Pauline Hanson. Picture: Liam Kidston
Pauline Hanson. Picture: Liam Kidston

The infuriating truth about Pauline Hanson

COMMENT

One of the more nauseating ironies in politics is that those who most frequently use freedom of speech as a shield have no idea what it actually means.

I mention this because of Fraser Anning, the poster boy for having no idea.

This week Anning was censured by his colleagues in the Senate. It was a powerful, bipartisan condemnation of his loathsome comments in the wake of the Christchurch terror attack.

Fifty people died in the massacre, gunned down by an anti-Muslim fanatic while they were at prayer.

Anning had no words for them on Wednesday. He was too busy playing the victim himself.

"This censure motion against me is a blatant attack on free speech," he said.

"If, as a senator, I am not allowed to express my views, what chance do everyday Australians have to say what they think?"

Anning, like so many other self-serving politicians around the world, is labouring under the impression that freedom of speech gives him the right to say whatever he wants without any consequences.

He thinks he can spew his tripe, and the rest of us have to shut up and take it.

Anning is half right. Freedom of speech does give him the right to make dumb, bigoted comments. But it also gives others the right to criticise those comments.

And that is all the Senate's censure of Anning was - a chance for the Australian mainstream to officially register its disapproval. It was the political equivalent of the Queen's "one does not approve" face.

Australia’s reaction to Fraser Anning.
Australia’s reaction to Fraser Anning.

Anning suffered no real consequences. He wasn't suspended from parliament, didn't lose any of his exorbitant salary, and certainly wasn't gagged. He got to speak on the motion just like everyone else.

As absurd as it sounds, we should not be surprised that a man who won just 19 votes at the last election, but nevertheless scored a $200,000 job in the Australian Senate and a national platform from which to spout his garbage, somehow considers himself a victim.

It is a trait he shares with too many others.

Last month, when an undercover investigation exposed One Nation trying to solicit millions in foreign donations through the American gun lobby in exchange for weakening Australia's firearm laws, Pauline Hanson reacted not with contrition, but with outrage.

"Media across Australia have been blinded by hate and bias towards One Nation and myself, and rushed to report on heavily edited footage," she said.

"You have come here baying for my blood, and I will not give it to you."

Ms Hanson labelled Rodger Muller, an Australian journalist who conducted the three-year investigation for Al Jazeera, a "foreign agent". She called Al Jazeera an "Islamist" organisation. And she claimed the Qatari government was involved.

She claimed the documentary had taken her chief of staff, James Ashby, and One Nation's Queensland leader, Steve Dickson, "out of context".

And in a familiar move for anyone who keeps track of Australian politicians who have been caught doing embarrassing things, she referred the matter to the Australian Federal Police.

There was no apology. Just like Anning, Ms Hanson preferred to play the victim.

She was the victim of a tick bite. I’ll grant you that. Picture: Liam Kidston
She was the victim of a tick bite. I’ll grant you that. Picture: Liam Kidston

A lot of Australians like her, and it's obvious why. She says what she thinks. In a world where politicians are practically never upfront, many find her refreshing.

It's a strength that makes her practically indestructible.

But as much as we all want our leaders to cut the crap and speak their minds, that should not give Ms Hanson - or anyone else like her - a free pass to fib and flirt with insane conspiracy theories.

The Al Jazeera footage was heavily edited. Of course it was. You can't condense weeks' worth of video into a two-hour documentary without editing.

It doesn't matter. We have seen enough of the footage to disprove One Nation's excuses.

Mr Ashby and Mr Dickson claimed they were not being serious when they discussed getting money from Koch Industries, a company which donates to conservative causes in the United States. They claimed they had been drinking at the time.

There is indeed some footage of them at a bar, perhaps a little intoxicated.

There is also footage of them asking gun lobbyists for advice. They're shown planning how to weaken Australia's gun laws. They are on camera in a Koch Industries meeting room, telling a company representative how much money they would need.

I'm struggling to imagine the sort of context that could justify such behaviour.

And that is without even mentioning Ms Hanson's own appearance in the documentary, during which she appears to buy into conspiracy theories about the 1996 Port Arthur Massacre.

"An MP said it would actually take a massacre in Tasmania to change the gun laws in Australia," she told Muller.

"Haven't you heard that? Have a look at it. It was said on the floor of parliament.

"Those shots. They were precision shots.

"I've read a lot and I have read the book on it, Port Arthur. A lot of questions there."

Again, Ms Hanson told us the footage was "heavily edited". What could possibly have been edited out to make those comments any less despicable?

