Retrospective Hansonism

Covering Pauline Hanson’s 1998 election campaign revolutionised my perspective of politics and journalism, and the Webdiary is a product of that experience. By the end of it, I saw the phenomenon as a scream by Australians locked out of the public discourse who felt powerless and betrayed.

Since then, an extraordinary transformation has taken place in Australian politics. Back in 1998, in a bitter and emotional Canberra press conference just before the Queensland poll which made her a star, Hanson delivered her immigration policy. She wanted five year temporary visas for refugees and she wanted to send the boats back and wave goodbye. Every political party abhorred these policies, with Phillip Ruddock being particularly vehement.

Less than three years later, the Coalition has implemented three-year temporary visas for refugee boat people and turned back boats, with it’s first legislative attempt to cement the turn-back policy, the border protection bill in its original form, allowing government to actually bomb the boats. Today, for the first time, Labor, Coalition and One Nation Senators crowded together on the “yes” side of the Senate chamber, when they voted seven revolutionary migration bills into law without consultation, committee hearings and after imposing a guillotine to prevent debate on amendments.

On the other side the Democrats, the Greens and Brian Harradine represented the new oppressed minority in Australia.

I’ll never forget phoning Ruddock when in 1999 he announced the three-year temporary visa policy in response to Iraqis taking to boats. I said, in disbelief, “But that’s Pauline Hanson’s policy”, and quoted his words of condemnation less than two years before. His defence was that, unlike the Cambodian boat people- who were often economic refugees and were sent sent home, most of the Iraqis WERE refugees, so he had to deter them.

One interesting question arising from this decisive shift in Australia’s self-definition and core values is what will the new oppressed minority do? How will they register their scream of protest at their effective disenfranchisement?

Personally, I have changed my mind on compulsory preferential voting federally, and now believe that optional preferential voting is a must. This issue explores this question, among others.

The Tampa crisis and its aftermath has been an extraordinary time for the Webdiary. Before the story broke, readership had settled at about 9,000 unique visitors a month. An unprecedented surge when Tampa broke saw readership soar to 23,000 in August, and the introduction of a strong Norwegian readership to the usual mix of Australians at home and abroad. The conversation between Australians and Norwegians on the Webdiary was the most exciting aspect of this story for me. So far this month, with the New York bombing, readership is 35,000 so far for September, and Americans have joined the Webdiary conversation. And in a surprise for me the Tampa debate did not fall away, but became intertwined with the terrorist debate.

The increase in emails caught me short, and I am still working out how to present the Webdiary in this new environment without overloading readers. I have also been forced to make value judgments about what I will and won’t publish. I also plan to run emails which best express a particular point of view to avoid repetition, and to try to keep to one issue a day. (Another war issue tomorrow). When the news settles down – whenever that is – I’ll formulate the editorial principles I’ve created on the run and publish them on the Webdiary. New readers will find the charter for the Webdiary in the entry “What’s the point?”

Some months ago, Webdiarists debated our plans to redesign the Webdiary. Those plans collapsed when we took a 25 percent budget cut in June. After the election, we hope to make incremental design changes over time to make the Webdiary easier for you to navigate and easier for me to produce.

For Melbourne pro-boat people readers, the city’s arts community will present “The Big Sing” at Melbourne Town Hall on October 14 at 2pm. The press statement says: “The Big Sing is a concert – epic in scale – featuring more than 250 singers and musicians drawn from many of Melbourne’s finest choirs, performing music composed in the 18th to 21st centuries, drawn from all over the World. The music celebrates the richness and strength of Melbourne’s culturally diverse Artistic Community, and affirms the Artistic Community’s concern and support for refugees who have found haven in Australia, as well as those who continue to seek refuge here.”


1. One liners

2. Greg Weilo celebrates the demise of the left but wonders what left/right means these days.

3. Dell Horey, Donald Brook, Charles Richards, Alan Kerns and Jim Tsihlis on the implications of the new refugee politics.

4. ‘Derek’ defends the new policy.

5. Roger Franklin in New York has a spray at me and Webdiary.


Trevor Foster: How ironic: Heartless Howard claims ‘Beazley has no ticker’. Unfortunately for the whole country he is so right on this one.


