Chapter 1 ...a rising star
Pauline Hanson’s rise to fame or notoriety was guided by the hand of fate. It had little to do with her political skill and indeed flourished on the accidents of others. Three people played a vital role in lifting her into the public limelight and the stage that she was to strut for three short or long years, depending on your point of view. They were Labor Councillor Paul Tully, ex Papua New Guinean politician John Pasquarelli and myself ...in that order. Hanson having been a casualty of the Hilmer Report and National Competition policy that saw local councils created into monolithic quasi governments was persuaded to try her hand at Federal politics. This turn of events was instigated by her very loyal friend, who had earlier helped in her campaign to enter local politics. Morrie Marsden, close enough to Hanson to wear her heart on his sleeve, persuaded her to join the local Liberal Party Bremner Branch. This slotted in with the Hanson ethos for self-reliance. As a small business-woman much of the Liberal Party philosophy, would have found a sympathetic chord in this young woman, floundering to find her political niche. Having joined the branch in 1995 Hanson showed little interest in setting definitive goals.
When the Queensland State elections loomed Hanson toyed with the idea of
standing. Once again her 'rock of Gibraltar' Morrie Marsden, persuaded her to
give the idea away. Marsden may well have been very fond of her, but he
obviously mixed a great deal of political nous, with his feelings. When Hanson,
now with an appetite born of her stint in local council, discussed with Marsden
the possibility of running for Parliament he suggested that she might put up for
pre-selection for the forth-coming Federal election. He must have gilded the
lily too for he apparently convinced her that she could win the seat of Oxley.
Not only was Oxley a blue ribbon seat for the Australian Labor Party, it was
also the Governor General Bill Hayden's old stomping
ground. Yet even before this ambition could be realised Hanson had to go to
pre-selection. She acquitted herself well enough in the process and was duly
nominated as the Liberal Party candidate for Oxley.
Oxley however was
no great shakes for a lady with ambition. Marsden may have been a great fillip
for her psychologically, but pragmatically she was never going to wrest Oxley
from Labor. Les Scott may not have been every Labor supporters dream member, but
he was ‘one of them’.
Hanson, with the stalwart Marsden at her side did what every aspiring parliamentarian does in seeking public endorsement ...she went out and talked with the people. She had fliers printed and with a few willing supporters had them distributed. Anyone who has travelled this path knows that it can be a hard and often a dispiriting task. Even so Hanson had the backing of her Liberal Party. But was that any great advantage? John Bradford, the then sitting member for McPherson, on the Gold Coast tutored her. I knew him well enough and when I came out publicly and supported her, we had occasion to have contact. He spoke well of her but agreed that she was never expected to do more than carry Liberal Party colours. It was the sort of opportunity given to aspiring candidates ...simply to blood them. In short Hanson was on a hiding to nothing.
It was then she unwittingly lit a delayed action time bomb. In doing so she was to alter not only the lives of many people, but also to send shock waves through the whole political system. Hanson wrote a letter to the local newspaper The Queensland Times. Ironically she had Robert Tickner, the Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders Affairs in the Howard Government in her sights. Her theme was essentially that of equality for all Australians and not the selective kind that Labor fostered for the Aborigines. John Pasquarelli in his colourful account of Hanson, by the Man who Knows, says that the letter was 'clumsily constructed and innocuous enough.' This is an interesting comment. The letter is pure Hanson. She is no speechwriter, no academic. You read this letter and you then realise that her maiden speech, with a couple of exceptions is written in similar vein. This was Hanson before Pasquarelli arrival. Yet Pasquarelli's comment is dismissive ...the suggestion one suspects is that in his hands he would have dealt more professionally with the topic, if indeed he had even attempted to do so.
This tends very much to underline what I said at the time that Pasquarelli tried to inflict his views upon her. I suspect that Pasquarelli as indeed David Oldfield did later believed that they were intellectually superior. If that was their perception of her and one suspects that it was little else, then they underestimated her. Indeed I recall the time he came to my home, suggesting among other things that plans were afoot to have Hanson attend elocution lessons. I told him there and then to leave her alone for it was for those reasons that people gravitated to her. They identified with the common touch.
letter may even have gone unnoticed, it might have been Hanson's first foray
into letter writing and it may have missed its mark among the newspapers
readers, but one man saw the opportunity to belittle the aspiring politician.
His name was Paul Tully, an Ipswich Labor councillor. In seeking to embarrass
Hanson, not on the merits or otherwise of what she had said, but as a way of
having a deprecating swipe at her, he unwittingly gave her a ticket to her
ambition. His animated attack on what she had said provided fuel to the
scribblers employed on the Courier-Mail. They suitably gave the topic enough
'press' to ensure that the Hanson woman...the racist, by the journalistic
ethos that decrees that any criticism of Aborigines irrespective of the validity
of the argument is by association automatically racist ...became an
embarrassment to the Liberal Party. It did. Given John Howard's much vaunted
claim of giving everybody a fair go, he immediately dumped Hanson. This champion
of everything that is honest and fair proved that when it comes to pragmatism in
politics, that 'little Johnny' could dump equally on his principles. After all,
this was the man who come hell or high-water was going to be Prime Minister.
Twenty years of believing that he was God's gift to Australian politics was not
going to be torpedoed by a fiery redhead.
Initially Cr Tully may well have been very pleased that the Liberal Party responded as it did, by disenfranchising her. As he had done in council, so too did he try to belittle Hanson in her new direction in public life. Why? Whatever his motive, fate was to deal another hand. Too late to alter the ballot papers that had Hanson as the endorsed Liberal candidate, she decided in her determined manner ...that was to become a hallmark trait ...to run as an Independent. This single act of sheer defiance in the face of the autocratic party machine, sent sympathy waves across the electorate of Oxley. Suddenly the issues were forgotten. This provocative letter writer had taken on the might of everything that the average person saw as obnoxious about the system. Hanson now took on the role of a crusader ...the battle of David and Goliath, the battle of the entrenched and comfortably established party system against the under-dog. Suddenly Marsden's dream of Pauline Hanson becoming the member for Oxley began to take on a sharper focus.
With the Federal Labor Party carrying the odour of the politically aborted
Eastern Motorway out of Brisbane ; with the perceived unjustness of the Hanson
disenfranchisement that painted the Howard mob as ogres coupled with the
confusion at the ballot-box over who was representing whom ...Pauline Hanson
romped home. In a massive 23% swing; she hit the headlines across the nation.
This was the girl ...dumb, according to her closest advisers, who tilted at Minister Robert Tickner, by writing a provocative letter. It was the catalyst that derailed Tully's effort to destroy her and caused massive headaches to those who disowned her simply because it might damage their electoral aspirations. Hanson's targeting of Tickner was all the more credible because two others in Graeme Campbell a rejected Labor Party firebrand, in the West, and Bob Katter, the National Party plain speaker, in the North who along with Hanson mirrored similar views, obtained similar electoral success. The Aboriginal ethos had gone too far ...the reason why Robert Tickner, suffered the inverse of their massive swings. Tickner was sent packing.
The hand of fate had delivered to the battlers of Australia this champion of the people. The question was ...could she or would she be allowed to deliver.