One Nation represents a grassroots backlash against perceived failures by
Australia's 'elites' in dealing with economic and social change, and this has
shaken the political system. This paper explores what caused this, and what
could be done.
Pauline Hanson was elected to federal Parliament in 1996. Her maiden speech
said that there were problems with Australia's multicultural, aboriginal and
immigration policies, as well as with other economic and social policies.
2. Public Reaction
These views divided public opinion. A political party was founded in 1997,
and achieved support from more than 20% of the electorate in the 1998 Queensland
Published reactions to Ms Hanson, and her party have been reviewed. This
- Ms Hanson has been criticised politically, and many see problems with her
policies - but wish to attract her supporters;
- support tends to come from marginalised groups (elderly, disaffected, less
educated), whose key concerns are: their economic predicament; and being
ignored by elites. They may not clearly identify the causes of problems, or
respond to policy arguments. However the strength of the electoral
support gained implies a democratic legitimacy.
- some allege racism in Ms Hanson's approach, but this is denied
- Ms Hanson's public statements tend to focus on the need for equality in
ethnic policies; disillusion with politicians; and blaming her critics for
the 'racism debate'
- independent observers identify problems in Australia's various ethnic
- policies have been advanced by One Nation, and tend to be criticised as
- 'Asians' are concerned about potential racism in Australia, in limited
- the media's role in creating / distorting the debate is uncertain
- opponents are criticised as: biased; self interested; or ignorant of
- Australia's image, and its commercial and governmental credibility are
Interested observers suggest that most support for Pauline Hanson's One
Nation reflects frustration with a diverse range of problems, though whether it
is justified is unclear.
3. One Nation Expresses Dissatisfaction with economic prospects
However One Nation's main support appears to come from those concerned
with their economic predicament. There is a real basis for such concerns, for
- the impact of economic change has been very great due to: the need for
economic diversification; the shift to post-industrial economic goals; and
- unemployment and under-employment have become chronic problems
- Queensland depended heavily on resource based industry, and finds change
difficult, because information about the nature of a developed modern
economy is scarce.
- strategies to develop new economic capabilities have not mobilised the
community - because the latter were not involved in producing those
- conceptual weaknesses affect conventional economics (the basis of reforms
like National Competition Policy) in dealing with economic 'systems' and
- a market economy has been sought, which does not mesh easily with
Queensland's traditional system of political economy - especially in rural
and regional areas
- communities have limited capacity to organise themselves to deal with
These problems are worst in rural / regional areas because of their
economic character, and have been compounded by other difficulties including:
droughts; distorted international markets; weak commodity prices; complex native
title arrangements; and cuts to various services and programs.
4. First Implication - Real Development of the Economy
It may be possible to significantly reduce the dissatisfaction One
Nation represents by:
- starting policy with people, rather than with finance, services or
infrastructure. One of many options could be a 'Public Policy Commission' to
sponsor research on state policy ideas (from experts and the public), and to
report on their effectiveness.
- engaging experienced persons from the community in enterprise oriented
strategies for developing economic capabilities led by 'market conscious'
- exploring methods for organising production emerging in the 'new American
economy' that seem to allow large scale, high quality employment
- seeking opportunities based more on the competitive advantages of
enterprises - rather than relying on the natural comparative advantages of
- adapting implementation of National Competition Policy - to recognise that
competitiveness requires capabilities and also to take account of
qualitative factors such as wealth distribution and the effectiveness of
social and economic institutions
- reducing 'red tape' by re-considering how regulation is created in the
- government intervention to create such a framework, reduce market
failures, stimulate the framework and institutions needed for productivity,
and provide supporting services
The Asian financial crisis seems likely to worsen current difficulties.
The above proposals should reduce the risk that an economic slowdown may be
needed (eg due to a current account deficit 'blow-out'). Such a slowdown would
sharply increase unemployment.
5. Second Implication - Social Policy Suggestions
The following approach to social policy questions could be considered:
- developing indicators of Sustainable Economic Welfare (including
qualitative social and environmental indicators - to complement quantitative
measures of economic production). These may have given warning of the
dissatisfaction One Nation reflects.
- taking community development seriously, given emerging evidence of social
- within such a process, considering what genuine 'equality' for aborigines
- evaluating the effectiveness of present governance systems in delivering
- improving, by increased 'Asia literacy', understanding of 'Asian'
attitudes to racism (which can see racism as 'natural', but offensive if
Effective communication amongst those in the community, business and
government dealing with different aspects of these economic and social issues,
appears to be required, and might be stimulated by the suggested Public Policy
6. Non-solutions to Expressed Dissatisfaction
Options which would not be constructive in dealing with current
- adopting the protectionist, interventionist economic style of the McEwen
era - as these produced worse results than others achieved at that time
- closing the economy, because trade allows greater wealth and job creation
- by allowing highly productivity industries to be much larger than needed
for domestic demand, and providing access to other goods and services at low
- preventing immigration, because this stimulates at least enough growth to
provide the jobs immigrants take - as shown by the impact of interstate
migration on Queensland
- providing 'social credit', as this can be subject to political
manipulation / corruption
- merely sharing better the benefits of economic reform, as economic change
has not yet been sufficient to provide for sustainable community affluence
One Nation reflects a protest about the outcomes of past attempts at
economic and social change. In an economic sense, at least, such dissatisfaction
seems justified because of the limited effectiveness of such attempts, and the
adverse impacts of change on the position of many individuals and communities.
Developing capabilities to cope with the expected future environment
should be the goal of any strategy. The difficulties which affected individuals
and communities face shows clearly that adequate capabilities for economic
prosperity have not been created.
But rather than considering what could be done to achieve better
outcomes, mainstream analysts now seem focused on criticising One Nation.
However the longer those who do not suffer the effects of change criticise those
who do, while not effectively solving their underlying problems: the stronger
the protest is likely to get; and the more Queensland's and Australia's
commercial and governmental credibility will be eroded.
Some future options have been suggested above which might be more
effective in building the capabilities that the disaffected require for economic
prosperity, and thus also improving their ability to express policies likely to
be to their advantage.
8 July, 1998