I first met Pauline Hanson in Sylvania Waters in 2009. I was researching a feature film about her extraordinary political journey: from single mum and Ipswich fish and chip shop lady, to the rookie independent Member for Oxley in 1996, to powerful populist leader of One Nation (the most divisive political movement of the 1990s), to her imprisonment for electoral fraud and subsequent “redemption” as a TV celebrity on Dancing with the Stars.
Hanson, who is not above having a laugh at herself, ordered fish and chips and we got talking. I told her I did not agree with the vast majority of her views, and she trusted me enough to share intimate details from her roller-coaster career.
She showed me the diaries she wrote in jail (which she had not read since late 2003, when she was released from Wacol Women’s prison outside Brisbane); I drank her favourite cocktail, Bundy & Dry, with her poolside at her farm just outside Ipswich, and failed to convince her that climate change is real.
Our political differences – and our demanding schedule - frequently annoyed Hanson during our three shoots together, and she stormed out of an interview more than once. But as is often the case in long form documentary, her desire to tell her story without embellishment, and my desire to capture it as completely as possible, kept us both in the project.
Six years after I first met Hanson, in early 2015, I was interviewing her again – not to research the drama we’d initially discussed, but to make an SBS documentary about her political journey and impact between 1996-2016.
After years of hand-transcribed conversations with Hanson, her former spin-doctors David Oldfield and John “Kojak” Pasquarelli, and many One Nation allies and foes, this time I had a film crew. We shot many interviews with Hanson, chaperoned her to key locations from her incendiary career and trailed her as she flew across Queensland in her bespoke Jabiru 2-seater with her new spin-doctor (and pilot) James Ashby – on the first leg her “Fed Up” campaign for a Queensland senate seat in the 2016 federal election.
But filming Hanson’s grassroots campaign, as she was mobbed in shopping malls and country fairs by the very same people who’d supported her twenty years ago, it was clear she was striking a populist nerve. Having rebooted her old “swamped by Asians” mantra to include Asian buy-outs of Australian farmland and mines, and with a new “invader” in her sights in the form of Muslim refugees, Hanson’s message was resonating.
We tracked Hanson, who has distrusted the “elitist” media since she was pilloried as “ignorant” and “racist” during her first foray into politics in 1996, as she worked with Ashby and her social media advisor, Saraya Beric, to amass a new digital army of supporters via her Pauline Hanson’s “Please Explain” Facebook page – picking up over 41,000 followers in under a year. Trump-style, Hanson was billing herself as “the people’s voice”, the anti-politician: the Aussie battler who – just as she had twenty years ago – was the only one ”brave enough to say what Australians are really thinking.” Her most strident anti-Muslim posts regularly attracted over one million likes.
The documentary HANSON: Please Explain is the end result of my strange, challenging and surreal journey with Pauline Hanson - from 2009 to now. The film focuses on Hanson’s most volatile years in the Australian political spotlight, from 1996-2004, to create a new understanding of how her polarising views – and how former Prime Minister John Howard’s deft appropriation of many of these views into coalition policy - helped shape us into the country we are today. When it became clear, half way through the edit, that Hanson, after eighteen years in the political wilderness, was destined for power once more, we inserted three present-day sequences into the film, from her 2015-16 “Fed Up” election campaign.
See more of Pauline, her commentators and the infamous fish and chip shop where it all began in Pauline Hanson: Please Explain! Available to view at SBS On Demand now.
Or watch it right here: