Perils of Pauline and Howard’s End?

by Patrick J. Buchanan – July 3, 1998

If a tree falls in a forest in Australia, out of earshot, does it make a sound? That old teaser is more than a party riddle today.

For the tree falling in Australia is the conservative coalition of Prime Minister John Howard. And the ax chopping at the foot of that tree is the One Nation populist party, the talk of all Australia.

One Nation has existed only 18 months. Last December, The Washington Post wrote that its popularity seem to have peaked at 4 percent. But in June, One Nation swept 23 percent of the vote in Queensland — and ousted the ruling coalition from power in that northern state.

Just since May, Howard’s coalition has watched its country-wide support tumble 18 points to 11 points below Labor. Plans for an August election had to be dropped, for those elections would have spelled Howard’s end. But national elections must be held by next May; and One Nation may wind up as kingmaker in Australia.

Why should Americans care about trees falling in Australia? Because many of the major issues convulsing Australia will explode right here in the U.S.A., if the Asian economic flu hits, full force.

As London’s Financial Times writes, One Nation “is saying things that would have been unmentionable 10 years ago: abolish Aboriginal land rights, end Asian immigration, and restore trade protection. It is campaigning to dismantle gun controls … (Its rise) has rocked Mr. Howard’s Conservative coalition … and opened the way for a bruising election focused on race, immigration and protectionism, as the economy flounders in the wake of the Asian financial crisis.”

U.S. conservatives should take note. Howard’s conservative coalition could be swept from power because of a failure to accommodate a surging populism of the right, just as were the Bush Republicans, Tories in Great Britain, Progressive Conservatives in Canada, France’s center-right and, this fall, Chancellor Helmut Kohl’s conservative coalition in Bonn.

What is One Nation? It is the creation of a middle-aged high-school dropout, divorcee and onetime owner of a fish-and-chips shop named Pauline Hanson, who came from nowhere to become the political sensation of Australia with her thunderous demands for zero immigration and the abolition of multiculturalism.

Australia, Hanson warns, is being “swamped by Asians.” Her party demands that any future immigration “not significantly alter the ethnic and cultural makeup of the country.” Her popularity has humiliated an establishment that is screaming “racism,” and angry commentaries against her are pouring in from as far away as China. Australian leaders are winging here to reassure nervous Clintonites.

Hanson claims zero immigration would be non-discriminatory and, in George Wallaceite rhetoric, rips the elites as “a bunch of academic snobs … who wouldn’t know what a hard damn day’s work is.” Her party decries the “Asianization of Australia.”

The present immigration mix, says One Nation, is leading to a “bizarre situation of largely Asian cities on our coast which will be culturally and racially different from the traditional Australian nature of the rest of the country.”

Hanson also calls for repatriation of refugees once the crisis in their homelands is past and says the constant push for land rights by Aborigines (2 percent of the population) is “destroying us and splitting us as a people.” Australia’s Senate is knotted up over a bill to return to the Aborigines land now held by ranchers and farmers.

In 1945, Australia had 7 million people, most of Irish and British descent, and a “White Australia” immigration policy that it abandoned in 1973. Since then, the population has grown 150 percent. With present immigration trends, Australia will be 27 percent Asian in 25 years. It is the socioeconomic consequences of this demographic revolution that have brought Australia to a boil.

Howard says Hanson’s gains are due to the mauling of small business in the collapsing currency and commodity markets. One Nation’s call for an end to imports explains its dramatic rise, says Howard. Howard himself, however, came to power by trumpeting Australia’s European connections, as Labor emphasized Australia’s future as an Asian nation. But on Howard’s last visit to Queensland, he departed the hall to shouts of “Don’t come back!”

Again, why should this matter to us? Well, even with 4 percent unemployment, the smoldering issue of higher immigration of foreign skilled workers — to take Silicon Valley computer jobs — is intruding on the California governor’s race. GOP candidate Dan Lungren favors a near doubling of the annual number of these “computer braceros.” Let a tsunami of Asian imports hit this fall, and if markets tumble and the economy heads south, Pauline’s issues could be America’s issues.