Pauline Hanson

Pauline Hanson has built a lucrative career on being a grubby troll, frequently with the help of commercial media who happily disseminate her appalling views while professing to abhor them.

In June, though, the racist anti-vaxxer went too far even for the Nine Network, which dumped her from its breakfast television show after she described public housing tenants in lockdown in Victoria as “drug addicts” and “alcoholics” who didn’t speak English and didn’t follow social distancing guidelines.

In July, according to a good get by Nine’s Rob Harris today, she decided to go further and troll the people she’d smeared, sending them stubby holders accompanied by a note “No Hard Feelings”, as if she was the one who’d been offended and abused.

Complaining that people are alcoholics but then sending them a beer holder is classic trolling, particularly when you know perfectly well that many residents of the affected buildings are Muslims.

Because the buildings were in lockdown, Australia Post delivered the addressed items from Hanson to Melbourne city council officers who were overseeing the lockdown and delivery of goods to the residents. As Harris details, after discovering the contents of the Hanson letters, they decided not to distribute them, eliciting legal threats from Australia Post.

Harris links it to the possibility that federal Labor might seek to disallow Senate regulations which allowed Australia Post to reduce service frequency, meaning Australia Post and the government would need One Nation support in the Senate.

Australia Post prefers to frame it as an issue of its obligation to make sure all mail is delivered. Usually it can do that because it controls deliveries; in this case it didn’t.

There’s a pretty fundamental point here: the postal service is a network that should operate regardless of the content that is distributed across it. Unless the goods are dangerous, the network operator doesn’t decide what does and doesn’t get delivered. Offensive material gets posted and delivered all the time. In this case, another public institution, a local council, has intervened to decide something shouldn’t be delivered.

From the council’s point of view, distributing material intended to troll and offend the residents of the locked-down blocks was probably not conducive to public order. Quite possibly council officers were correct, especially after consulting with police, as Harris reports they did.

But ultimately the decision was a paternalistic and patronising one, made on behalf of people who’d already been infantilised and singled out by government.

Maybe there’s a more fundamental point, which is that political parties and politicians routinely use communications networks to bombard people with unwanted material — junk mail, robo-calls, online and media ads.

All generously paid for by taxpayers, and all exempted from basic consumer protections like privacy laws, laws against misleading advertising or Do Not Call restrictions. There’s a pretty good case for applying all three of those protections to political parties, as well as cutting off taxpayer funding for distribution of electoral material.

That won’t do much for Australia Post’s bottom line, however. The postal service loses huge amounts of money on letter delivery services now (as its effort to reduce frequency shows), but delivery of junk mail continues to be a strong source of income — though not as much as parcel delivery, which generates tens of millions in profit for the company and probably much more so in 2020 than in previous years.

A precedent where delivery of junk mail could be blocked on taste grounds would not be a happy one for Australia Post. And it doesn’t get more junk than the garbage issuing from One Nation.

Peter Fray

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