Yesterday, Jonathan Green asked the excellent question: if photos of a youthful Peter Costello mugging in his Speedos found their way to a newspaper editor, would the images turn up in your Sunday paper?
Obviously not. But there’s another, perhaps even more interesting, hypothetical. What if the flesh being flashed belonged to another female politician? Say, for example, the nudie holiday snaps purported to show a teenage Quentin Bryce or a young Julie Bishop. Would the Sunday Telegraph have published then? Would, a couple of days later, the so-called quality press have been speculating furiously about belly-buttons and hair cuts?
If s-xism remains one of the great unmentionables in Australian politics, class is even more so. Why did Sunday Telegraph editor Neil Breen press ahead with a story that now seems to have been based upon the word of a man who remembers nothing? Was it not at least partly because Hanson’s background (a bit of a scrubber, probably been around the block a few times, etc, etc) made her fair game?
Back in the day, the tabloids pushed Hansonism to the hilt, but despite all the newspapers she sold for them, they, like most of the media, still see her as white trash, the kind of person to whom you can do absolutely anything you want.
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In 1997, at the height of her popularity, Hanson published a volume entitled Pauline Hanson’s The Truth, a strange title, since she didn’t actually write it and it wasn’t exactly true: you might recall the warning about how an Asianised Australia would soon be ruled by a lesbian cyborg called Poona Li Hung. But beneath all its craziness, the book’s sentiment was entirely genuine: it expressed, in distilled form, the rage and confusion of those left behind by the economic reforms of the Hawke-Keating years, people whose lives had been transformed without their consent, and by forces they didn’t understand.
That was Hanson’s support base, men and women who weren’t simply outside the polite circle of respectable politics but were actively hostile to it, who identified ABC journalists and university-educated parliamentarians as the kinds of snooty elitists who had always patronized and belittled them and taken them for granted. Thus every time a perfectly enunciating interviewer humiliated Hanson on the TV her popularity grew, since those who voted One Nation knew exactly how it felt to be asked unanswerable questions by some sneering know-it-all, whether at the DSS or in the bank manager’s office. Naturally, most Hanson voters will, quite correctly, draw a simple lesson from these photos: if you’ve got an accent like Pauline Hanson, then you’re fair game for any kind of smear.
None of which is to whitewash the underlying viciousness of Hansonism, a phenomenon in which the relatively powerless found psychological comfort from attacking the absolutely powerless. After all, if you wanted to think of others whom newspaper editors treat with utter contempt, you need look no further than Pauline’s favourite scapegoats, Aborigines and migrants. Hanson will presumably sue the Telegraph; the refugees accused of throwing their kids overboard — what redress did they ever get?
Still, this grubby little affair with the Sunday Telegraph shows that 13 years after Hanson’s maiden speech, nothing much has changed. In Australia, if you come from the wrong side of the tracks, no-one will ever let you forget it.