One of the few pleasures of watching the political tumour that is One Nation grow in the Australian body politic is the rich irony of where Hanson and her fellow extremists steal their ideas from. Hanson is an economic nativist who wants a return to the 1970s with a sheltered economy protected by tariff walls and local preference. Supporting Australian jobs at all costs is her mantra (to the extent, of course, that she’d ever have anything as foreign-sounding as a “mantra”). But that nationalism, alas, doesn’t extend to her and her party’s “ideas”, which are primarily taken from far-right and fascist movements overseas.
It’s enough to make a true-blue dinky-di Aussie weep — Australia has its own home-grown strand of far-right and racist thinking, and its own history of conspiracy theories. In fact, Australia has some of the best conspiracy theories in the world — Harold Holt and the Chinese sub, UFOs at Pine Gap, the false-flag nature of the Port Arthur massacre — but One Nation relies on cheap foreign imports for its conspiracy theories (Agenda 21, climate denialism, takeover by sharia law). And, as it turns out, anti-vaccination.
Hanson has imported her anti-vaccination views as well — she has only really embraced them since Donald Trump advertised his anti-vaccination views during his campaign in 2015. Last January, Hanson recycled the wholly discredited lie about links between vaccination and autism (part of fraudster Andrew Wakefield’s plan to make money from a purported autism cure) and then doubled down on the claim in July last year.
Anti-vaccination used to be a bipartisan phenomenon, shared by both left- and right-wingers, who didn’t share political views but did share a propensity for conspiracy theories. Left-wingers believed vaccination was a giant conspiracy by evil pharmaceutical corporations (in fact, Big Pharma doesn’t make much money from vaccines) while those on the right, taking their cue from an older generation of anti-fluoride conspiracy theorists, saw it as a government plot. The presence of high rates of non-vaccination in “alternative” regional communities and in affluent inner-city electorates tended to confirm that well-educated progressives could be every bit as resistant to basic facts about vaccination as gun-toting Arizona survivalists.
In the last decade, however, anti-vaccination appears to have shifted rightward. Religious conservatives in the US and Australia attacked the HPV vaccine — then-health minister Tony Abbott said in 2006 he would not be immunising his daughters with it. Republican figures in the US, before and after Trump, have questioned vaccination, including Chris Christie, Michele Bachmann, Rand Paul and Rick Santorum, either from a libertarian perspective or because they believe vaccination causes, in Bachmann’s disgusting words, “mental retardation”. And bit by bit, this has translated into polling. Whereas Republicans and Democrats were once indistinguishable on the issue of vaccination, they’ve increasingly diverged. At the end of last year, a clear split had emerged in the US between Democrats and Republicans, Clinton voters and Trump voters and between liberals and conservatives, on whether the fictional link between vaccines and autism is real — Democrats and liberals were more likely to completely dismiss the link than Republicans and conservatives (that poll covers a range of conspiracy theories, and it is frightening reading).
Whether this is part of the growth of conspiracy theories on the right in recent times, or reflects something separate, isn’t clear: as birtherism, climate denialism and lurid conspiracies involving the Clintons have become articles of faith within the Republicans, it makes sense that vaccination denialism would also spread, and thus be picked up by conspiracy theory plagiarists like One Nation here — an example of how the benefits of herd immunity apply to reason and logic as well as disease. But anti-vaccination also draws on the older obsession with bodily sovereignty that fueled — and still fuels — anti-fluoridationists, and these days chemtrailers as well.
All of that aside, however, there’s this sad truth. Most conspiracy theorists can believe what they like without harming anyone. But somewhere in Australia there are likely to be parents stupid enough or ill-informed enough to be influenced by Hanson’s peddling of discredited lies about vaccines, and as a result withhold vaccination from their kids. As those children, and other children too young or unable for valid reasons to be fully vaccinated who are exposed to them, are at greater risk of becoming ill and dying. There’s a death toll for the idiocy peddled by anti-vaxxers and those who enable them.