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Hanson

August 21st, 2003

While I’m no fan of Pauline Hanson, I’m concerned about the processes that have led to her being imprisoned for three years.

As I understand it, her offence was to create a political structure under which she and her immediate circle constituted and controlled the One Nation Party, while the ordinary members belonged to a ‘supporters group’ with no power to do anything. Since the Party proper did not have 500 members, its registration was an offence, as was the receipt of electoral funds.

The fact is that, with the exception of the Australian Democrats (and maybe the Greens, I don’t know how they work) all the major Australian political parties have structures under which the leadership is a self-perpetuating elite and the ordinary members belong, for all practical purposes, to a supporters group. Particularly in the Labor Party, the exclusion of the members from any real power has been a slow and painful process, which has taken decades. Hanson’s crime was to cut corners in an effort to achieve the same outcome quickly.

More importantly, I don’t think the requirements of the Electoral Act for 500 members were meant to ensure party democracy, but merely to avoid the registration of bogus parties as a political device. Whatever its faults, One Nation was (and I suppose, still is) a real political party.

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  1. Homer Paxton
    August 21st, 2003 at 10:47 | #1

    Antony Green in Sydney has made similar comments.

    I agree with both of you.

  2. August 21st, 2003 at 10:55 | #2

    John, youâre right in the sense that the One Nation party structure was far from a fraud in the naked self-interest, ãinsider tradingä sense. I hesitate to call it a technical breach, though, as the relevant laws were clear-cut. The laws Pauline Hanson broke share the characteristics of most Australian electoral law, in being highly prescriptive, concerned with form rather than substance, and with relatively severe penalties for breach (despite a breach necessarily usually being one of form only).

    Whether these laws are engineered to benefit incumbent major parties, and so exclude rival upstarts* seems a fair question. Hanson was clearly guilty, and ö as for the severity of her sentence ö there does seem to be a bit of a public-figure jailing epidemic going on in Queensland at the moment. When her crime is compared though, to say, branch-stacking ö which is a crime of self-interest AND a damaging dilution of the rights of honest party members AND a slow poisoning of the broader democratic process ö the substance of what Hanson has done pales into insignificance. Law reform in this area is clearly called for, but I donât fancy the chances of its happening.

    * As to why the Democrats, Greens etc have never (as far as Iâm aware) been troubled by the laws that caught Hanson, my theory is that self-styled boutique parties will never have a major problem with infiltration of their membership base (the raison dâetre for One Nationâs party structure). Conversely, at least in the case of the Democrats under Meg Lees, the leadership of a minor party with a unified, consistent membership base can be bought-off, for a song, by a major party. Sweet irony, then ö a minor partyâs grass roots members can be ignored when ãdemocracy-or-trinkets?ä comes aâcallinâ, but it is only when such a party is lead by a seemingly un-buyable leader (and of a party that aspires to double-figure first preferences) that the howls of ãWhereâs the democracy?ä will seemingly be heard.

  3. August 21st, 2003 at 11:44 | #3

    Given what the electoral system aims at in practice, and what its supporting laws penalise, even suggesting improvements might be just as much serious “technical” breaches as Hanson’s were. Just look what happens to Albert Langer all the time. And just think how illegal the 19th century Irish MPs’ behaviour at Westminster would have been, in our system – we are not allowed to break out of the envelope, even when (as with Ireland) it builds things in and prevents them ever being dealt with.

    No, I suspect that the system has evolved to capture the participants and I am running some risk even mentioning the possibility.

  4. Chris Moriarty
    August 21st, 2003 at 12:02 | #4

    John

    I agree with the uneasy feeling. There is a big contrast in today’s news. On one hand Hanson is off to jail for technical breaches of the electrol code and Wilson Tuckey is standing tough with the PM’s support for breaching ministerial code and the PM himself has been caught misleading parliament and partaking in wanton cronyism in regard to the ethanol issue.

    Of all of them, Hanson has probably been the most democratic – in that she at least showed that our system does enable battlers to stand up and say what they think.

    I am no fan of Hanson’s and have been glad to see her off the scene over the last couple of years.

    I can’t fully articulate my unease, but it is real none the less.

  5. August 21st, 2003 at 14:54 | #5

    “…Hanson has probably been the most democratic – in that she at least showed that our system does enable battlers to stand up and say what they think.”

    Surely the precise opposite is the case? At every turn she showed what happens when you try. If the system really did allow independents, the safety valve of democracy would be real and she would never have been encouraged to try and fail to create a shell party. While I doubt if “… laws are engineered to benefit incumbent major parties”, clearly they have evolved to do so with their downsides only creeping up slowly. (I am thinking of things like the way compulsory voting freed the parties from needing the grass roots, since they delegated getting the vote out.)

    I think next Monday I’ll try for another essay on the incompleteness of democracy and the difference between this Clayton’s version and a truly enabling version. For now as a taster, I’ll just give the bullet points I have mulled over during the past few years, without any clarification/explanation:-

    - democracy can easily be manipulated by agenda control and selective editing, so sooner or later it can be captured;

    - it does not, cannot, define “we the people” within itself but can only give expression to some outside concept (or again, it can get captured); and

    - it can at best express values, right and wrong, not create or confer values (though there is one rather limited and specialised point which is an exception in practice but not in principle).

    Anyhow, democracy is shot through with cumulative deterioration from agency costs and leakages of what it purports to be. Sometimes it can make people prefer giving it up, as when Italians preferred Mussolini to the mess they had before.

    I certainly can’t agree with the judge that Hanson & co corrupted and undermined public confidence in the political and electoral process. What does the judge think its reputation was just before, let alone now after the demonstrated difficulty in working within the system?

  6. craig
    August 21st, 2003 at 18:18 | #6

    Pauline Hanson formed a party where most of the members weren’t members, that is why she was found guilty.

    The structure of having pseudo members was I assume to avoid the kind of infiltration that nearly destroyed the WA Democrats some years ago.

    This is not to say that I in any way agree with a sentence that is way out of proportion to the crime.

  7. Mork
    August 22nd, 2003 at 12:36 | #7

    Me too uncomfortable.

    The line from the judge in the sentencing about her actions possibly having illegally affected the outcome of the Qld election struck me as particularly wrong-headed. However the party obtained its registration, it was perfectly clear to voters who and what they were voting for. Whether the party was properly registered or not didn’t make a difference to the proper process of democracy: in fact, the dodgy registration facilitated the substantive exercise of democracy.

  8. kez
    August 22nd, 2003 at 14:40 | #8

    I don’t think you’re right craig. The signatures obtained by the One Nation party were legitimate to register the party at the Federal level. According to this (http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2003/08/21/1061434983325.html) article, One Nation used those same signatures to register in Queensland – which would have been fine if Hanson or Ettridge had been MP’s in that state. There are no laws regarding party procedures, and a signature is enough to confer party membership (see here: http://www.aec.gov.au/_content/who/party_reg/handbook/appendix1.htm).

    This sounds like a technicality, i’m still unsure of what law they have broken, and three years sounds extreme, especially for naive fools.

  9. craig
    August 25th, 2003 at 18:50 | #9

    Kez

    The only problem is those signatures were not those of members of One Nation.

    They broke Queensland law not federal law.

    I’m not agreeing with the sentence but to say they are innocent is incorrect.

    By the way the structure was deliberate according to David Ettridge.

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