It is easy to dismiss Pauline Hanson supporters as simply a bunch of redneck racist troglodytes; indeed, the most vocal of her support base fall very well into this category, and browsing her echo chamber on social media also makes it incredibly easy to get this impression. However, more than 4% of all voters across the country put a '1' in the box next One Nation, in the Senate, at this year's federal election, including more than 9% of Queenslanders. A few hundred vocal people on Facebook is not representative of the hundreds of thousands of others who voted the way they did.
So why are people voting for parties such as One Nation, if they are not inherently racist in their views? Because they are sick of the business as usual politics of the two major parties. Successive governments being led by both of the major parties have increasingly embraced rampant neoliberalism which has resulted in growing inequality, corruption within our financial sector, selling off of public assets. and the growing gap between the most wealthy, and the poorest, in our society. People are saying that they have had enough of it, and they are voting accordingly.
The people who are voting One Nation are therefore mostly working class people; they aren't inherently racist, or even socially conservative - they simply want representation that speaks for them when it comes to tackling inequality in our society. Indeed, some of their economic talking points align somewhat with the Greens and Labor; such as their call for banking reform and a royal commission into the banking sector, halting the privatisation of public assets, ensuring affordable home ownership, taxation reform by ensuring multinationals pay their fair share of tax, their stance against rampant free trade, and a fairer go for tertiary students.
Of course, the key difference between the Right-wing populist rhetoric espoused by the likes of Pauline Hanson and One Nation, and those who espouse Left-wing populist views; is that those on the Right relate their economic talking points back to an anti-immigration, anti-multicultural and anti-globalist stance - where as those on the Left tend not to be phased about immigration, multiculturalism and globalism, most see these things as a positive rather than a negative.
Indeed, the structural problems within our economy that are causing growing inequality in our society is not because of immigration or anything else Pauline Hanson parades against. For example, limiting immigration and multiculturalism does not solve the matter of rampant and unregulated free trade, nor does immigration and multiculturalism result in the government selling off public assets. Indeed, a group saying that they will resolve these structural problems by proposing to limit immigration and by targeting specific minority groups of people sets a very dangerous precedent.
A Left-wing populist alternative must come forward and be explicit with the same economic agenda, but instead of pinning the blame for economic inequality on immigrants and minority groups - it must pin the blame for these problems squarely where it belongs: on multinational corporations, big business, corruption, and greedy and fraudulent investors; as well as the tax breaks that they receive. It is clear as day that the Greens are the party that is best positioned to take on this role; but they must shake their desires of being part of the establishment, and gun all-out for significant power and representation in their own right by being an anti-establishment alternative to the 'more of the same' major parties.
The Greens to become this anti-establishment left alternative must also change tact with regards to its primary talking points, and take a leaf out of Bernie Sanders' book; focus on economic rather than social policy, and talk primarily and principally about economic inequality, tackling corruption, and the impending impacts of climate change; rather than refugees, gender-issues and same-sex marriage. I am not for one minute saying that the Greens shouldn't talk about the latter and other social issues at all; but economic reform, tackling inequality, and dealing with corruption, should really be at the forefront of Greens policy going forward as these things are where the key is for the party gaining massive amounts of popular support, particularly among working class voters who tend not to be particularly phased one way or the other when it comes to social matters, but are very responsive when it comes to economic matters.
It will however take bravery and courage for the Greens to shift their primary focus towards economic matters, but they must do so as they as a party are preaching to the already converted by focusing primarily on social matters. The resurgence of Pauline Hanson and One Nation gives the Greens the prime opportunity to do just this - the ability to very publicly question them as to how it is supposedly immigration that is the cause of Australia's economic problems and to rebut these ridiculous and dangerous assertions. By their indications, the Greens do seem to be pretty keen on doing this in at least some capacity. This is what will pull working class people away from the clutches of Right-wing reactionary groups who pin blame for the country's problems on minority groups, and towards groups such as the Greens, on the Left, who genuinely want a more decent and fairer society for all.
About the author:
Matt Hrkac is a writer and activist based in Geelong who regularly contributes to Green Left Weekly. He has particular interests in politics, elections and the trade union movement and has had extensive involvement in a number of local campaigns. He is a former member of the Greens.