|SocialismToday Socialist Party magazine|
Australia: honest John’s dirty tricks
THIS AUGUST Pauline Hanson and David Ettridge, leaders of the right-wing One Nation party, were jailed for three years for electoral fraud. Although the crime was clearly fraud and something socialists condemn, the real reason for the imprisonment was more sinister.
Pauline Hanson began her political career in March 1994, when she was elected to Ipswich city council (in Queensland state) after campaigning against a library being built because it was ‘a waste of ratepayers money’. Hanson was originally a member of the Liberal Party and endorsed as the candidate for the federal seat of Oxley in Queensland, but was expelled for expressing openly racist views (a reflection of what many Liberals thought). She then stood as an independent and won the seat in 1996.
In her maiden speech to the Australian parliament Hanson openly attacked Asians and Aboriginals, stating: "They have their own culture and religion, form ghettos and do not assimilate". She called for the abandonment of Aboriginal organisations and a halt to Asian immigration, while attacking immigrant groups for upholding their language and culture. She claimed Australia was being "swamped by Asians".
In February 1997, Hanson and Ettridge founded One Nation. An important section of the Australian capitalists supported this new party, giving Hanson huge media coverage. Here was a right-wing electoral party which attempted to appear ‘respectable’ – indeed, they expelled known local fascist individuals or refused to let them join. But very soon Hanson’s capitalist backers realised they had burnt their fingers. In the Queensland state elections held in June 1998 One Nation received almost 25% of the votes and, with eleven seats in the state parliament, took enough seats from the conservative Liberals to let the Australian Labor Party (ALP) into power.
The Australian ruling class continues to play the racist card more than any other Western ruling class. From the beginning of colonisation, through the ‘White Australia policy’ and up to the recent ‘children overboard’ affair (when the government of John Howard lied that asylum-seeking parents threw their children out of boats to get sympathy), the capitalists have used immigration and racism to divide and rule. As a result, there is a large section of Australian society that does not see itself as racist but can support racist policies at certain times.
This support for One Nation shocked the capitalists. They realised they had played too dangerously with fire in giving them so much promotion. After the 1998 Queensland elections, the mood in the media changed and the attacks started. They claimed Hanson was just a stupid, naive politician who should have stuck to her fish-and-chip shop. They mocked her with phrases like ‘please explain’, a phrase she used when she clearly did not understand a simple question being put to her by an interviewer. In just a few short months the propaganda had worked. In October 1998, Hanson lost the Queensland seat of Blair in the federal election. One Nation polled 8.4% of the national vote but failed to secure a lower-house seat.
The biggest national newspaper, The Australian, owned by Rupert Murdoch, recently printed an article by Peter Coleman, former Liberal leader in Queensland, in which he wrote that he "saw One Nation as a threat not so much to civilisation as to the Coalition. It had brought down the Borbidge government in Queensland and was defeating Coalition MPs and candidates all over the country..." (28 August 2003) If the Australian capitalists did not stop One Nation, it could seriously challenge their main political instrument, the Liberal-National Coalition, which consists of the Liberal Party and a smaller rural-based party, the National Party.
Consequently, in late 1998, Tony Abbott, at that time the Howard government’s Workplace Relations Minister, secretly set up a slush fund of A$100,000 to campaign against One Nation, while their media mates started the barrage of attacks. Donors to the slush fund included Harold Clough, one of Australia’s wealthiest businessmen. Coleman also worked with Abbott to set up the fund. Equally worrying is that former ALP federal minister, John Wheeldon, was also involved. Even if trade union leaders do not recognise the fact, the Australian capitalists correctly see the ALP as their reliable ‘second eleven’ party. John Howard, on the other hand, denied he even knew of the existence of the slush fund!
The fund was used to find a legal loophole to smash One Nation. The loophole was easy to find. One Nation was actually a party of three, Hanson, Ettridge and David Oldfield. They set up a One Nation support group and easily recruited the 500 names necessary to have the One Nation name put on the ballot paper and to get state finances. The state finances were considerable – A$500,000 – since it is set in proportion to the votes a party receives at elections. The three One Nation members set up the separate support group so their positions and policies could not be challenged.
The membership of the support group clearly thought they were part of One Nation, the party. Whilst One Nation is not a fascist party, this organisational structure was very much in the fascist tradition of using members as campaign fodder while denying them any democratic rights within the party. Whilst socialists are totally against this grotesque anti-democratic practice of using organisational means of controlling a party, imprisoning leaders of a party just because they challenged the bosses’ preferred party is far more dangerous. This is particularly true when the excuse used is the party set-up, which is a matter for the party members not the state.
Australians clearly saw what the establishment had done and why they had done it. Opinion polls showed wide opposition to the imprisonments. Polls in late August showed only 13% supported the imprisonments while 63% expressed disapproval of the slush fund being set up by Abbott.
In his article in The Australian, Peter Coleman continued: "We all thought that public and violent denunciation of One Nation as a Nazi party would only inflame and encourage its supporters, who knew that this was a ridiculous libel. We preferred a less confrontational, more oblique approach".
A more ‘oblique’ approach? A conspiracy that is now admitted by all the major players – except Howard, who hopes to keep his distance and preserve his ‘honest John’ image intact. Most Australians still believe this image. In opinion polls in late August, following the imprisonment of Hanson and Ettridge, 45% thought Howard should sack Abbott – believing Howard didn’t know about it.
Australians have long been very cynical about their politicians. This cynicism will blow up in the face of Howard and the Coalition sooner or later. Just like Tony Blair in Britain, Howard is building up huge resentment, attacking education, health and driving down wages. Australians will come to see Howard and his right-wing cohorts as the architects of all these attacks.
The Socialist Party in Australia warns Australians not to trust this government or the Australian Labor Party. We will continue to campaign in the unions and community for a real workers’ party. That is the only way to combat racism, and the only way to challenge the cuts and attacks carried out by both the bosses’ parties.
Apart from a few minor successes, One Nation is effectively now dead – killed in the most brutal way. Most workers won’t miss this particular victim, but they are becoming aware of how dishonest and vicious the capitalists can be.
There are important lessons for socialists in the Hanson imprisonment. When seriously challenged, capitalists can turn vicious, ready to use every kind of dirty trick. We will prepare the ground for a new workers’ party in the full knowledge of what lies and dirty tricks the bosses can use, but with total confidence in the Australian workers’ capacity to build a party, as part of an international struggle, that truly represents their interests.
Socialist Party, Australia