“Well essentially it was the first of its kind in the world,” Scott Balson, Hanson’s former webmaster told SBS this week of Hanson’s original website, which was birthed to the world along with One Nation, in 1997.
‘Webmaster’ isn’t really a job description you hear used much anymore, but back when Balson was a pioneer of the realms of digital marketing, the World Wide Web was a very different place to what we know it as now.
The design of the site as it originally appeared is testament to that:
“It was just the basic HTML back then – we’re talking about a whole different era,” says Balson.
“Perhaps the most important tool that I had, apart from the website, was my email list,” Balson said.
Before Facebook and Twitter birthed ‘viral stories’ and ‘tagging your friends’ to the world, Balson’s secret weapon “was absolutely like an early version of social media.”
“I built up a list of over 10,000 people – a HUGE email list [for the era],” Balson explains.
“What I used to do when One Nation had a function, I used to broadcast an email. That was really the catalyst that drew people into the website and then they told their friends – rather like Facebook today.”
So how did it all come about?
Balson was an early pioneer of digital marketing in the 1980s – “This was back before Windows came out, so my first interactive marketing publications were all published on the old floppy disk!” he laughs.
Balson first came to team Pauline back when Hanson was still a councillor at Ipswich Council.
“I came across to Queensland in 1994 to set up the global info links for Ipswich City Council, which was the first council to adopt or embrace the internet.
“I met her briefly during that time.”
Meanwhile, from 1995 onwards, Scott had launched ‘Australian National News of the Day’ which has been archived here by the National Library of Australia* as it was what Scott describes as “Australia's first online newspaper - thus by many years”.
I was just the guy who did the internet stuff for them. They had no understanding of what the internet was.
The site was not without its share of controversies and accusations right-wing bias, but, as the first of its kind, it gained a steady following of loyal email subscribers. This was who Balson marketed the One Nation site to when he launched it for Hanson.
“When the party was born I actually approached Barbara Hazelton who was Hanson’s PA and said ‘Look, what you guys need is a website.’ And so I built one for them.”
“The web page back then was developed by me as the PR bait with the email list developed from the web page being the killer punch creating the interaction.”
In one email, I literally shut One Nation down.
As the first of its kind, with no real example to lead by in terms of what a political website should be, Balson effectively had free rein to do whatever he liked.
“It was really whatever I wanted it to be,” Balson says. "I was just the guy who did the internet stuff for them. They had no understanding of what the internet was.”
Don’t be fooled by the slighted dated appearance of the website. Despite looking primitive by today’s standards, it was still a highly effective marketing tool.
“I’ll tell you how powerful the medium is” says Balson. “In December 1999, in one email, I literally shut One Nation down.”
Balson alleges that within that email, he revealed damaging information about the inner workings of the One Nation party.
“Then two days later the party collapsed,” he claims. “All from one email.”
Suffice to say Balson and Hanson are no longer on speaking terms.
“I have had no contact with One Nation since 2000,” says Balson
“Hanson hates me!”
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:
*The full National Library of Australia archive on One Nation can be viewed here.