Greg Weilo wrote to me a few days ago: “I suspect that it won’t be long before your side of politics starts telling everybody to ignore “international opinion”. It looks like the days of left wing extremists are numbered, but you have had a good run over the past 40 or 50 years, so you shouldn’t be too upset.”

I had already published an anti-war piece by Greg, and replied: “Hey Greg, I thought you were on the left on the war!”

This is his response.

Greg Weilo in Adelaide

Please let me explain. These left/right labels tend to get people confused, and this will probably occur more frequently in future. I prefer not to use these labels because of this confusion, but if people insist then I loosely classify myself as left-wing on economic issues and right-wing on social issues, according to the historical definitions.

In other words, I am a nationalist and diametrically opposed to the prevailing political establishment. In contemporary Australian politics, both Liberal and Labor are right-wing on economic issues: free trade, economic rationalism, globalisation, corporate welfare, exploitation of the third world countries. My beliefs on these issues are closer to the anti-globalisation protesters. Does that make me left-wing?

Traditional Labor recognised that importing cheap labour reduced living conditions for union members, and they were opposed to mass immigration. I would have been a hard core ALP voter up until the mid 1950s, if I was alive then. Does that make me left-wing?

Both Labor and Liberal are also socially left-wing, despite the media-driven outrage at Howard’s token effort to tighten up the illegal immigration laws. I agree that Howard is only making changes for the short term electoral benefit. In reality he is only shifting the deckchairs on the Titanic with regards to immigration policy, and his so-called “draconian” laws will have little real impact.

Remember how the media classified those “evil” 3-year protection visas as “draconian” policy? Well it seems that the illegal immigrants disagreed, as they continue to come in increasing numbers. The new laws will not stop the illegal immigrants either. They will not even slow them down, I’m certain of that.

Anyway, both Labor and Liberal are pro-homosexual, pro-abortion, pro-immigration, pro-feminist, and pro-multiculturalist. In any historical context, they are both far left-wing on social policies. Any social policy differences are minor, and exaggerated by the media.

Almost all journalists in Big Media seem to be socially left-wing. Some “left-wingers” seem to sit on the fence on right-wing economic policies. Maybe this is to please their bosses; media moguls and their henchmen (aka editors). Maybe the silence on right-wing economic policies is the price paid to achieve left-wing social policies (the ends justify the means?).

The media outrage over Howard’s immigration laws indicates a broken unwritten agreement. Journalists are just not used to any opposition on their social policies – they have previously achieved whatever they demanded.

The contemporary ALP just uses mass migration as an extrapolation of their ethnic branch stacking activities, taken to the national level. The ALP has recognised that most of their support base is on a low income, so they keep as many people as possible living in poverty to maintain their constituency. They are motivated by power.

The Liberals want free trade on labour to increase the bottom line corporate profits on their share portfolios. They are motivated by greed.

If it really comes to the crunch, I believe social issues take precedence over economic issues. As an example, I don’t especially like the GST, but ultimately it is just an accounting issue that can be easily reversed. On the other hand, multiculturalism strikes at the heart of our national identity and social cohesion, and policy mistakes in this area are extremely difficult to resolve without bloodshed. Multiculturalism is a self evident failure, as has been proven all over the world throughout history.

I only need to mention places like Yugoslavia, Israel, Fiji, Aceh, India/Pakistan (especially prior to separation), Sri Lanka, Rwanda, Congo, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Ireland. Race riots are also now on the increase in Britain, Europe & the US. Australia will soon join this club.

Multiculturalism doesn’t work, it never has, and it never will. Every time there is a conflict anywhere in the world, there will be some tribes in Australia that will want to make an issue of it here. The current religious/racial conflict with Muslims in Australia would not be occurring if there were no Muslims here.

That doesn’t mean that I “hate” Muslims either. They deserve their own homeland, with the freedom to determine their own destiny, without interference from the UN or the USA or anybody else. If the US and UN left these people alone, and were not applying economic sanctions every 5 minutes, they would not need to leave their own countries and come to Australia.

