FOR someone who’s had years to get her story straight — if, that is, she was ever serious about solving problems she whips up fear and discord around — the agenda Pauline Hanson has unveiled to fix Australia’s alleged ills is a garbled mishmash of contradictory, populist thought bubbles that would do untold damage to this country. It underlines the fact that on matters of consequence, One Nation is just mad, bad, and downright dangerous.
Today’s article deals with a subject — Pauline Hanson — that is a perennial headache, an enigma, and a national embarrassment sprinkled with tiny kernels of justification; that said, the position of this column is (and always will be) that Hanson and her One Nation party, which attracts extremists, nutcases and ordinary folk who are fed up with mainstream politics in equal measure, must be neutralised and defeated at all costs.
Regular readers know that one of the central criticisms I have levelled at Hanson (who I know personally) is that she has always been adept at identifying “problems” — Aborigines, Asians, Muslims, single mothers, dole bludgers — but when it comes to offering “solutions,” Hanson has traditionally had nothing meaningful to say.
I have read the rather generous profile piece being run in the state-based Murdoch mastheads today (and one in The Australian, too), in which Hanson outlines a manifesto (for want of a more suitable term) to “fix” Australia that — to be completely blunt — is a recipe for laying waste to it rather than rendering any remotely beneficial change.
Perhaps we should have been content to let her rail on about “problems,” and forget about seeking the “solutions” that might have spared her the criticism of being just another empty-handed troublemaker, content to foment paranoia and discord, whilst selling little more than snake oil and baseless prejudice.
Either way, the onus is now on the major parties — and the Liberal Party in particular — to systematically dismantle Hanson’s program and to show, unequivocally, that far from saving Australia it would, in fact, virtually destroy it.
Before we get started, I should remind readers that this column did in fact call for the Queensland LNP to strike a preference deal with One Nation for the looming state election (see here and here); whilst I stand by that call, it should be in no way construed or misrepresented as an endorsement.
Whether you like it or not, a disproportionate number of Coalition votes are fuelling the rise of One Nation, in the same way a disproportionate number of Labor votes fuelled the growth of the
Communist Party Greens; whilst One Nation is a very different creature to the Liberal Party, the two are closer than One Nation is to the ALP, in the way Labor and the Greens are similarly closer than the Greens to the Liberals. It is high time the Coalition focused on discrediting the relationship between Labor and the Greens, ensuring as many One Nation votes as possible return to it on preferences, instead of self-immolating over the issue and becoming paralysed by inertia as a consequence.
But let’s be fair: Pauline Hanson has apparently done as this column has demanded, for the first time in almost 20 years of milking votes and electoral funding from a brazen dog whistle to every redneck idiot in the country, and put some policies on the table.
Let’s see how they stack up.
The 2% EzyTax proposal she apparently pins her economic credibility on is a stinker that has been doing the rounds of those looking for something jingoistic and idiot-simple to flaunt as “tax reform” for decades; I’ve seen it surface, for example, at the fringes of the Liberal Party repeatedly during 27 years as a member.
This silly notion — that literally every transaction of money should attract a 2% tax impost — may or may not lead to a zero-sum equation where total government revenue is concerned, or even yield more revenue; I’m not an economist and even if I was, I don’t have access to the kind of modelling that would provide a ready answer.
But some of the consequences are so blindingly obvious that anyone with a skerrick of understanding of economics — which Ms Hanson and her cohorts clearly do not possess — could foresee them.
In the short term, the effect of this policy would be to convey the appearance to consumers that their disposable incomes had rocketed; after all, income tax would fall to 2%, and GST would be abolished.
This would fuel a boom in imports and a steep hike in the inflation rate, as consumption ballooned; as consequent price growth accelerated to facilitate profit growth, wages would follow suit, locking in the kind of prices-wages spiral that afflicted the Australian economy during the Whitlam years and arguably took a decade to unpick.
In turn, this would leave the Reserve Bank with no choice but to start moving official interest rates steeply higher in a desperate attempt to choke the life out of an unsustainable price-wage-consumption bubble; and the effect of that would be to trigger a vicious contraction in the property market — perhaps inducing a recession — which would see potentially hundreds of thousands of jobs (to say nothing of the hard-earned wealth of Australian workers) lost.
Higher interest rates would also send the Australian dollar sharply higher, again mitigating against economic growth, this time by making Australian exports much more expensive.
