PAULINE - THE LETTER OR THE SPIRIT?
by Jeremy Lee
So Pauline Hanson has gone to prison for three years. Her crime? She
claimed that 500 members of the "Pauline Hanson Support Group"
were foundation members of "The One Nation Party".
Technically, she broke the law. There is nothing 'illegal' about her
conviction. But it is profoundly immoral. The spirit in which over a
million Australians voted knowingly for an alternative offered by Pauline
Hanson and her colleagues has been violated.
To say that Pauline Hanson deceived those who voted for her party is
a travesty. Unless mentally retarded, her voters knew exactly who and
what they wanted to vote for, and acted accordingly. The technicalities
of the registration of her party meant little or nothing to the great
majority. They got the choice they required. They probably made a more
informed choice when voting than the majority of voters, few of whom
know their representatives, or even the electorates in which they live.
Thus, the spirit of voting has been violated.
A magistrate with any depth would have considered not only the technical
provisions of the Electoral Act set out before her, but also the whole
philosophy from whence voting is derived. The basic idea, to which all
other ideas must be subservient, is as wide a choice when voting as
it is possible to achieve. The letter-of-the-law has increasingly been
used to restrict free choice. Such choice about the nature of government
broadly comes within the province of Common Law.
In many ways, electoral regulations have been
devised to strangle true choice.
The Australian Constitution sets out a small number of restrictions
on candidates standing for office in the House of Representatives. They
should not have a criminal record. They should not be un-discharged
bankrupts. They should not have dual citizenship, and they should be
Australian citizens. In conditions for standing for elections the world
"party" appears nowhere in the Constitution, save for the
recent provision that a member who ceases to hold office should be replaced
by someone of the same party.
The host of new regulations which have been added over time - compulsory
preferential voting, the registration of parties, the eligibility for
tax refunds and others - are all unnecessary restrictions on the original
idea - that any Australian citizen without a criminal record should
be able to stand for office on free and equal terms with other candidates;
and that all voters should be allowed to vote without any sort of coercion
for whom they please. An extension of the principle is that each member
of parliament, when elected, is bound to commit his loyalty to the nation's
sovereign, and to vote without fear or favour according to his conscience
and the will of his electorate. Any interference with this principle,
as exercised every day by Party whips, who coerce party members into
what they please to call "solidarity" is a far worse criminal
offence than any Pauline Hanson committed.
A mass of doubtful provisions now have a strangle-hold on genuine electoral
choice. Private donations to parties, the provision of millions of dollars
in tax revenue to candidates who receive four per cent or more of the
vote, the enormous power of television advertising, the biases of monopoly
media, all these things and more have increasingly made a mockery of
the democratic process.
As a result, survey after survey shows that politicians
are generally held in lower esteem by the population than any other
sector of the community. They are neither trusted not believed.
Yes, Pauline Hanson was foolish. But she was
harried unmercifully from the first moment she stood as an independent.
When she was expelled from the Liberal Party for "politically-incorrect"
views, the Liberal Party attempted, quite brazenly, to keep the money
she was entitled to when she won as an independent. It was symbolic
of the mean-spiritedness which has dogged Pauline Hanson from the major
parties throughout her career.
Because the One Nation party was incorrectly
registered, the monies they obtained in their first successful election
was deemed improperly obtained. With the help of her supporters throughout
Australia, the money was returned by Pauline Hanson. But this wasn't
enough. There is no provision within the letter of the law for trying
to make amends. She must be made to pay - and pay she will.
Were the people deceived?
Take a poll, if such a thing was possible - among the million Australians
who voted for One Nation at its height, asking whether they had been
"deceived" - and the answer would be overwhelming. Pauline
Hanson and her colleagues stood, rightly or wrongly, on a quite open
platform. The voters knew exactly where she was coming from, and approved,
by their votes, that direction. They felt, for the first time in a long
while, that they were getting a better choice on matters that had been
deliberately suppressed, or removed from the exercise of choice.
Whatever else is said, Pauline Hanson and her
One Nation opened up a range of choices hitherto denied. It improved
the whole process of representation. It forced the comfortable establishment
to clean out, to some extent, its own stables.. No one was deceived
- not even the Electoral Commission, which obviously failed in its duty
to check the conditions for registration.
Degrees of guilt
So Pauline goes to jail for a "political hanging offence".
Do the Australian people believe that justice has been done? I strongly
doubt it. They don't believe that individual members of parliament or
the major parties have been subjected to the same scrutiny, and the
impartial application of the law, which has been applied to Pauline
They don't believe she intended to deceive and
trick the the establishment apple-cart voters.
They do believe she upset in many ways - and that the "system"
has therefore been unleashed on her with fierce vengeance as the motive.
They don't believe justice has been done.