable party that stuck up for workers.

This was not to be. With her penchant for picking the wrong men, she took on a series of utterly venal advisors (Ettridge, Oldfield, Pasquarelli). Not keeping a sharp eye on her party and what was going on, people from within plotted her downfall. One Nation ate one of its own.

Amazingly, she ended up in prison. People (like me) who had always looked forward to her downfall were shocked to see her imprisoned. Nevertheless, she dusted herself off and became a singer and dancer. Bizarre.

Will she ever make it again in politics? You never know, but I doubt it. She was a lighting rod for long simmering grievances, styling herself an anti-politician politician. Yet she had no real long term political strategy or program.

In politics, you need to be ready to go in for the long haul. Look at people like John Howard, who never gave up and always believed that his view of things was right. Like him or loathe him, his self-belief paid off.

Does Pauline Hanson have the same type of self-belief? Or is she now just a tired old cabaret act?

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