Eventually, the adjustment — one way or the other — would be carried through.
But the permanent effects of this policy would be to devalue the savings of the ordinary people Hanson claims to want to help: every time they took money out of the bank, 2% would be added to the withdrawal; every time they deposited money, 2% of it would disappear. Whilst I support GST being extended to everything except healthcare, education, retail banking and housing, it is a paradox that most of those cheering Ms Hanson on are typically opposed to these basic services (and food) being taxed: under her policy, they would be.
With GST abolished, 2% EzyTax would make the states more reliant on Commonwealth handouts, not less, which in turn would make Commonwealth-state relations even more confrontational, and render the two tiers of government more inclined to playing each other off for partisan gain than they already are.
And all of this is merely represents the most obvious adverse effects of 2% EzyTax. There are bound to be countless others. Is this the kind of tax policy a modern, advanced, first-world economy should countenance? I suggest the answer, resoundingly, is “no.”
For a politician purporting to want to roll back the role of the state, Hanson offers other policies that are oxymoronic, to say the least.
She wants couples to be forced to lodge pre-nuptial agreements with the Family Court before they can marry: a ridiculous, unjustifiable imposition that in any case will cause the marriage rate to drop like a stone, in turn fuelling even greater burdens to befall the Court and the welfare system as de facto relationships are easier for people to walk away from, leading to a potential spike in single parent payments, protracted family law litigation, and the like.
(Speaking of children, these agreements are supposed to cover, in advance, arrangements for managing children that result from marriages. Just shake your head and invest in a pack of tarot cards: the reading will have as much chance as any other mechanism of getting that particular piece of silliness right).
She would unapologetically mire Australia in a reputation for sovereign risk, forcing foreign companies who have bought infrastructure assets into compulsory divestiture; it is unknown what Ms Hanson proposes to pay these companies to acquire them, but it’s a fair bet it would be a discount to their fair market value — compounding the dreadful reputation as a place to do business she openly advocates shackling Australia with.
In any case, government debt — another Hanson priority — would need to blow out exponentially in order to fund an acquisition program that would likely run to trillions of dollars.
With no sense of irony, Hanson claims she would offer a taxpayer-funded program to get young Australians into apprenticeships, apparently ignorant of the fact such schemes have existed for many years.
There is no detail offered around the notion of offering manufacturers tax incentives “to create Aussie jobs (sic),” but I would note that a) jobs presently filled by immigrants on 457 visas are typically jobs that others refuse to take, and that more to the point, b) the deleterious effects of Ms Hanson’s broader economic “vision” are likely to be so dire as to substantially reduce the base of potential employers in the first place.
Hanson says she would cull the number of politicians in Australia. How? As “Prime Minister” she would have no jurisdiction over state or local governments, and there isn’t a syllable in her announcement advocating, say, the removal of state governments and a streamlined two-tier system of governance.
Readers know I have advocated a referendum to abolish the “nexus” imposed by S24 of the Constitution (which dictates the House of Representatives be roughly double the size of the Senate) in order to reduce the number of Senators and increase the number of electorates in the lower house to enable better representation of a growing population, but this kind of complex argument appears beyond the capacity and/or inclination of Ms Hanson and her cohorts to attempt.
In other words, any move to implement this one-liner of populist nonsense is likely to bog down in constitutional litigation, a constitutional crisis, or both.
Limiting immigration is a classic calling card of far-Right entities appealing to base prejudices on the fringe of the electorate that raise more problems than they solve. With an ageing population (and fewer people to pay the taxes that support government expenditure), Australia relies on its immigration program for its viability. We do not have the critical mass of the 320 million people of the United States, or even of the 65 million people in the United Kingdom, but we do have a population that is rapidly becoming top-heavy with old people. A more credible proposal would be to alter the immigration mix to achieve a heavier emphasis on skills and less emphasis on family reunion, but even this straightforward distinction appears to be too much for Hanson and her party to draw.
And of course — as a token sop to racists (yes, racists) — full head coverings (read: the burqa or niqab) would be banned. I don’t like the sight of people covered from head to toe either. But this pledge, rather than ranking well down the pecking order of One Nation’s priorities, is in fact a headline act near the very top of the bill.
Ms Hanson wants a Royal Commission to determine whether “Islam” is a political ideology or a religion; this half-arsed suggestion is perhaps the greatest attempt to hoodwink the gullible and the stupid in this country in some time.
