SKETCH: Pauline Hanson’s dead cat

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Pauline Hanson drops a big dead cat into Parliament this week, writes Dave Donovan (Image by author)

Something stinks in the heart of Canberra, says managing editor Dave Donovan, and it smells a lot like Malcolm Turnbull and Pauline Hanson's politics.

IT SMELLS like politics. It’s the unmistakable stink of dead cats. It winds through Federal Parliament as I aimlessly wander its endless halls, often getting lost, but with the waft enough to guide me onwards.

A dead cat, of course, is a distraction. Drop a dead cat on a table and straight away everybody will be talking about it and not whatever they were discussing before. Or at least, so the story goes — and I believe it. I have seen a terminated cat do its dirty work.

As I stood near Pauline Hanson for a late afternoon press conference in the Parliament House gardens today (22/6/17), there was certainly something revolting in the chill air — and I’m not just talking about Hanson’s blouse. Worse even than that was Hanson explaining her abhorrent statements yesterday (21/6/17) about segregating autistic children in our schools.

She had been “taken out of context” and “misquoted”, so she said. But how you can take someone out of context and misquote a speech made in Parliament, I still don't know.

She made a half non-apology.

“If I have caused anyone with an autistic child any pain, that was not my intention,” she said in her quiet, staccato patter.

But, in the end, she remained defiant.

Autistic kids were holding other kids back, said appalling Pauline:

"These kids have a right to an education by all means. But if there is a number of them, these children should go into a special classroom and be given that special attention because most of the time the teachers spend so much time on them.”

Like most decent people, the assembled press pack was irate. Noticeably, visibly irate. It may have been because Hanson couldn’t even correctly say "autism", but I'd say it was more than that.

The journalists there, most of whom looked young to my middle-aged eyes, attempted just one question on the (Gonski 2.0) education funding bill passing through the Senate with Pauline’s vital vote. One. The rest were all angry asks about Pauline’s asinine attitude towards autistic students.

I stood off to one side, about two metres away from Hanson, worrying about the potential radioactivity of her poisonous frog motif jacket, but mostly just wanting to ask her a question about her chief of staff James Ashby, who was noticeably not there. I wanted to ask her about allegations made by Senator Derryn Hinch on Tuesday, of a “bombshell” being about to drop.

IA had heard these rumours before Hinch said a word to any radio jock on Tuesday. They involved the AFP and an old case, and they had been swirling around the press gallery — Hinch was just the one, as ever, prepared to open his mouth and be damned the consequences. What was going on there? Sadly, we still don’t know.

I would have liked to have asked Pauline about that and more, but what sort of self-indulgent bastard asks questions about a dodgy staffer when everyone else wants to talk about autistic kids? As for asking about Ashby’s plane or rorting candidates, forget about it. There simply wasn't a chance.

Pauline’s dead cat did its gruesome work and she slinked away, none of her lives lost.

Similarly, as the Government’s education bill sought to strip $22 billion out of school funding, the press perversely pursued Turnbull and Birmingham over their attitudes toward the irrelevant opinions of a single stupid crossbench senator about a proposal they would never entertain. Because no savvy and sensible politician would ever do something so obviously idiotic and unpopular. It's not like Tony Abbott is still in power...

Yes, neither the PM or the Education Minister uttered a word to condemn Hanson, inside Parliament or out, but this was surely intentional. It served three important purposes. Firstly, it infuriated the Opposition and the Greens, who angrily asked and interjected about this censure deficiency all day long. Secondly, it kept an angry press gallery focussed on something that was, ultimately, unimportant. Thirdly, it kept Hanson’s vote, needed to pass Gonski 2.0, locked tight away, safe and sound in the clutches of the Coalition. In the greedy paws of a great big, smelly, deceased cat.

And with the bill being passed, or about to be passed, Turnbull now has a bit of good news before the long winter break. Who knows, in the polls, maybe Malcolm may soon see a dead cat bounce?

Can you smell that?

Catch up with the rest of managing editor Dave Donovan’s Press Gallery reporting this week in Wednesday’s live blog, Tuesday’s members only editorial and otherwise through his Twitter feed @davrosz.

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