Reviewed by Ian Lipke
Kerry-Anne Walsh was a name not known to me when I read her expose of Pauline Hanson. I was very keen to find out what I could about a writer of a book with such a provocative title. I discovered that she had been a member of the Canberra press gallery for twenty-five years, had occupied senior positions in print, radio and television, and was percipient, if slow, in taking the decision that she was disenchanted and wanted out. I’m told that she established a consultancy called KA Communications in 2009. (Yes, KAW would have been a bit much). Then came The Stalking of Julia Gillard an award winner and, in my view, a book that deserved the plaudits it attracted. Now, we have a microscopic view of Pauline Hanson.
I would suggest that this book be viewed from two viewpoints. The first task of the author is to make judgments about the activities in which Hanson has played a leading role or has sanctioned the particular activity that is being discussed. The second is the author’s injection of her own biases into her prose. It is easy to despise Pauline Hanson’s style of politics that grows out of ignorance and promotes unconsidered proposals that are beneath contempt. I wish to make it clear that I do not support Hanson and/or her followers in any possible way. (Her recent proposal that the Prime Minister declare a bounty on cane toad carcasses is a good indicator of the worth of the way-out policies this Senator, the elected representative of a great nation, promotes).
At the same time I grieve to see an opportunity lost and a respected name tarnished. Kerry-Anne Walsh had the gumption to assess Pauline Hanson’s success, even credibility, as an MP but allowed Hanson to become subsumed by her personal bias to such an extent that the book is hardly worth the effort of reading. As an example, I don’t know of any other new member of parliament being described as “a drop-in, a small-town wannabe with narrow views who’d lucked her way into the House on the Hill, but who would as quickly wander back to the boondocks dragging a bruised ego” (47). Hanson hadn’t even got started at that point. At this stage I would insert my view that the actions and speeches of Pauline Hanson, as reported throughout the book, while not verified with documented evidence, appear to be accurate. It is the tone that diminishes Walsh.
I found much to admire about the language in parts of Walsh’s book. She can turn a phrase as expertly as any journo in the industry. “Ronny Boswell understood that if you fed this woman, she’d eat you alive.” I love it! Just a few words to explain the rapaciousness of the Hanson war machine. And full marks to Boswell for his speech of June 14 in which he announced “…to be taken seriously, you have to stand for something. In the fight of my life, against Pauline Hanson, I risked everything to stand up against her aggressive, narrow view of Australia. Defeating Pauline Hanson and One Nation…has been my greatest political achievement” (55 – 56).
Walsh should think about those words. “You have to stand for something”. It is not sufficient to simply stand against a person or policy, movement or whatever. The book does not spell out what Ms Walsh does stand for. The counter-argument is that the book is about Hanson, not Walsh. That is true, but the level of vituperation unleashed makes the request for an answer relevant indeed. (The comments about the Canberra media situation on page 46 is another piece of writing (of no relevance to Hanson) that tells all, that those must have been hurtful days for the hardworking members of the press gallery). The hurt lingers in the pen.
Walsh goes on to claim:
A phenomenon had been born. It was a remarkable trajectory for a nobody from Queensland who had, without warning, lit a simple but powerful anti-immigration, anti-Asian fuse that few MPs saw coming.
But was she – is she – for real, or a clever political invention with the sole goal of political infamy (58)?
Page 58 is relatively late to be asking such a question about the subject of a book that so far has done no more than heap scorn on the Senator. Just a paragraph or three further down the page comes a quote from Pasquarelli that Hanson “wouldn’t mind if there were more Asians in Australia than Anglo-European Australians, as long as they [the Asians] spoke English” (58).
I hope I am wrong when I express my concern that nowhere in Walsh’s book is there a record of a face to face interview between the author and the subject. I have an impression of an author standing well back and using material gleaned at third hand. A book built on the opinions of others would be a very strange book in my view. Walsh is as capable as anyone of producing a dispassionate, first-hand account.
The waspishness is mostly missing from Walsh’s segment on Pauline Hanson’s first speech to the Senate on 14 September 2006. This is convincing language – a snide reference to Hanson’s mother (that can be forgiven), but from thereon a clinical report on Hanson’s delivery, her arguments, and the rebuttal which one by one allowed the report on Hanson’s performance to be justified:
Hanson’s ‘maiden’ Senate speech continued to unfold as a tour de force of unverified, unsourced assumptions and scare-mongering aimed at needling the jumpy nerves and short anger fuses of her fan club base (184).
This is the language the book lacks. This is the power that Walsh can unleash. As a weapon I would imagine it would be devastating. Taint such a weapon with a lack of balance and readers can only wonder, “But, what if?” Disappointing.
By Kerry-Anne Walsh
Allen & Unwin