It fails to draw the distinction between militant, radical Islam (which aims to destroy the liberal democratic societies of the West) and more moderate, orthodox strains of Muslim doctrine (whose adherents don’t want to hurt anyone, and simply want to be left alone). Yet once again, the idiot-simple appeal to bigoted lunatics appears to hold more sway at One Nation than any attempt to prosecute a nuanced, finely argued case, separating extreme elements from the harmless, and coming up with constructive ways to deal with the former whilst leaving the latter well enough alone.
Hanson says she would introduce an identity card to end welfare fraud: not to stamp out identity fraud, which costs Australia billions of dollars per year, but to single out welfare recipients and to brand them all as bludgers and criminals who are on the take. In practical terms, this means those doing the wrong thing will simply have more hoops to jump through to get their welfare cheques (and as surely as night follows day, they will be prepared to jump through them).
There are indeed those who are rorting the welfare system to the cost of both working Australians and of those genuinely needy people who can’t help themselves, who might get more assistance if the Commonwealth wasn’t also supporting the indolent and the unmotivated. But this measure will not make a shred of difference (aside from adding to compliance costs) and, as I said, the real scourge of identity fraud would be relegated to an afterthought.
Apparently, One Nation wants to build more dams, railways, and ports. With what? After its compulsory asset acquisition program bankrupts the federal government, and sources of private sector capital flee Australia in panic, there won’t be any need for railways and ports because the country’s trade relationships will have been destroyed.
As for dams, which I support, good luck with that. After all, if One Nation can’t make a sensible case for anything else Hanson says it is advocating, there is no foreseeable way it can engage the Greens in a fight over damming rivers and come out on top.
On and on it goes; we could be here all day, if the blowtorch was applied to every aspect of this mad, bad, dangerous “vision” for Australia’s future, which in any case is nothing more than a step-by-step recipe to destroy the country Ms Hanson claims she wants to “save.”
Her adherents will lash out at my remarks, claiming they are just a manifestation of the “panic” sweeping major parties that are scared of her; I simply say that the points I have made are merely the tip of the iceberg in any concerted, rational, fact-based smackdown of an agenda that is lunatic in nature and a guaranteed way to wreck anything in its path.
And of course, the articles I’ve linked from the press today contain a healthy dose of the victim mentality on which Ms Hanson invariably trades; she’s had knockdowns. She’s been in prison. They haven’t beaten her. She’s got up again. They can throw everything at her. Blah, blah, blah. The irony is that nobody has ever really subjected Ms Hanson to the full force of a frontal assault over everything she stands for because until now, there has rarely (if ever) been a package of “solutions” put forward by her to take aim at.
Now, however, she has presented a much bigger target for her opponents to attack, and attack it they must: for these ideas are nothing short of ridiculous, and constitute a very dangerous delusion indeed about how this country works — and how the issues that face it can be managed.
It is true that Australia has problems, and readers have seen me repeatedly advocate a program for moderate, mainstream conservative solutions that would be difficult enough for a proper conservative government to implement in the face of irresponsible populism and blather from the likes of Bill Shorten and Labor, but which in any case are vastly more realistic and practicable than anything included in Pauline Hanson’s plan.
I have said before and will say again that Hanson herself isn’t a bad person; I genuinely think she means well. But she is very limited in both her ability to grasp critical issues and comprehend the ramifications of what she proposes, and whether she likes it or not, her voice — and the message of One Nation — are forces of destruction and conflict, rather than agents of anything positive or useful.
The agenda she has unveiled is nothing more than a garbled mishmash of contradictory, populist thought bubbles that would inflict great damage on Australia’s institutions of governance, its economy, its standing in the world, and on Australian society itself.
Hanson has had decades to get her story straight, and if this is the best she can come up with, perhaps it would be better for all concerned if she slunk off into retirement like so many people of her age are doing.
Certainly, the very supporters looking to anyone who will listen to them would be best served if she and her party simply disappeared. It is just one more irony among many that her own supporters stand to be the hardest hit by the policies she now says she will pursue if ever (God forbid) she is elected to a position from which to implement them.
In the final analysis, One Nation is just mad: the Hanson announcement this weekend sounds a clarion call to all parties to tackle this menace once and for all, and to drive from Australian politics a scourge that has been permitted to fester and ensconce itself as a legitimate offering for far too long.