The Political Resurrection of One Nation – the 2016 Federal Election

At the 2016 Federal election One Nation experienced a political resurrection of the first order with the election of four of its candidates to the Australian Senate – including Hanson herself.  In Tasmania, the One Nation candidate failed to claim a fifth Senator by only 141 votes.  The election of that candidate would have given One Nation party status in the Senate with additional staffing resources and other benefits for the party.

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Terry Milligan, Portrait of Pauline, 1999 

Pauline Hanson, the Ipswich fish and chip shop proprietor, was first elected to Parliament in 1996. As a dis-endorsed Liberal Party candidate, she was elected to the House of Representatives as an independent and only survived for one term after much public controversy. But One Nation was successful in electing, Len Harris, to the Senate (Queensland), who severed for a full six year term before losing at the 2004 Federal elections.  In that same period One Nation also shot to glory in the Queensland parliament with 11 members before facing the ignominy of numerous resignations of its members and the eventual loss of its remaining seats in that Parliament.

In spite of many attempts at elections, One Nation had no representation in any parliament from that time until 2016.  What caused this political resurrection of One Nation back into the Federal parliament?

One Nation Policies

One Nation’s policies are a grab-bag of populist measures. Perhaps most colorfully, these include banning Australian companies and businesses from paying the ‘Halal certification tax’ on food and banning the burqa and any other full face coverings in public.  One Nation also proposed the holding of an inquiry into Islam to determine whether it is a religion or totalitarian political ideology.

One Nation also supports a zero net immigration policy where those who leave Australia are replaced with immigrants who are ‘culturally cohesive’ with Australia and will ‘assimilate’.  One Nation also opposes ‘full foreign ownership’ of Australian land and assets.  Another One Nation policy is a review and revocation of any Free Trade Agreements that are not in Australia’s best interests.

One Nation also supports citizen initiated referenda and ‘responsible gun ownership, as well as a referendum on same sex marriage.

With this combination, Hanson and One Nation have obviously appealed to a significant segment of the Australian community: One Nation’s message and policies were relevant by those who supported and voted for the party.  Some are small business owners with concerns about foreign ownership free trade agreements and globalisation.  Others are concerned about immigration issues and halal certification of their products.

For some voters, One Nation served as a very convenient vehicle of protest against the major parties in an election that came very close to giving Australia its second hung parliament in six years.

Additionally, One Nation will also serve as a voice in the Senate for other far right parties, such as for example, the Australian Liberty Alliance party who also have similar policies on such issues as Halal certification and Islamism.

But has One Nation learnt from its past mistakes?

In the lead up to 1998 elections, One Nation’s selection of candidates was chaotic say the least. Candidates were often selected with very little enquiry by Hanson or anybody else in the party as to their suitability as a candidate.  In addition Hanson was strongly influenced by ‘the two Davids’ (Oldfield and Ettridge), by 2016 the two Davids were long gone.

By comparison, in the 2016 election campaign candidate selection seemed to be much more stringent.  Candidates were required to disclose previous party membership and state why they wanted to be a candidate for One Nation.  They also had to provide some background information about themselves but surprisingly they were not required to advise One Nation that if they had been selected, would there be anything in their previous history that if known will could cause the one nation party some embarrassment.

Significantly, much media attention has already been given to the One Nation Senator from WA and the second One Nation Senator from Queensland.  The WA Senator has some criminal charges hanging over him.  The second Queensland Senator has a very controversial background and some radical ideas in the area of climate change.

A major problem for One Nation is having to contend with the tag of being bigoted and racist.  In that light, the Senators’ first speeches in the Senate, as they are listened to in silence with no interjections, will be ideal opportunity for the Senators between them to spell out precisely what One Nation stands for and as a party how they are going to tackle the problem areas in modern Australia.

What of the future?

Will the One Nation Senators serve for three year or six year terms?  Following discussions between the two major parties, both parties agreed the ‘order of senators elected’ method, will be used to decide that question.  Hanson as third senator elected for Queensland will serve a six year term, the other three One Nation Senators being elected in either 11th or 12th position will serve for three years before facing re-election.

One Nation received $1.6 mil from AEC in election funding, that funding will put onto a sound footing, the party’s finances for the next federal election.  Therefore finance should not be a crippling problem for the party.

The challenge for Hanson will be to keep One Nation united as a party in the Senate and not have mass resignations as was seen in the Palmer United Party and indeed in One Nation in the Queensland Parliament in the late 1990s.  This time around Hanson has the experience of the past strongly on her side.

After a wipe out from parliament some years back, in 2016 One Nation with an election of six candidates to the Senate has experienced a very significant political resurrection.  In doing so the party has achieved something that both the DLP and the Australian Democrats were never able to do.  One Nation did that in 2016 by presenting what were relevant policies in the eyes of their members and supporters.

Tom King is a PhD Candidate at the Australian National University