Eye witness

October 9, 1998

The defeat of Pauline Hanson, who once described herself "the Mother of Australia" in elections last Saturday was greeted with relief by anti-racists.

But Robert Manne, associate professor of politics at La Trobe University in Melbourne, warned that even if the political influence of her party, One Nation, collapsed, the Hanson phenomenon should not be forgotten.

Ms Hanson was ironically the most divisive figure in Australian politics for decades. She campaigned against Asian immigration and special funding and land rights for Aborigines.

Her party, despite early fears it would cut a swathe through the ranks of conservative and Labor politicians, did not win a seat in the House of Representatives and is struggling to get one member into the senate. Even so the party attracted thousands of supporters and won 8 per cent of the vote.

"Hansonism has served as a warning that there are large numbers of Australians who, in the age of globalisation, are feeling marginalised, dispossessed," Professor Manne said. "During the brief period of Hansonism, (the Howard government) abandoned the quest for Aboriginal reconciliation and for the creation of a multicultural society here. It now needs to rebuild its relations with Aboriginal leaders and ethnic communities which have, since March 1996, so dramatically soured."

Ms Hanson's inflammatory comments - and prime minister John Howard's early refusal to reject them - had threatened to hit Australia's reputation in Asia, especially its lucrative export education industry. The virtual silence of the Liberal and Labor parties on issues of reconciliation, race and immigration only served to highlight One Nation's policies.

Charmaine Clarke, an Aboriginal senate candidate for the Australian Greens, warned that Aborigines would use the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney to attract international attention to the plight of Aborigines.

"We are up to 20 years behind countries like New Zealand and Canada and we will certainly use the Olympics to highlight indigenous issues while we have the world's attention," she said.

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