A lesson for New Zealand from the rise of Pauline Hanson?

Guest Post:

I lived in Australia for a number of years.  In 1996 I happened to reside in Logan in Brisbane. The suburb I lived in fell within the federal seat of Oxley.

Oxley was a safe Labor seat in 1996.  Actually, Labor’s safest seat in Queensland.  Pauline Hanson, a fish and chip shop owner, was preselected to represent the Liberals in the 1996 federal election for the seat of Oxley.  I think it can safely be said that she was a space filler and the Liberal party had no expectation of taking the seat.

It is important to understand the political environment in Australia at that time.  Labor had been in power for 5 terms totalling 13 years.  They were on the way out, it seemed.  John Howard was the leader of the Liberal party and if the coalition won (Liberal and National) John Howard would become Prime Minister.

My memory of the time was that the public was fed up with politicians who they felt were out of touch with ordinary Australians (a fairly typical gripe).  Parliament was over-represented with former lawyers, John Howard being one of them, and the comment was often made that what was needed was more ordinary people with real-life experience to represent the public interest in Parliament.  Interestingly, Pauline Hanson fitted that bill.

Pauline Hanson rose to national prominence as a result of a few comments made to media about her view that special government assistance for Aboriginal Australians should be abolished. She also advocated cutting immigration and condemned multicultural policies. Her comments were initially dismissed and that might have been the end of it. However, I believe there were key factors that led to Pauline Hanson rising to the public’s attention:

  1.  The media/Labor used her comments to challenge the Liberal party’s policies in the area of Aboriginals, immigration and multiculturalism, a sort of divide and conquer approach;
  2.  Pauline Hanson would not back down when the Liberals rejected her views. She had nothing to lose and was not prepared to toe the party line as one would normally expect; and
  3. This created a field day for media as it garnered interest and ratings for the media.

The Liberals quickly distanced themselves from Pauline Hanson’s views. Pauline Hanson, this relatively good-looking redhead firebrand garnered extensive and highly precious media attention as she stood by and built upon her views of what was needed to fix Australia’s problems. Because the Liberals were starting to be seen as divided and Pauline Hanson would not back down the Liberals were forced to dis-endorse Pauline Hanson and on election day she effectively ran as an independent.

During the campaign, Pauline Hanson was dismissed (but well covered) by the media, academics and, to a lesser extent, social justice warriors.  The “sense” was that people would not vote for her in any large numbers as her policies were “racist”, sounds familiar.

On election day my partner went to vote.  I could not vote as I was not an Australian citizen.

Bear with me as I go off on a tangent: The Australian voting system is a preferential system and so you rank your votes by preference.  It is important for election outcomes for the right ranking to be made for the best chance of winning a seat and the election. So, unlike New Zealand, on election day party volunteers are allowed to congregate at each booth and hand out how to vote cards. You can grab them all or choose the one you really want.  Being a practical joker I challenged my partner to go up to the throng, call out Labor and then take the card place it on the ground and stomp on it and then grab the Liberal card and proceed on to the voting booth. My partner was up for it and it went off so well. The Labor volunteer, when “Labor” was called out, had a smile at the thought of another Labor voter casting a vote. The smile went away very quickly and the other volunteers roared with laughter as the card was stomped. To be fair my partner went back out after voting shook the guy’s hand and said “no hard feelings mate it was just a joke” and the Labor guy was good about it and could see the funny side. Right off that tangent and back to my story.

In reality, my partner up to the point of voting had no idea who they were going to vote for. I was always very careful to not influence how they voted having come from a family where my mother was compelled to vote as my father did, something that was abhorrent to me. This indecision on my partner’s part I think was disillusionment, as described above, that their voice was not being heard.  Well, my partner made the decision at the booth and voted for Pauline Hanson.

