The in­co­her­ence of the Aus­tralian right


“My words ap­pear to leave you cold; Poor babes, I will not be your scolder: Re­flect, the Devil, he is old, To un­der­stand him, best grow older.” – Goethe, Faust Part 2, lines 6815–18

Say what you like about Satan, but he does at least give a fair price for souls. Faust got 24 years of worldly knowl­edge and plea­sure in ex­change for his; Robert John­son mas­tered the blues overnight. Pauline Han­son was not so gen­er­ous with the Lib­eral Party in West­ern Aus­tralia. The Lib­er­als traded their in­tegrity for One Na­tion pref­er­ences at the state elec­tion last month, and were re­warded with a past­ing of his­toric pro­por­tions. The re­sult was an elec­toral keel­haul­ing that saw La­bor win 41 seats, the Lib­er­als’ semi-es­tranged coali­tion part­ner the Na­tion­als sta­bilise, and One Na­tion crawl to 4.9% of the vote. It was sup­posed to be the new dawn of an Aus­tralian Le Pen – when the Lib­er­als sold them­selves out, polling showed One Na­tion threat­en­ing 13% of the pri­mary vote – and in­stead fin­ished with Pauline Han­son’s One Na­tion (PHON) on par with Flu­o­ride Free WA as an elec­toral force. Prime Min­is­ter Mal­colm Turn­bull, self-ex­iled from the hus­tings, spent the day with the staff of the satir­i­cal news site the Be­toota Ad­vo­cate. Whether he was drown­ing his sor­rows, se­cretly cel­e­brat­ing or sim­ply didn’t care any­more, it was hard to say. The fed­eral min­is­ter for fi­nance, Mathias Cor­mann, one of the ar­chi­tects of the dis­as­trous pref­er­ence swap, re­fused to rule out a re­peat at the fed­eral level. One Na­tion sen­a­tor Mal­colm Roberts was more up­beat. On Twit­ter he claimed that the party was on track for three seats: “3 is a great start from zero! In­crease of 300%.” Pun­ditry was less kind, as was fed­eral Na­tion­als leader Barnaby Joyce. One Na­tion had had “a bit of a shocker”, he said, and the horse­trad­ing had been a “mis­take”. Re­mark­ably, one of the fiercest crit­ics of the deal was Pauline Han­son her­self, who blamed a lack of voter ed­u­ca­tion for her poor show­ing.

In fact, vot­ers had ed­u­cated them­selves about Han­son very well, cer­tainly bet­ter than the press or most of her fel­low politi­cians. Even One Na­tion can­di­dates cot­toned on. Mar­garet Dodd, run­ning for the seat of Scar­bor­ough, quit the party just 24 hours be­fore the poll. In a state­ment she said that “PHON in my eyes are not about the WA peo­ple and their fu­ture but for per­sonal power for Sen­a­tor Han­son, who will do and say any­thing to achieve her goal at what­ever cost”. “Say­ing any­thing” had ex­tended to mid-cam­paign en­dorse­ments of both Vladimir Putin and a pre-vac­ci­na­tion “test” no one had heard of, off-piste pro­nounce­ments that had left even the dis­af­fected in the elec­torate be­wil­dered. The protest vote found a home else­where, and, in a karmic foot­note, a fed­eral One Na­tion sen­a­tor came down with measles.

In the af­ter­math, the West­ern Aus­tralian elec­tion looks like an in­ver­sion of the ex­pla­na­tions for Don­ald Trump and Brexit. Or­di­nary vot­ers held the line against pop­ulist rab­ble-rous­ing, while el­e­ments of the po­lit­i­cal class were

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