SYDNEY, Australia (Jan. 16)
The leader of Australia’s far-right One Nation Party has quit politics.
Pauline Hanson, who is facing several legal actions, including electoral fraud, made the announcement in Melbourne this week.
Established in 1997, the One Nation Party is seen by many as far-right and racist. But Hanson’s charisma attracted substantial support from mainstream voters who identified with her xenophobic, anti-immigration stance.
Hanson joined the Liberal Party in 1995 but was dumped in 1996 after making disparaging remarks about the nation’s native population, the Aborigines.
In her maiden speech as an independent, she announced to a shocked Australian Parliament in 1996: “I believe we are in danger of being swamped by Asians.”
In 1998, One Nation garnered 23 percent of the vote in Hanson’s home state of Queensland and 11 seats in the state’s Parliament.
In the 1998 federal election, One Nation polled 1 million votes, or 8.4 percent of the total. This fell to 500,000, or 4.9 percent of the total, in 2001. Australia has a population of 19 million.
No members of One Nation currently serve in Australia’s national Parliament, but several hold elected office in the states of Western Australia and Queensland.
Some Jewish leaders did not take Hanson’s announcement this week at face value.
“I don’t think this is the last we’ll see here of Miss Hanson,” said Benseon Apple, director of Public Affairs of the B’nai B’rith Anti-Defamation Commission.
There is concern within the Jewish community that some of Australia’s foremost racists may vie for the leadership at the next party conference. Among them are:
Edward Wall, vice president of One Nation in Western Australia. He has publically voiced support for the Adelaide Institute, a Holocaust-denying body run by revisionist Fredrick Toben. Wall also has spoken several times at meetings of the League of Rights, Australia’s oldest racist group.
Graeme Campbell, a one-time Labor legislator and a former Senate candidate from One Nation who remains a high profile politician with strong racist views. He also has addressed the League of Rights.
Welf Herfuth, president of a branch of One Nation in New South Wales state. Herfuth is a former member of Germany’s most active neo-Nazi group, the NPD.
Dennis Collins, a former One Nation candidate from Tasmania. He claims the Jews control the world’s economy, and has referred to the “synagogue of Satan.”
However, Maz Fiannaca, state director of One Nation in Perth, Western Australia, said there will be no leadership battle anytime soon.
“I see no challenge for the leadership. We do not need to hold another conference for 18 months,” Fiannaca said.
The party’s vice president, John Fischer, has stepped in as acting president.
“There is no leadership challenge and no conference planned at this stage,” Fischer told JTA.
Jeremy Jones, president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, believes a threat will remain even after Hanson leaves the political arena.
“Her electorate has not gone away,” Jones said. “Many far-right groups joined One Nation, as they saw it as a shortcut to direct approaches to major political leaders and for getting into the public eye. All fringe group conspiracy theories were voiced through One Nation. It was a way for those who populate the political gutters of Australia to travel the populist highway.”
Fiannaca confirmed Jones’ grim prognosis.
“Even though our vote in the 2001 election was half of what we polled in 1998, our membership has remained high,” Fiannaca said.
Colin Rubenstein, executive director of the Australian/Israel Jewish Affairs Council, gave a less than glowing review of Hanson’s accomplishments.
“Her time in power represented a sad and turbulent chapter in Australian history and caused a lot of damage internationally, especially with our nearby Asian neighbors,” Rubenstein told JTA. “She offered only division, discord and distress with her policies of bigotry.
“I am happy to see the back of her. One Nation managed to get sufficiently far into mainstream politics to be able to explain on a legitimate stage their policies of discrimination and scapegoating,” he said.