That evening I got comfortable in my bean bag (I have moved on) and watched the televised election results. What unfolded was gobsmacking to say the least. The pundits (media, academics and former politicians) sat there dismissing Pauline Hanson’s chances. The initial trends that saw her holding ground were explained away. After a couple of hours, it became apparent that she was likely to take the seat and she did. The seat of Oxley dominated the coverage. I took great pleasure in seeing all these pointy heads, sitting there, jaws dropped and unable to disguise their utter disbelief.  A safe Labor seat won by an independent conservative.

I was not that surprised. Being unable to vote and despite having my political preferences I felt that I had been able to look at elections fairly objectively.  I am continually surprised how affected people on both sides of the spectrum, academics and journalists etc can get and lose perspective because of their political bias and or dislike for other parties or people. And I love to watch it all unfold as their delusion gets shattered. Stacey Morrison was the stand out for me in the 2018 New Zealand election coverage.  She was in total denial and just could not hold back how gutted she was when Te Ururoa (the Shark) lost his seat. I liked the shark.

I did not call the Pauline Hanson win but I had an inkling she would do well. For the record, I called Trump’s win about a month out from the US election. I also called the demise of the Internet party (probably not a hard one) and I also called National getting the most seats in the 2017 election despite the media obsession with Jacinda Adern over actual Labour policy.

During the Trump campaign for example, there were key factors that stood out for me. The media repeatedly stated that Latinos, Blacks, Gays and women would not vote for Trump. My mantra?  Never, never, never presume how a certain group votes.  Latinos are not all Mexican and many Latinos (including Mexicans) agreed with Trump. Women will vote for a man over a woman any day, call it the bitchiness factor. As for blacks and gays and any other group just don’t assume voting preferences. On top of all that Trump tapped into the politically disaffected, big time.

So who voted for Pauline Hanson?  Well, Liberal voters probably did.  She was still on the voting card as a Liberal candidate as it was tooo late to change. They had very little choice left. However, it was traditional Labor voters that got Pauline Hanson across the line. They even got past the fact that she was mislabelled as a Liberal candidate. Why did they vote for her?  I would encapsulate it as follows: “don’t tell me how I think and how I ought to think and don’t treat me like an idiot”.

The media and politicians hugely misjudged the public discontent, presumed to know how ordinary Aussies thought and were condescending in their judgements. The Liberals dis-endorsing her angered people who gravitated, to some extent, to what she was getting at. It is a bit like telling your child not to touch the wood stove. What do they do?  They touch it. And Aussies just like to stick it to the man, possibly a carry over from their convict, Irish and working-class roots.

I don’t think many of the people who voted for Pauline Hanson were racist. My partner certainly wasn’t. My partner basically explained that they voted the way they did because the issues resonated with them (not necessarily totally agreed with) and they wanted to stick it to the others.  Polling and media coverage does not pick up this groundswell support for the simple reason that these voters will not publicly express their preference for fear of being attacked but they will vote how they feel. The arrogance directed at voters (many Labor voters) was enough to swing their vote to a conservative.

Here is where traditional political parties in New Zealand, particularly on the left, have a problem. I believe the problem emerged from the left but has also infected the right to a degree. The left/Labour was founded on representing working classes, first and foremost. To win an election they needed a broader voting base. There was an appeal for Labour in academia and others who might not have been working class but agreed with what was seen as progressive policy. A good chunk came from Maori (working class or otherwise).  Add in the never, never, never presume factor and a few farmers, business owners and rich etc would also vote Labour. The rest is history, Labour seized power in 1935 on the back of being primarily a workers’ party and has recently formed its sixth Government.  Put simply, Labour attracts those who are not conservative and who want to change the world.

However, over its life, the Labour party has become infested with all manner of interests intent on changing the world that are in tension with working-class values. The traditional working class base has also eroded away as a broad middle class took over in New Zealand.  At this point, I will drop the term “working class” as I don’t accept we have a working class in New Zealand as we once did.  What we do have is what I will term “ordinary New Zealanders”.  (Ordinary New Zealanders are generally working poor and middle class.  They work, live in a home owned or rented. A lot of them like a drink. A good chunk smoke legal and or illegal cigarettes. They want money and more of it if possible and they want to spend it on things that make them feel good, drink, smokes, pies, TVs, cars and the list goes on.

