In my previous post I wrote about the recent election signifying the transition to a new populist moment in Australian politics. This post is devoted to what has proven to be the most widely-discussed marker of this: the resurgence of One Nation.
Fretful hand-wringing about the rise of 'nativism', an epidemic of wow-just-wowing mixed with a fascination verging on the mystical, concerns over the potential for violence, calls for ‘understanding’, desperate pleas for a left-wing populism to counter that of the right…One Nation has already made a big splash. It’s enough to make an older Dingo nostalgic. The 90s are back, man. That must be why everyone's excited about Pokemon again.
We’re still waiting for the full Senate voting results to come in and to see how many seats One Nation will win in the Upper House. In a sense, it doesn't matter. The fact is that the return of One Nation, once again led by Australia’s most famous fish and chip shop owner, is being treated by the national media as more significant than the narrow return of the Turnbull government. Indeed, it may well prove to be.
One problem with writing this piece
a fortnight three weeks after the election, and after the deluge of media attention that One Nation's return has already received, is the risk of treading ground that is already well-worn. In a crowded analytical space it is not always easy to position oneself at a novel angle. That is one advantage to adopting a dissident perspective, however. We have the luxury of breaking free of the herd mentality and looking at things in different ways. Unlike those others who have done so, when I ask whether this is our Trump moment it is out of hope and not dread. The nascent Australian alternative right, growing ever more restless against the constraints of mainstream politics, is waiting to coalesce around a national figurehead. Is Pauline going to fill that role for us? Is the return of One Nation going to be something lasting, or a flash in the pan resulting from a temporary disillusion with the Turnbull-led Liberal Party?
Of course, we must await the course of events to get definitive answers to these questions. Now that it has re-emerged from a long hibernation a lot will depend on how the party manages the day-to-day grind of politics: speeches and horse-trading in Parliament, engaging with the public, policy development, and so on. There are, though, a number of underlying factors that suggest One Nation may well become a bigger phenomenon this time than it was in the past.
The most obvious is that Australia is considerably more vibrant now than it was two decades ago. As this handy document by Katharine Betts (that rarest of breeds, an immigration sceptic with an academic pedigree) shows, since the 90s the proportion of Australia's population born overseas has increased steadily. And as our enemies delight in pointing out, "more and more of these are arriving from the Middle East, North Africa, and Asia". There are now more Indian- and Chinese- than British-born immigrants in Australia for the first time in its history. White Australia is steadily eroding and even its SWPL urbanites are reacting to these demographic changes, albeit in vaguely embarrassed ways. Though few dare to express it, there is a lot of unease with the speed and scale of demographic change. The total unwillingness of the major parties to recognise this discontent leaves it open for One Nation to capitalise on through its call for zero net migration.
The economy is also considerably shakier this time around. As our native cuckservatives never tire of reminding us, the 90s were a golden period of economic growth and rising standards of living. This has certainly changed now. As Harold Mitchell recently summarised in the Sydney Morning Herald:
Firstly, employment growth has been weak since the GFC; secondly, wages growth has been slowing since 2012 and, thirdly, household disposable income growth is the worst in at least a quarter of a century...Our per capita income has fallen by 6 per cent since September 2011, the proportion of total population in the workforce has not increased since 2008 and wages growth, that is hourly rates of pay, is now the lowest in at least 18 years. And neither of the two major parties who have formed governments in recent times can feel proud of this.
With no hope of improvement in the foreseeable future, the economic malaise will further heighten public mistrust of multinationals, foreign investment and economic rationalism. It will fuel discontent with the major parties' stewardship of the economy, as middle Australia recognises that its standard of living, like its demographic position, is under assault.
There is also the fact that we live in a very different media age to that of twenty years ago. The media gatekeepers that so effectively cordoned One Nation off in the 90s may be more militant in their ideology today, but they are increasingly archaic. We all know that it is possible to use the internet to communicate directly with an audience and circumvent the media gatekeepers. After all, you're on this site.
People are also considerably less trusting of the media than they used to be. Because of this lack of trust Hanson may, like Trump, be able profit even from the most adverse media coverage on the back of the old adage that “there’s no such thing as bad publicity”. And, as the last three weeks have already demonstrated, the media simply can’t help themselves when it comes to producing hit pieces. While the urbanites at Media Watch appear to recognise what is happening, the brute fact is that, as with Trump, Hanson brings a lot of clicks with her. This will be too good to resist for the struggling Fairfax papers. And, as a side benefit for us, we will get to watch that most leftist of pursuits, the circular firing squad. The Margo Kingston/Ruby Hamad spat may just be a taste of what is to come.
These major structural factors are to the advantage of One Nation. Hanson may further benefit from overseas examples set by Donald Trump, in particular, and from being a little less naïve on her second time around the traps. We can see evidence of increased savviness in One Nation's pivot towards focusing on the widely-despised Islam rather than Asian migration.
But while we hope for the best, it would be premature to start mobilising the meme armies and invoking the Fuhrerprinzip. One Nation has been gifted an opportunity, but needs to demonstrate that it can take advantage of it to build something lasting. Plenty can go wrong in the treacherous waters of party politics. One Nation may, like last time, get bogged down in infighting, or it may get diverted towards its other emphases like climate change scepticism. Also, while Pauline has more balls than Turnbull's entire frontbench, she is a long way from the kind of charismatic and articulate leader that the emerging Australian alternative right deserves.
Ultimately, time will tell whether One Nation is going anywhere in the 21st century. The good news for Dingoes is that even if the project once again crashes and burns, we have already benefited from Hanson in the spotlight. The more exposure that she gets, the more attention is drawn to issues that have been excluded from mainstream political discussion for decades, and the easier it becomes for people to realise that another world is possible. Australian nationalism may have been through a rough period, but it still shows a flicker of life. We hope that One Nation's return will aid its resuscitation.