Political Firebrand Loses Australian Election

Political firebrand loses Australian election
The Associated Press
Published: March 22, 2009

CANBERRA, Australia: Far-right former lawmaker Pauline Hanson on Sunday declined to rule out trying again to re-enter politics despite suffering her sixth straight election defeat.

Hanson was once one of the best-known Australians overseas after bursting onto the political scene in the 1990s with an anti-immigration, anti-welfare agenda that split her country.

But a series of scandals, a jail term for fraud and, most recently, a high-profile row over fake nude photos accompanied an ugly fall from grace.

Hanson resoundingly lost her bid to win a seat as an independent in the parliament of her home state of Queensland in elections Saturday. Before the vote, she had vowed to quit politics for good if she lost. On Sunday, she demurred.

“Look, I don't know,” she said when asked by a reporter if she would run again for office. “I really need to sit down and think about this.”

Hanson, 54, first came to national attention in 1996 when the mainstream Liberal Party dumped her as a candidate weeks from federal elections for demanding an end to special welfare benefits for indigenous Aborigines.

She was accused in the media of racism but went on to win a parliamentary seat as an independent.

She then caused an international furor with her first speech to Parliament, when she warned that Australia was “in danger of being swamped by Asians.”

Ridiculed as a bumbling novice, the flame-haired single mother of four founded the One Nation party, which stunned the establishment by winning 11 seats in the 89-member Queensland parliament in 1998.

The racist tag stuck, and her public speeches attracted heated protest rallies rarely seen in modern Australian politics. She maintains she is not a racist.

Her heyday was short-lived. Condemned by both sides of politics, Hanson was ousted from federal Parliament after a single three-year term. So began a decade-long losing streak.

She has failed three times to win a Senate seat as well as seat in the News South Wales state parliament, then the Queensland parliament.

Queensland University political scientist Rae Wear said Hanson once had appeal because she was a reminder of Australia before the 1970s, when immigration policy favored Europeans and jobs were protected by high tariff walls.

“Hanson's a classic populist in that she says to ordinary people that: I ran a fish-and-chip shop, I know how to conduct a business, therefore I know how we ought to run a country,” Wear said Sunday.

“A lot of people go along with that way of thinking; that it's all quite simple, and I do think she tapped into that,” she added.

Supporters quickly became disillusioned with One Nation. Several Queensland lawmakers soon quit, and the last One Nation legislator retired at the weekend election.

Hanson was imprisoned for three months in 2003 for electoral fraud, though the convictions were quashed on appeal.

She has been the face of a national doughnut chain and appeared on the reality TV program “Dancing with the Stars.”

She blamed Saturday's defeat on fallout from the publication of raunchy photos reportedly of her in the 1970s taken by a former boyfriend. The Sunday Telegraph, which published the photos, alleging they were Hanson, published an apology to her Sunday and said it had been duped into believing they were real.