The Iron Lady Down Under

She is the most powerful, the most revered, and the most reviled woman in Australia today. Before February 1996, almost no one even in her home state of Queensland had heard of her. Before September 1996, she was still largely unknown outside the depressing tribe of psephologists. Now she sends Indonesian and Thai bigwigs, however irresolute their normal disposition, into what Roy Campbell called "a rheumatic ecstasy of hate." Moreover, she now belongs to that elite of half a dozen Australians whom headline-writers can identify by first name alone, certain that even their most cognitively challenged readers will recognize her. In total seriousness, admirers and detractors have likened her to Hitler, Churchill, Thatcher, George Wallace, and Mother Teresa. She is Pauline Hanson, quondam fish-and-chips shop owner, and representative for the federal parliamentary electorate of Oxley.

Her lurch onto the national stage would never have been possible without that political correctness which, as every Australian guru is reassuring the public, is dead. Traditionally, Oxley has been among Australia's safest Labor Party seats. Its incumbent for the greater part of the postwar era was Bill Hayden, who (after serving as Treasurer under Cough Whitlam, party leader after Whitlam's retirement, and Foreign Affairs Minister under Bob Hawke) held the Governor-General's office with improbable skill from 1989 to 1996. Located as...

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