Pauline Hanson, with James Ashby by her side. Picture: Liam Kidston
Pauline Hanson, with James Ashby by her side. Picture: Liam Kidston

Of course, this is 2019. When it comes to outrageous political behaviour, all roads eventually lead back to Mar-a-Lago. And no politician plays the victim like supposed tough guy Donald Trump.

The recent revelation that Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation did not find Mr Trump's campaign had colluded with Russia, and did not reach a conclusion one way or the other on obstruction of justice, sparked a public convulsion of self-pity from the president.

"It's a shame that our country had to go through this. To be honest, it's a shame that your president has had to go through this," Mr Trump said.

"This was an illegal takedown that failed."

That is, in a word, bullshit.

The Mueller investigation was sparked by Mr Trump's decision to fire FBI director James Comey under false pretences.

Mr Trump spent a day pretending he'd sacked Mr Comey for mishandling the investigation of Hillary Clinton's email server. Then he went on TV and said he'd done it because of "this Russia thing" - the FBI's Russia investigation.

It emerged that Mr Trump had pressured Mr Comey to stop investigating his White House national security adviser, General Michael Flynn, who later pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with the Russian ambassador.

Deputy Attorney-General Rod Rosenstein, a Republican, then appointed Mr Mueller, another Republican, to continue the investigation.

It led to dozens of indictments and multiple convictions.

General Flynn, Mr Trump's campaign chairman Paul Manafort, deputy campaign chairman Rick Gates, personal lawyer Michael Cohen, political adviser Roger Stone and foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos were all ensnared.

The investigation did not "fail", it did its job. Mr Mueller was not appointed to conduct a "witch hunt", to borrow Mr Trump's favourite term, but to figure out how Russia interfered in the 2016 election. He appears to have done that.

Mr Trump likes to whine about the media as well, saying he cops more hostile coverage than any other president in history.

That is actually true. But the vast majority of the coverage is justified. Any other politician who acted the way Mr Trump does would deserve the same treatment.

He lies compulsively. Some of the lies are small and meaningless; others are large and consequential, but almost all are easily disproven.

What is the media supposed to do? Accept that the most powerful man on the planet is either delusional or extraordinarily deceitful? Say nothing?

Mr Trump lashes out savagely and publicly, often at his own employees, whenever he feels he has been personally slighted. Are we supposed to consider that normal behaviour for a 72-year-old man?

The question we all need to ask ourselves when we watch Donald Trump is how we would react to a politician from the other side behaving the same way.

Say Hillary Clinton had won. Say she had pressured her FBI director to shut down an investigation into one of her advisers, and fired him when he refused. Say she had spent two years labelling the subsequent investigation a witch hunt.

Would you support Ms Clinton? Consider her a victim? Or would you think the investigation was justified?

Say a Democrat president - let's call him, oh I don't know, Bill Clinton - was accused of sexual misconduct. Say there were multiple women accusing him.

Would you defend Mr Clinton? Label his accusers liars? Or would you call for him to be removed from office?

Say Barack Obama's personal lawyer had paid off an adult film star before the 2012 election to stop her from revealing she'd had an affair with the president. Say Mr Obama repeatedly told the American people he knew nothing about any payment, and was proven to have lied. Say his signature was on a cheque paying his lawyer back.

Would you shrug your shoulders? Consider it irrelevant? Or be outraged by the deceit?

All this conduct is troubling. You have to suspect Mr Trump's supporters would agree, if Mr Obama or one of the Clintons were involved.

Here, however, they believe the villain is not the lying politician, but the reporters calling him out.

“NO COLLUSION.” Picture: AP
“NO COLLUSION.” Picture: AP

There are some people who hold Mr Trump to a standard far higher than the one they use for their own side.

Others have lowered the bar to a point where anything Mr Trump does is forgivable.

And I have to admit, it's the lowering of the bar that frustrates me more, because we are starting to see it in Australia as well.

One Nation supporters would have been livid if Bill Shorten's chief of staff had sought foreign cash in return for changing Australian laws. When Ms Hanson's staffers are the ones caught on tape? They're outraged on her behalf.

How would Fraser Anning react if one of his Senate colleagues blamed a terror attack in the Middle East on Christian immigration? He wouldn't be quite so worried about freedom of speech then.

These people are all in positions of immense power, and they need to be held to account. That means intense public scrutiny. People like Fraser Anning, Pauline Hanson and Donald Trump knew that when they signed up for the job.

Next time one of them pretends to be a victim, don't fall for it.

- Sam Clench is news.com.au's political reporter. Continue the conversation @SamClench



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