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Ian Warden: White Queen not to reign over us

Small-l liberal readers, have you been losing sleep over the apparently irresistible rise and rise of nightmarish Pauline Hanson's One Nation? I know I have.

But, reassured, I have been sleeping like a baby ever since Monday's presentation at the ANU by David Marr. Indeed, relieved at last, I almost nodded off on my comfortable settee during Marr's talk in the intimate, lushly-carpeted little theatre of the Phillipa Weeks Staff Library at the ANU College of Law.

Pauline Hanson is the subject of David Marr's just-published, novella-length Quarterly Essay The White Queen: One Nation and the Politics of Race.

Although we were at the ANU's College of Law the discussion might have fitted a little better into the ANU's School of Anthropology.

This was because One Nation voters were talked of on Monday as a quaint tribe quite unlike our own. David Marr has researched them painstakingly, using wonderful, university-gathered data, and was able to tell us all sorts of things about their backgrounds, beliefs and passions.

He finds for example that they are an angry and pessimistic and immigrant-despising tribe in an Australia that is otherwise generally cheerful, optimistic and admirably migrant-welcoming.

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On Monday there were no One Nation people there among us (had I been organising the event I think I would have hired one to exhibit). And a university campus turns out not to be the natural habitat for most One Nation folk because, Marr has found, they are usually people who never completed formal schooling.

And of course most Canberrans, living on this insular, comfortable, liberal little island, never meet a One Nation enthusiast. Do you know of a single one, dear reader? Perhaps there may be two or three among my brother and sister CBR Brave ice hockey fans. Perhaps there is a sprinkling of them among our city's plumbers and police? Perhaps not.

Till Monday it had been part of my misguided personal nightmare that One Nation is swelling everywhere and is even poised to one day (the next elections?) swarm over our dear ACT Legislative Assembly. But David Marr is at pains to insist that One Nation is in some ways just "a small, small thing" we should not be agonising over.

Certainly One Nation lacks oomph and presence here in the enlightened ACT. The party's ACT website is cobwebbed. Its last item of "ACT Party news" (a call for candidates for the 2016 federal election) was posted on October 26, 2015.

Some of our feverish anxiety about One Nation has to do with the fear that Pauline Hanson and her party may be surfing on the same great, irresistible wave of ugly populism that has given us Brexit and Donald Trump and may be about to give us, in France, Marine Le Pen.

Anxious scholars asked David Marr about this on Monday. But he told us that comparisons of the popularity of Hanson (fancied by just eight per cent of Australians) with Brexit (chosen by 52 per cent of Britons), Trump (favoured by 46 per cent of voters) and Le Pen (fancied by about 26 per cent of the French) are "ludicrous".

"The difference in scale is crucial," David Marr assured us, from where I sat the animated author flatteringly framed by a shelf of immaculately-arranged, leather-bound lawbooks.

"She is just a troublesome insurgent."

And yet, Marr lamented, although she's just a troublesome insurgent representing an "uncharacteristic force" in Australian life the lily-livered major parties are a'tremble at her imagined influence. They want to appease her. Instead, Marr urges, we might fight this awful "race-baiter" (Hanson) with "a lot more derision". After all some of her policies (such as her call for a Royal Commission to expose Islam as not a religion but only a political movement) are what Marr calls "batshit crazy".

We should be countering her, not appeasing her, Marr counselled on Monday.

"The myths and fears … the racial instincts [that stoke and drive people into supporting her] have to be addressed," Marr insisted. He looks to education and to "a candid discussion about race" as ways of addressing these myths and fears, since "the unexamined demon has such power".

Although on Monday One Nation supporters were discussed quite anthropologically as if they are as unique as cannibals or headhunters there are some ways in which they are reassuringly like Australians at large.

So for example, Marr reported on Monday, One Nation supporters, like most white Australians, don't go to church. This is especially reassuring, Marr reassured us on Monday, because it helps to illustrate that One Nation enthusiasts are totally different creatures from the Religious Right zealots in the United States who are so zealous in their support of Donald Trump, that model Christian.

No, Marr, assured us, there is nothing nastily American let alone global about Pauline Hanson's One Nation. The phenomenon is uniquely our own, to be tackled in our own, Australian ways.

Sighing with relief I settled back into my settee. The Phillipa Weeks Library theatre is one of those cosy, staff-indulging ANU spaces that only lacks a cat (to come and sit on scholars' laps) to make it feel like home.