Leading Article: One nation, divided by insecurity

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The Independent Culture
THE STRIKING success of the Australian maverick Pauline Hanson's One Nation party in the Queensland state election cannot be dismissed as a freak. In winning almost a quarter of the vote on a racist platform that includes an end to welfare for Aborigines and immigration, the party has shown how fragmented the Australian dream has become. The British image of Australia is a mix of Neighbours-style matiness, sporting toughness and constant sunshine - with the odd can of lager and bbq-ed steak thrown in. But cracks in the apparent perfection have been appearing.

The most obvious, to British eyes, has been the push towards republicanism. This is partly a sign of Australian strength - a mature nation no longer wishing to be beholden to its past, ready to play its part in Australasia. But other observers have pointed out that it is also about a nation unsure of its place in the world, using republicanism as a way of sparking a debate.

Again, the boom years under Bob Hawke and Paul Keating led to talk of an Australian economic miracle. Politically it seemed as if Labor would be in permanent power. Harmonious labour relations, dashing economic growth and world-famous entrepreneurs made it look as though prosperity were permanent and growing. Many legendary entrepreneurial figures became convicted criminals as soon as their empires collapsed. The slow-down in growth has been marked, and has led to the election of a conservative Liberal-National coalition in an attempt to restore past successes.

Pauline Hanson's vision of an Australia in which "battlers" feel secure, jobs are saved for "Australians" (ie neither immigrants nor Aborigines), guns are plentiful and tariffs deep, is mirrored across the globe by similar fringe parties that spring up in times of insecurity. The challenges Australia now faces are clearly no less fundamental than those of the past 100 years.