From Brisbane's Sunday Mail 

By: Michael Madigan

I always thought it was more an aunt/favoured nephew sort of relationship but, apparently, it's far more intimate than that.

“When James calls, and my kids answer the phone at home, they always yell out ‘Mum, it's your favourite son on the phone!',” says Pauline Hanson of James Ashby, her friend and colleague of a decade.

“Does that mean James will be in the will?” I ask, given Senator Hanson is getting on in years and is probably worth a few quid.

Ashby looks inquiringly at Hanson, who nods her head vigorously in the affirmative.

“You'll be getting that portrait of me, you know, the one they did for the Archibald Prize, but it didn't win,” says Hanson.

Ashby shakes his head vigorously in the negative.

“That one! It's awful, I don't want it.”

“Well, you're gettin' it,” says Hanson happily, smiling at me across the top of her beer, inviting me to join in the fun.

I'm at lunch with two of the most divisive, controversial political figures in the past 35 years of this nation's history.

There is an entire generation of Australians whose first experience of political outrage came when this fishand-chip shop owner from Ipswich burst on to the national scene with views no one else dared to utter in public. She was labeled racist, xenophobic and seemed to dance with controversy at every turn - with her supporters rallying reliably each time.

Hanson is, among other things, an ex-con. We've almost forgotten she did nearly three months' porridge after in 2003 a District Court jury found her guilty (overturned on appeal) of fraud regarding the registering of One Nation as a political party.

Ashby met her after all this and brought his own spark of controversy. He made allegations of sexual harassment against federal speaker Peter Slipper in 2012 causing a major scandal for the then-Gillard government, then got caught on camera in an Al-Jazeera investigation chatting with progun advocates in Washington and seeking political donations.

This pair get on well, but they bicker endlessly, even when putting on a united front as they are at lunch in the Heritage Hotel in Rockhampton, a pub founded in 1898 and a sister (in architectural terms) of Brisbane's Regatta Hotel.

We're ordering steaks - sirloin for Ashby, rump for Hanson and me, all medium, with chips and salad.

Hanson, who turned 70 last month but retains a youthful vigour, asks for the salt, then orders a beer and chides me for being too frail to handle a lunch time beverage.

She still likes a cold beer, a rum and coke, a good counter lunch and pubs in general - so much so that she and Ashby have bought this one.

“I think our share is about the size of that,” says Hanson, one hand sweeping the dining room floor to indicate their portion of a pub owned by a consortium of more than 40 owners.

It's not incidental that this duo, who rule the quarter-century-old Pauline Hanson's One Nation party, wanted a pub that conserves colonial era history.

They are, after all “conservatives” - they value Australia's history and heritage in an unabashed and forthright manner, determined to point to its successes rather than failures.

Drama is never far from their lives and, while Ashby is a latecomer to this world, for Hanson, it was always thus.

It was in 1996 when Hanson stunned the Australian political establishment by winning the federal seat of Oxley on the back of her distinctly “unwoke” views.

She had been dis-endorsed by the Liberals for saying publicly there should be no special treatment for Indigenous people. The punters backed her and she won her seat as an independent with a 19 per cent swing in her favour.

Nearly 30 years since I first interviewed her over the phone, she asks if I ever thought she would end up a federal senator heading a party with a seat in the state parliament and looking like a credible chance of holding the balance of power in Queensland come the October election.

“No,” I say. “I thought you were just a flash-in-the-pan.”

I thought more than that. I thought she was a “mini-me” Margaret Thatcher minus the posh accent and the political savvy to carve out a berth on the nation's political landscape. But she did.

She has never repented her own stand but bestows forgiveness on those middle-aged men and women whom she swears regularly approach her in the street and ask her pardon for having attacked her when they were youths.

“It's true!” she declares in that distinctive voice that always seems to carry a slight waver. “People come up to me and say, ‘I didn't understand what you were standing for then, now I do, and I just want to say I am sorry for having attacked you'.”

Yet there is no time to rest on laurels. State and federal elections beckon and while Hanson may represent the political right, she has little faith in her fellow travelers at both state and federal level.

Federal Opposition Leader Peter Dutton needs to “grow a spine”, she says, pointing out she was disavowing the failed referendum on the Voice months before Dutton decided to oppose it. Their attention is now focused on the Queensland seat of Keppel and they claim to be eyeing at least 10 more in the state.

Having stared down a proposal to change the name of the famous island 15km off Yeppoon to “Woppa”, Ashby, who will contest the seat against Labor incumbent Brittany Lauga, sees the sorry state of Keppel as a metaphor for the derailment of the entire state government.

He wants the fundamentals for Keppel - boat ramps, a cyclone-rated jetty, power with backup generators and an up to-date sewerage system. He also wants a renewed and united determination to restore the island as a key plank in the region's tourism industry.

Social problems including homelessness, youth crime and drug abuse are also issues which have resonance with the locals, many of whom remember a far less troubled community.

“We have one drug rehab centre here and it's full - chockers,” he says.

Both Ashby and Hanson put the presence of drugs in the community squarely on the shoulders of the Australian Labor Party.

“It's Queensland Labor which brought in drug testing at concerts, giving the message that drug-taking is OK,” says Ashby. “There is no such thing as recreational drugs - if you want recreation, go play a game of tennis.”

Meal over, they have little choice but to rate it 10/10 given, as part owners, they could hardly complain to the proprietor if the steaks had been wanting. They are both off to the Rocky Showgrounds to shake a few hands - a forum where they usually get a good reception. For Hanson, it's just part of her routine.

For the left-leaning politicians wanting to ingratiate themselves with their base it's the Woodford Folk Festival. For Hanson and Ashby, it's the Mount Isa Rodeo and the Birdsville Cup.

It's there Hanson finds “her people” and they love her, often impulsively shouting her name the moment she appears in their line of vision, wishing her well, pleading with her to “never give up,” urging her onward with rowdy, red-blooded salutations: “Give em' hell Pauline!”

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  • One Nation
    published this page in News 2024-06-18 10:39:54 +1000