HE WAS addressing questions in the wake of the Chilcot report but it was inevitable that former Prime Minister John Howard would have his brain picked on the horror show that is Australian politics right now.
Mr Howard had pretty good advice for both journalists and the general public on how to deal with his former nemesis Pauline Hanson now that she’s secured herself a senate seat.
It’s the kind of advice you give children about poking a wounded animal — don’t do it unless you want to get bitten.
“Her One Nation vote took a number of seats from my side of politics back in 1998,” he said.
“She’s obviously won a senate seat, perhaps more in Queensland and perhaps more elsewhere but you just have to — everybody’s got to accept that, and to sort of put her in a special corner is stupid and all it does is enhance her position,” he said.
“I watched this debate back in 1998 and 1999 and the more she was attacked, the more popular she became because those attacks enhanced her Australian battler image and she plays off that.
“I think you all know that and you should understand that when, if I may say so, with great respect, when you write about her.”
On Wednesday, Ms Hanson scolded the media in a video posted to Facebook in which she threatened to withhold interviews for the duration of her Senate term.
“Up to their old tricks again, I can’t believe it,” she tutted.
“It’s like (the media) use me as a punching bag. Let’s have a swipe at her, let’s have a go, let’s sensationalise a story, use Pauline Hanson. Well guys, I’ll tell you something: not interested. And neither is the public.”
Ms Hanson said it was “no wonder” newspaper sales and TV ratings were declining.
“Because no one wants to know what you have to say because you can’t tell the truth. People are over it,” she said.
She said people should take what newspapers wrote about her with a pinch of salt, “unless you see me live on TV or hear me live on radio”.
The one-time fish and chips shop owner turned One Nation leader also used the video to spruik citizen journalism app Newzulu, which she claimed threatened the future of the media.
“It might be another way to go, then you won’t need media at all. You guys will all be out of a job,” she snorted.
Mr Howard said the key to managing Ms Hanson was to “do what I did and deal with her issue by issue”, even if she was spouting outright lies.
He said it was vital to recognise that the renewed surge in support for the One Nation leader did not mean that Australia was a “racist” country but reflected the views of a growing number of people who felt “left out” and who were desperate to be heard.
“I don’t agree with some of her views on foreign investment,” Mr Howard said.
“I didn’t agree with her when she said we were being flooded by Asians because we weren’t. I didn’t agree with her when she said that Aboriginal people weren’t among the most disadvantaged in our community because those things were manifestly wrong but I did understand that she was articulating the concerns of people who felt left out, and I was very critical of people who branded everybody who supported her as a racist because that is nonsense.
“We are not a racist country and I wish people would stop reaching for that adjective whenever they want to … isolate somebody who they don’t agree with. We’ll get nowhere doing that, absolutely nowhere.”
Having said that, the former PM scoffed at the idea of holding a royal commission into Islam but said Australians had a unique opportunity to teach Ms Hanson how to respect different faiths and cultures by affording her the same respect themselves.
“Can I say in relation to mosques, if you believe in freedom of religion you must support the right of people of a particular religion to erect a place of worship, be it a church, a synagogue, a mosque, a temple, whatever it is,” he said.
“I believe in freedom of religion, and providing the buildings comply with the parking and building ordnance requirements, then it doesn’t matter. You’re entitled. Let’s just sort of have some basic principles here. Let’s not resort to all of these isolating remarks. That gets us nowhere but that includes, may I say, (the idea that) Pauline Hanson is entitled
to the same respect.
“People have voted for her and there’s no good in saying she’s a particularly — will be a particularly scorned species. That doesn’t achieve anything. You have to recognise that people voted for her.”