Politics

Smashing The Myth That Pauline Hanson Is A Champion For Aussie Battlers

Pauline Hanson's policies are anything but fair dinkum.

The self-styled darling of Aussie battlers, Pauline Hanson, has an exciting, true blue, fair dinkum, new policy: she thinks low-income Australians shouldn’t be able to go to the pub and have a few beers.

Yep, One Nation wants people earning as little as $22,000 to start repaying their university debt. Her reasoning: those workers spend $100 on drinks “having a good night out”. Sorry folks, unless you’re rich you aren’t allowed to enjoy yourself. That’s the rule.

Hanson came out with the policy in her Budget Reply speech last week. She was responding to the Coalition government’s Federal Budget, which proposed the HECS-HELP repayment threshold be lowered from $54,869 to $42,000. But Hanson doesn’t think that’s low enough, and her policy is indeed the lowest: One Nation wants people earning just $22,000 to put 2 percent of their income towards repaying their student debt.

“At $22,000, to pay back 2 percent is not much. Because some of these people can go out on the town and spend over $100 on drinks and having a good night out, sometimes even more than that,” Hanson said in her speech.

“I feel that we are being taken for granted, and abused.”

Strong words, so let’s put that annual income into context. It equates to $423 a week before tax, or  couple of hundred dollars below the minimum wage ($672.70 a week, or $17.70 an hour). Meanwhile, the average weekly income is $1,163.50, almost three times the wage of Hanson’s targets.

Shrugging off 2 percent of your income as “not much” is easy when you’re on a senator’s base salary of at least $199,040, but it’s not in line with the lives of everyday people. How many of her battlers are slogging it out on minimum wage? Are you underemployed in an increasingly casualised workforce? Put the XXXX beer down now and pay The Tax Man.

This is hardly what you’d call fair dinkum. To condemn those scraping by for spending their wage enjoying themselves is to say they don’t deserve some semblance of normalcy in their lives. It’s paternalistic control and surveillance of the lives of those on low incomes. This is the same kind of punitive and regressive tactic that saw the government propose drug tests for welfare recipients, and to put them on cashless debit cards for welfare to be spent on “approved” items. 

So has Hanson forgotten her base? Nurses and teachers in her heartland require university education too, after all.

Ipswich is where One Nation all began in 1996, when Hanson won the federal seat of Oxley. It’s where she ran her fish and chip shop. Ipswich is also where the median personal income is $557 a week. Ask the locals if they can afford to lose a further 2 percent of their income. I’m sure the more than 8,000 of them, or almost 10 percent of the local population, who are university educated will say no.

But this isn’t the first time Hanson has gone off-brand to further marginalise low earners. She initially backed the Coalition to scrap penalty rates, following recommendations by the Fair Work Commission in March. She backflipped later that month. Hanson attributed her change in heart to an understanding of “how difficult many Australians are finding it to survive in this current economy, with its ever increasing cost of living”. It’s a shame this understanding can’t be extended to those in the lowest taxable income bracket.

And in her Budget Reply speech Hanson said welfare was “over the top”, and needed to be reined in.

“We have too many people on welfare who are cheating the system. This is not a new problem but something needs to be done to reduce welfare expenditure so those in genuine need can be supported,” Hanson said.

She raised the example of a woman with chronic fatigue syndrome who was on disability payments for four years. This woman “was never called in for a test. We have to stop these rorts from happening”, Hanson said. But here’s the thing: there is no test for chronic fatigue syndrome, nor is there a cure or treatment.

She then suggested calling the 800,000 Australians on disability payments before a “government appointed doctor” to reapply for the pension “unless it is evident they are truly in need of a disability pension”. That doesn’t sound costly to taxpayers or distressful to marginalised Australians at all.

The One Nation website describes Hanson’s rise to power like the narrator in a Hollywood film trailer would describe its protagonist: “One woman, Pauline Hanson, dared to challenge the entrenched bureaucracy and the vested interests of the political ruling elite.” But just like a Hollywood action film, it’s fiction.

Hanson grandstands about breaking battlers free from the shackles of out of touch and elite politicians. But she is far from a political outsider. This narrative of Hanson as a guerrilla leader for ordinary hard knock Australians is a furphy; she has routinely tried to further burden the lowest rung. The Hanson-myth has long run its course, it’s time it was smashed.

Rachel Eddie is a news reporter, soon to be based in Melbourne. She tweets @heyracheddie.