You don’t even need to read the full title. You need only glance at the cover to glean Kerry-Anne Walsh’s idea of Pauline Hanson. She hovers at the base of the book cover, like a malign cloud approaching from the horizon. Her face is desaturated and the contrast is turned way up, rendering her skin more chilly and porcelain than normal and her hair crimson and copper like drying blood.
And you only need to recall, for one example, the empty, hateful provocations of our very own Senator Fraser “Oswald Mosley” Anning to remember just how many of the worst elements — be it people, rhetoric or ideas — of modern Australian politics can be traced directly or indirectly to her influence. This is the focus of Hoodwinked, which primarily covers the rise and fall and rise of Hanson from 1996 to 2016.
Anyone wanting to write a book savaging Pauline Hanson (and no book subtitled How Pauline Hanson fooled a nation can purport to be anything else) will find great treasures among the sprawling ruins she’s left behind. In Walsh’s telling, there are scores of people, mostly men, with whom Hanson has shared intense personal and professional relationships, drained of their talents and loyalty, and then discarded. These men are the abiding fascination of Hoodwinked and serve as Walsh’s expert witnesses, providing the book’s central argument: Pauline Hanson is an unusually hollow and callous politician. That she will say anything to stoke her base, but believes in almost nothing. That beyond a knee jerk distrust of foreigners and a love of the spotlight, there is simply nothing there.
Throughout Hoodwinked it becomes apparent that Walsh can say almost nothing laudable, noble or admirable about Hanson. Even her personal appeal is a double-edged sword; after all, her former cohorts hate her in a way you can only hate someone you once loved, and who let you down.
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There are times when Hoodwinked really does nail its subject — see the following from Hanson’s profile re-building exercise in the lead-up the 2016 election, where Walsh perfectly sums up the practised and deliberate ignorance and incuriosity that is Hanson’s greatest appeal to her base, and her greatest threat:
Hanson repeatedly and stubbornly refused to meet any moderate Muslims … She would not talk with any religious or academic Muslims about the peaceful religious teachings followed by nearly all their adherents, nor would she visit suburbs with high Muslim populations. This is Hanson’s shtick, her stealthy modus operandi. She cannot afford to be educated or swayed against her blind prejudices. Her disciples rely on her sticking to anger and voicing their indignation about the changing face of Australia. She is the ventriloquist who mimics their fears in her strained and cross voice. Giving oxygen to countervailing facts or argument would only dilute her message.
The prose is brassy and tabloid, which can be good fun — see the description of One Nation co-founder David Oldfield as having the arrogance of the whole Australian cricket team, and the stupidity of Steven Smith — even when it’s stretching a conceit well beyond it’s breaking point.
But it’s this tabloid mindset, combined with the depthless, open loathing for Hanson that delivers Hoodwinked a wound from which it simply can’t recover. The book dedicates a page to the truly odious publication of naked pictures, supposedly of a young Hanson, by the Sunday Telegraph in 2009. The episode is treated as a bit of fun, titillating he-said she-said, a “red-hot yarn”, rather than what it was: a vile, gratuitous humiliation to which no one should be subjected, but which has a particularly grotesque tang when aimed at a woman in politics.
That the paper (rightly) had to issue a groveling apology is glossed over, as if it was simply the result of Hanson’s tendency to lawfare, rather than the universal condemnation the Tele received and the fact that the pictures were fakes. One imagines that, had something similar happened to Julia Gillard or Julie Bishop, Walsh would not say that they continued to “bleat … bleat and bleat” about it.
So when, a few pages later, Walsh savages Hanson for her inconsistent and callous approach to domestic violence, the book starts to resemble its subject: less interested in consistency or coherence, and happy to say anything to score against its opponent, however cheap and hollow that victory might be.