Senator Pauline Hanson (Screen shot via @9NewsAUS).

Hanson’s ever-changing policy approach reflects the PHONies' pretence of being for the battlers while aspiring to be part of the establishment, writes John Passant.

OH, GET THE POPCORN OUT — Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party is imploding. Again.

Senator Brian Burston remains a member, for the moment anyway. Senator Burston supported the deal the PHONies had done with the Turnbull Government to vote for the company tax cuts.

So did Hanson at one stage. Then she realised that tax cuts for big business were electoral poison so, with five by-elections in July, she came out against them. Sort of. 

To summarise her Kama Sutra positions: first, she supported, then did not support, then supported, then did not support, then supported, then did not support company tax cuts for big business. My apologies for the vagueness, but following Hanson’s "set in concrete" positions is like watching cement melt.

Hanson even said, recently, that maybe the cuts should be implemented immediately rather than over ten years. It is unclear to me how you oppose tax cuts for big business but want to bring them forward by up to a decade. But incoherence is part of the appeal of Hanson and her party to some. She is Donald Trump writ small.

Hanson’s yes-no-yes-no approach reflects the nature of her party. To harvest votes, the PHONies give the impression of being for the battlers. However, they want to manage capitalism. This means they want to sound anti-establishment in order to be the political establishment.

Hanson's party votes fairly consistently with the Government on major issues. Echoing what Greens Leader Senator Richard Di Natale said on Insiders recently, One Nation is effectively the extreme right wing of the Liberal Party.

In part, this political incoherence on big business tax cuts reflects its active small business base, which wants pro-business policies. However, they want pro-small business policies and often see big business, especially banking and finance capital, as their enemy.  

But back to the popcorn. Hanson was worried about the impact of Labor’s campaign against company tax cuts. As the Financial Services Royal Commission is exposing, her small business base has often rotten dealings with banks and is looking for a convenient target to blame.

For Hanson to support a tax cut of $17 billion to the banks – the very people lording their economic power over the small business section of her base – does not make political sense. As a consequence, in the run-up to the by-elections, she has opposed the company tax cuts.

Burston is the last of the 2016 originals, apart from Hanson herself. After the Party’s Federal political resurgence began at the 2016 double dissolution, Hanson had four Senators. Now, only Hanson and Senator Peter Georgiou remain.  

The Party has lost Roberts, Anning, Culleton and Burston (with Georgio replacing Culleton on recount). Again, to misquote Oscar Wilde, to lose one Senator may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose four looks like carelessness. It looks like more than carelessness — it looks like political self-destruction.

Hanson lost Malcolm Roberts to the Section 44 dual citizenship debacle. His replacement was Fraser Anning who, on the day he was sworn in as a Senator, left the PHONies or was expelled, depending on who you believe. He and Hanson had had a big barney in the party room before the swearing in. Sound familiar?

Former Western Australian Senator Rod Culleton resigned from One Nation in December 2016, only five months after winning a Senate seat under their banner.

He said at the time:

"Policy decisions have been run in morning media, with no consultation, discussion or agreement from the party room and personal attacks and undermining, un-Australian behaviour towards myself and my team, has been ongoing and terms dictated to the team." 

Sound familiar?

The Federal Court declared Culleton bankrupt on 23 December 2016. This meant he was no longer eligible to be a Senator. But it gets better. At the time of the 2016 Election, Culleton had been found guilty of a criminal offence and had not been sentenced. Under Section 44, this meant, given he could have been gaoled for more than 12 months, he was ineligible to even stand for the Senate. Peter Georgiou, his son-in-law and number two on the PHONies WA Senate seat, won the Senate vacancy on countback

Georgiou has disagreed with some One Nation policies, such as the party’s call for a ban on Muslims migrating to Australia. These will be non-issues as the two of them bond together for survival.

That is the question — can One Nation survive? The history of Pauline Hanson and her party suggests there is something fundamental about her appeal that will not disappear, even if she does.  

To misquote Mark Twain, reports of her political death are exaggerated.

I doubt her rusted-on supporters are going to abandon Hanson just because a few people, whom they no doubt regard as traitors to the cause, lose her support. She represents the opposite of all they find wrong with politics in Australia, so those who fall out with her obviously have something wrong with them. They become part of the problem.

Indeed, her recent tears on TV could win her votes. The outsider she paints herself as gets attacked by enemies from both within and outside her party. Those tears will reinforce the outsider image to those who accept her worldview or are attracted to it. 

The tears were real. She is on the verge of losing her hard-built political party — something it has taken her over 20 years to build and re-build. But she, at least, will still have herself — even is she loses the rest of her team of senators.

In the recent Queensland election, for example, One Nation, on average, won 20 per cent of the vote in seats they stood in. If we spread this out across all of Queensland, it will be enough (together with the votes of those in non-contested seats) to see her re-elected as a Queensland Senator, either in her own right or with preferences.

The collapse of the PHONies as something more than just Pauline Hanson won’t address the underlying anger her base feels towards the major parties and the Greens. We can attribute part of the attraction to Hansonism to the lack of a mass radical left with anti-capitalist policies for addressing the concerns of another key part of her base, non-unionised regional and rural workers. 

If we want to kill Hansonism, we need to build an alternative that appeals to workers and contains a program that is anti-capitalist. This means a political and industrial left, united in its actions and offering hope to all workers, including those who have illusions in snake-oil saleswomen like Pauline Hanson.

Read more by John Passant on his website En Passant or follow him on Twitter @JohnPassantSigned copies of John's first book of poetry, Songs for the Band Unformed (Ginninderra Press 2016), are available for purchase from the IA store HERE.

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