In fact, one of the best quotes on multiculturalism comes from a black Muslim, fully revered by Big Media: “Bluebirds like to be together, eagles hang out with eagles, sparrows stick with sparrows, buzzards go with buzzards. They’re all birds, but they go with their own. It is against God’s law to integrate. It’s only nature, not hatred, to keep people among their own kind. A man has to be a fool to want to live in any other culture but his own.” – Muhammad Ali.

Do my opinions on social issues make me a right-winger?

Hopefully all of the above explains why I have mixed opinions on the war. I have sympathy for the innocent victims who were murdered, and I can understand the motivation for revenge by the American people. At the same time, I believe that the attack was provoked by the foreign policy of their own hypocritical government (and its predecessors).

The trouble is, most Americans don’t even know what their government’s foreign policy is, and most of them wouldn’t care what it was if they did know. Even if they did care, there is not much that they could do about it – both Republicans and Democrats have similar foreign policies.

The main problem is that the “terrorists” chose the wrong targets, and they killed the innocent instead of the guilty. The Western world now looks like it will repeat the error in response.

Journalists have a tendency to over-simplify complex issues, and to complicate the simple issues. The media is always telling me that my views are motivated by “hate” or “racism”, but I know that that’s not true. If more journalists went into receive mode more often, rather than being permanently stuck in transmit, they would understand, even if they still did not agree.

I’m not holding out much hope for this. Most Big Media journalists hate uncensored public feedback. It’s “populist”, only encouraged by the despised “shock jocks”. Webdiary shows some promise, as it sometimes allows some token protests from people like me, but most of the published feedback is from the mutual admiration club of (small “L”) liberals.

I’m not complaining, any chance to explain an opposing view can only help calm an escalating conflict, but I do wonder why 77% of Webdiary feedback isn’t in favour of better immigration laws.

I suppose that it must be very disconcerting, after years of accusing others of being extremists, to realise that the real extremist is oneself.


Dell Horey

A couple of years ago I saw a Brecht play, “Measures Taken” at Newcastle University. Four undercover agents in China were working to politicise the workers, to get them to revolt against their exploitation. One of the four stopped to help one man who was pulling a barge up a river in atrocious conditions. In doing so, he put the whole campaign in jeopardy and risked exposing all of them.

It seems to me that Beazley and the ALP are facing the dilemma that Brecht so clearly exposed. Do you sacrifice everything to offer support for a few – when even that support is unlikely to help in the long run? A classic situation for a democratic socialist party.

I think that the hardest path for Beazley to take is the one that he has chosen. It it is probably one he has taken lightly – he is an intelligent man and knows his history. He could easily win the “moral hero” badge by taking a “principled” stand and go down in history as a failed Opposition leader who was beaten by someone willing to play the race card for all it is worth. He would win loads of accolades for himself from those who are critical now, but at what cost? Choosing to play Howard’s game would not only rip the ALP apart but it would do the same for Australia.

It could be that the people who currently feel threatened by the thought of refugees “flooding” into the country would be placated by the words of one man or one political party in the three weeks before a Federal election, and that the PM and his side-kicks would refuse to feed the fear that is almost palpable in the community, but I doubt it. There is some evidence that some people are reconsidering their views but it is a mere trickle – what magic words would get people to listen?


I don’t believe that we in any sort of climate that will enable a rational debate about migration in Australia. Mosques have been burnt down, buses have been stoned, Islamic schoolgirls have been out off trams, women have been spat and abused. I want our leaders to claim things down, to defuse the situation. It is the only responsible thing to do.

People are not listening to rational argument, they feel that they are being denigrated in some way, and if we want them to start listening to us, we have to listen to what they are saying and do something to address their fears, no matter how irrational they may be.


The refugees must be made safe (and those on the Tampa are now out of danger) but it would not be safe for them if a race election was held in Australia in the next few months. There is plenty of evidence to support the proposition that Howard is prepared to notch up the rhetoric. I think that Beazley has done what he had to do.

Can you paint the scenario post the rejection of the legislation in the Senate? I have been appalled at the things that I have heard people prepared to say on radio talkback. Overcoming the fear in the community needs a long-term solution and it is not going to happen in the next few weeks. We need to the debate in safe terms – it should be about population, about the detention centres (their cost), our overseas aid programs and about the contribution that migrants and refugees have already given to Australia.

