As is by now well known, if One Nation senator Rod Culleton is knocked out by the High Court, the seat will likely go, by virtue of recount, to the next One Nation candidate on the Senate ticket in July, who happens to be Peter Georgiou — Culleton’s brother-in-law. If, perchance, Georgiou is unable to serve, Culleton’s wife, Ioanna Culleton, is next on the ticket. One Nation’s commitment to family values is certainly unimpeachable.
Even so, it doesn’t do a lot for One Nation’s pretence to somehow be the party of authentic Australians, of a “silent majority”, to use Pauline Hanson’s term (more accurately, a tiny minority that never shuts up), when it serves up representatives like the Culletons. How many “real Aussies” spend much of their time in court or in creditors’ meetings over debts of millions of dollars? Most Australians, you’d like to think, regard it as a matter of honour, as well as law, to pay what they owe people. And how many, in a nation that looks down on politicians, have their family running for the Senate?
Ex-senator Bob Day falls into a similar category. It turns out “Family First” — to whom Day gave a considerable chunk of his personal wealth despite the developing problems of his housing companies — is, unfortunately, not the order that creditors will be paid from what’s left of Day’s housing empire: the dozens of families staring at massive losses and incomplete homes will have to take their chances like every other creditor.
The election of the likes of Day and, especially, One Nation, were supposed to reflect the alienation of Australians from politics as usual, the dislike of professional politicians and self-interested careerists that allegedly make up the mainstream parties, the preference for more genuinely representative voices in parliament in touch with how the electorate really feels.
But the genuine representatives repeatedly turn out to be altogether unlike the community. Senators aren’t even compelled to engage with or please constituents — the basic requirement of even the safest seat holder in the House of Reps. And many of the current crop of minor party representatives are hardly comparable to your average Australian. Pauline Hanson, after all, has earned millions from being a serial political candidate and television celebrity — not exactly the stuff of Struggle Street. Or take David Leyonhjelm, a man profoundly out of touch with the views of mainstream Australia: a gun obsessive, Leyonhjelm’s vocal support for dramatically loosening Australia’s gun laws reflects just 6% of Australians who think gun laws are too tough. Then there’s Malcolm Roberts, who occupies a fringe space of conspiracy theorists who believe in global plots and vast, omnipotent cabals, a man more at home in a chatroom with anonymous handles than at a suburban barbecue.
In comparison, the bulk of mainstream party politicians appear far more in touch with community sentiment and far more reflective of community values. But the fiction of real Aussies versus careerists persists.
Part of the problem is that politics skews in favour of the extreme. Jacqui Lambie, who rails incoherently against Muslims, was re-elected while Ricky Muir didn’t even come close (ditto Glenn Lazarus). Lambie earned some multiples of the media coverage that Muir and Lazarus received courtesy of her Islamophobia and the ensuing outrage. The media rewards extremism with coverage, and name recognition is fundamental to political success — a key reason why Pauline Hanson has cunningly made sure she was never too far out of the public eye despite her longs years out of Parliament.
Thus, extremists have an in-built advantage over quiet centrists like Ricky Muir, who rapidly matured into a thoughtful senator prepared to consider bills on their merits in his short time in politics. The alternative is Nick Xenophon, a centrist who is highly and necessarily adept at publicity. But lashing out of the minority du jour needs less skill and thought when it comes to publicity. There’s no “silent majority” here.