They despise those people who want to put controls on smoking, drinking, sugar, shower pressure and lightbulb wattage etc.  Many of them vote for Labour at elections and many vote for National. If you are in close company with ordinary New Zealanders, as I regularly am, they will also express their views on bludgers, climate change, immigration, Asians, Muslims, LGBTI… Maori and the list goes on). Those views usually don’t align with the groupthink expressed through media, academia or at chardonnay socialist social events.

The Labour party while purportedly representing ordinary New Zealanders now promotes policy that ordinary New Zealanders despise.  National for political expediency seems to have latched onto much of this policy or feel they have been forced to accept Labour’s implemented policy in order to win or retain power: Think working for families and interest-free student loans. We end up in a similar environment as Australia with ordinary New Zealanders feeling like their voice is not being heard.

Pauline Hanson (in 1996) and Trump came from outside of the normal left and right and tapped into this group. Yes, Trump was Republican but he basically had to attack his own party to run for president and so in that sense, he did come from outside. While Hanson and Trump came from the outside they both still relied on the traditional right voters’ support. Ordinary Australians and ordinary Americans who were fed up with being ignored while every minority was being catered to and they were being told what they could and could not think or do like they were naughty children voted for Hanson or Trump as the case may be. In the US traditional left voters, the rust belt workers, blacks, Latinos and women got out and voted for Trump. Ordinary  Labor voting Australians from Logan and Ipswich (the equivalent Manukau and Papakura of wider Brisbane) voted for a conservative.

Do we have a Pauline Hanson in New Zealand? Funny thing. In 1996 much of Winston Peter’s policies mirrored Pauline Hanson’s. However, he did not seem to cop it like Pauline Hanson did.  After 20 odd years, it has become apparent that Winston Peters does not hold onto his policies with the same conviction Pauline Hanson did and the voting public, in general, see his policy as mere puffery that gets pulled out of the bottom drawer each election and then put away once the baubles of office are obtained.

I also believe Gareth Morgan attempted to take a Donald Trump approach to gaining popular support. He was rude and made outrageous statements, I believe, in the hope of getting a groundswell of popular support and media attention. That could have worked if his policy aligned with what would press ordinary New Zealanders’ buttons. As it turned out his academically analysed policies dealing with alcohol, immigration, climate etc would not resonate with many “ordinary New Zealanders” and so he failed in his quest. The answer it seems is that we do not currently have a Pauline Hanson in New Zealand. He or she might be out there though.

Is there a space for a Pauline Hanson in New Zealand?  I don’t think New Zealanders will gravitate to a firebrand like Pauline Hanson. However, there is definitely room for someone, a new party or possibly an existing party like ACT to tap into ordinary New Zealanders. Ordinary New Zealanders who once sat on the left have drifted away from the left (in thought if not in vote) as the left has been captured by a divergent group of progressives.  Conservative ideals appeal more now to these ordinary New Zealanders: Family, law and order, work not welfare, job preservation, more take-home pay, preserving Kiwi culture, freedom to do what I want etc.

In my view, if National adopted stronger conservative policies the effect may end up neutral or negligible in that while ordinary New Zealanders might shift to the right some on the right might actually drift left in response preferring National to remain Labour-Lite.  I think a stand-alone conservative voice without the religious overtones could easily build a voter base over 5% by tapping into ordinary New Zealanders and dragging a lot of conservative as well as traditionally left voting people into the fold. They would need to be able to relate to the ordinary New Zealander. A kind of a John Key ordinary guy personality but with strong conviction and a thick hide to take the huge attack that will come from the media and social justice warriors.

Pauline Hanson won Oxley in a partial vacuum where social justice warrior action had little time to get organised.  Once elected she came under relentless and vicious attack. Enough to swing ordinary Australians to shift their thinking away from her. Whoever takes up the challenge will need a thick hide like Trump, a sharp tongue and a consistent conservative message.


by The Undertaker

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A guest post submitted to Whaleoil and edited by Whaleoil staff.

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