“Oh my God,” yelled someone in the corridor outside the rambling Crikey offices in Parliament House. I glanced at the television, where question time had just stated, apparently smoothly. A photographer bolted past, heading not toward the House of Reps, but the Senate. I went out and headed down to the Senate press gallery. Had another protest erupted in the Senate? That seemed insufficient to elicit the level of excitement on display. It wasn’t immediately clear what was going on, until my attention was drawn to a black-shrouded figure sitting where Pauline Hanson normally sat.
She looked for all the world like a B-horror movie ghoul, a black-sheeted figure pretending to sit in still, silent judgment. It would be an apt metaphor — a shitty, low-rent invocation of the evil that One Nation is within politics and Australia generally, Hanson the pinchbeck Ghost of Racism Past and, sadly, all-too Present. But there was no metaphor. Hanson doesn’t rise to the level of metaphor. She represents nothing other than what she is. To steal from Freud, sometimes a bigot is just a bigot.
Hanson in many ways resembles Clive Palmer, whose MO was to keep moving from stunt to stunt, never worrying about consistency or the failures that accumulated behind him, always on the move to the next event or media conference where something outrageous would be offered to distract us all. But Palmer at least has some human decency and rigorously avoided the kind of racist garbage that is second nature to Hanson. Hanson, too, must stay on the move; to stop is to perish politically, because supporters might start to wonder what One Nation has achieved — which is nothing — or delivered to its constituents, which is again nothing.
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When a smirking Hanson removed her garment to ask — in her usual incoherent, “I hate migrants but I can’t speak English myself” style — George Brandis a question, Brandis was faced with a dilemma. Did he give Hanson what she clearly craved, which was a public dressing down that would legitimise her further in the eyes of racists, or did he try to downplay it and move on as quickly as possible? As long-time readers might have detected, I’m not the biggest fan of Brandis, but I think he made the right call yesterday. In a week when Trump had rightly been savaged on all sides for failing to speak out against Nazi terrorists on the streets of American cities, saying nothing was not a plausible option, even if it would have been the option least conducive to Hanson’s purposes.
So an emotional Brandis upbraided her in an outstanding off-the-cuff speech, made with constant glances at the clock to see how he was faring against the time limit. And he hit Hanson right where she should have been hit, on national security. He argued that, based on the advice from security agencies that he’d received for years, mocking and demeaning Muslims communities made the task of fighting terrorism in Australia harder, and that was exactly what Hanson was doing. The ovation from Labor and the crossbenchers was well deserved; Brandis had performed his role of our first law officer brilliantly.
Hanson, of course, couldn’t care less about national security. Indeed, it’s in her political interests to see more terror attacks in Australia, all the better to serve her foul cause. One Nation’s interests seem to coincide with the murderers of al-Qaeda and IS. Perhaps Hanson’s burqa was an appropriate garment after all.