Donald Brook

In these remarks I mean by ‘we’ mainly those lifetime Labor voters who are appalled at the prospect of the upcoming Liberal/Labor coalition. Depending on our age, we began by believing that the Labor party would transform the world. We moved reluctantly toward the opinion that Labor was, at least arguably, the best option available. This gave way to the gloomy recognition that it was, when it came to the crunch, the lesser of the evils.

All around one hears ‘How shall we vote, now that we know it is not even that?’ I suggest that if we are to be politically realistic we need to know how many of us there are. Do we have any political clout at all, or should we turn to the cultivation of our gardens?

The only way to find out is for every last one of us, by deliberately advertised strategy, to vote Green. If there are only a few of us this will make no difference. If there are a lot of us it will not make the difference that the Greens will for government. But what it will do is show by the numbers that there we do have significant voice, and might even begin to think seriously again about political engagement.

Charles Richards

In disgust in the recent ALP support for the government’s line on refugee policy and Kim Beazley’s constant weak leadership and unwillingness to put up a alternative to the Howard government, I have decided to stop supporting the ALP and switch to the Greens. I have also decided to join my local Brunswick Green branch.

In these days of very right wing politics and constant pandering to One Nation by Howard and Beazley, someone like myself – who would been regarded as centrist a few years ago – is now regarded a raving left winger.

Alan Kerns in Cairns, Queensland

Does not the litany of parliamentary malpractice described in your first paragraph in An impotent parliament sound rather like fascism? Can the behaviour of the major Parties be surprising in the light of their successful anti-democratic conspiracy in Tasmania in 1998, the Parliamentary Reform Act, whose sole purpose was to exclude the fairly large minor party, the Tasmanian Greens, from representation in Parliament?


The major parties are dedicated to holding the reins of power, not to democracy, not to representing the diverse range of interests in our society. The irony is that even when they hold the reins of power, they dare not stray beyond the narrow path that the selfish powers-that-be will tolerate. To do so would amount to electoral suicide because the mass media, largely owned by the selfish powers-that-be, would attack them like a pack of monstrous dogs.

Andrew Murray’s lament about our anti-democratic political system was touching. If he and his Party want to do something about it, why dont they put proportional representation at the forefront of their platform, rather than keep it buried in the fine print and hardly ever mentioned?

Hare-Clark does not go far enough. The rationale of exclusively geographic electorates has to be challenged – such electorates exclude many important minority interests from ever being represented in parliament. Just think, we have more than 12 million voters. 0.5% of 12 million is 60,000 voters. Is there any good reason why an interest group of 60,000 voters across the nation should not have the right to direct representation in a national parliament?

Why do members of parliament support something they personal oppose on moral grounds? Because they will be politically dead meat if they don’t. The reality is that almost all Party politicians serve their Party (or else!) and their Party serves the powers-that-be (or else!). Integrity is in hiding because it knows that if it shows its head, its head will be kicked in. This ain’t democracy!

Any chance of other correspondents contributing their ideas on this issue which is perhaps the most important of all issues – that we are governed by a system which is effectively under the control of selfish minority interests who see the common good as a threat?

Jim Tsihlis

I must say, you sound very tired and defeated in the Webdiary these days, but don’t give up on it. The commentary that goes on here has completely fixated me ever since the Tampa sailed into view! I love to see the differences between the participants, their slants, their angles, the stereotypes they have about each other (I must admit at being very disappointed at not seeing “trendy inner city type” and “Aussie Battler” as boxes I could have ticked in the recent Census!).

I just wanted to say how much I love the irony that in the year that we commemorate the centenary of Federation the Federal Parliament is considering legislation as introspective and discriminatory as the first piece of legislation passed by the Federal Parliament in 1901, the White Australia legislation.

After all it was one of the flaunted ambitions of Federalists of the time to achieve a restrictive migration policy, in fact it was put forward as one of the arguments in favour of Federation! It was also a very popular policy as well, and supported across the parties (strongly by the ALP to protect “white jobs”), just as this legislation is today.

How nice, indeed how quaint that literally nothing has changed in 100 years! Well after all, Federation-era houses are all the rage and now Federation-era legislation is vogue as well!

Actually I really believe it is all part of the Centenary celebrations! Do you think they will be making any T-Shirts about it?



Mandatory sentencing

Various writers have objected to minimum sentencing for people smugglers on the grounds of interference with the judiciary. This principle seems to be held up as axiomatic. But where does it really come from? An absolute truth of the universe? God? The constitution? Federal law? State law? The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights?

It seems somewhat arbitrary that people are prepared to accept that parliament makes laws to determine what specific acts are illegal and to determine the maximum sentence where an illegal act has been performed, but not that parliament makes laws to determine the minimum sentence.

Our society should have an opinion on how minimum sentences are determined and perhaps the outcome of that debate should be in the constitution, but it isn’t!

For what it’s worth, the above mentioned Covenant provides a little substance for the debate by ruling out punishment that is “cruel, inhuman or degrading”. On those criteria I opine that minimum 3 years jail is eminently reasonable. And it’s certainly much more humane to place in detention a few people smugglers rather than their cargo by the hundreds.

And another thing. You wrote in An impotent parliament: “Indonesia has already noted that some of the young men who get the boats over here earn a pittance and have no idea they are doing anything illegal.”

Ignorance of the law is no defence and I’m sure you know that. But if the perpetrators really do not know it’s illegal, perhaps there is a case for Australia spending some money on education in Indonesia before the boats leave.

But here’s a thought experiment. An Australian navy boat (or coast guard boat if one is of the Labor persuasion) pulls along side a boat carrying illegal immigrants, half way between Australia and Indonesia. An officer informs the Indonesian crew in the Indonesian language that if they were to enter Australia, they would be committing a crime. Do you think the crew would turn back?

The process

You did, however, highlight a serious failing of our democracy viz. that a member of parliament would vote for something when s/he has clearly indicated disagreement with it. Labor has the worst record for promulgating this but the Libs are not averse to it.

In my radical interpretation this is already unconstitutional, but I would very much welcome its being made unambiguous. Whether this would necessitate secret voting in parliament is an open question.


J.R Franklin in New York

I’m asking you to make a logical leap.

Q: If the boat people had money and gambled it in an effort to gain an advantage over those who lacked it (that would be Afghans still waiting to be processed in the refugee camps, Margo), do they deserve to be rewarded?

A: Well ….(long silence)…. OK, let’s just leave this space blank, since you’ll no doubt want to fill it with the sophistries, jesuitical contortions, and evasions that seem to be your stock in trade.

Thanks for Webdiary, though. Whenever I need a reminder of how shoddy logic and shrill self-righteousness make poor substitutes for reason, your daily handiwork is but a mouse click away. Sitting here in New York, about four miles from where 6,000-odd bodies remain buried under the World Trade Center, I can do with a good laugh.

And that’s just what you gave me in the Web Diary edition that ran under the head Warmongering. I’d just returned from a memorial service for the father of one of my son’s Little League friends, a fireman killed as he tried to save innocent people downtown. Why did he have to die, my son asked? Why did two other kids who go to his school also lose a parent apiece?

All I had to do was show him Webdiary. It was “warmongering,” apparently, and all George Bush’s fault. My son also felt better when I told him the sound of sobbing at the memorial service was really America’s chickens coming home to roost, as so many of your favoured correspondents tirelessly remind us.

And thanks, too, for those audio snatches you include on the site. The one where you claim that a Tampa refugee was suffering from rabies is a gem. How’s he doing, by the way? Or did you just make it up, another example of the contempt in which you hold traditional journalism’s respect for truth?

Finally, even if I ignored everything else on Webdiary, that extended interview you did with the Canberra radio station would justify the effort required to log on. In reading Webdiary these past few weeks, I’ve wondered what sort of journalist – a word I use loosely in your case – would eschew any and all pretence at balance.

That Canberra interview answered my questions. After hearing you say, maybe half-a-dozen times, how you were “coming up” and “making a name” for yourself, it became clear that Webdiary isn’t about truth, or honest debate, or truth, or Australia, or politics. It’s all about Margo.

At least I now know the basis for your world view.

MARGO: Thanks for reading.

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