She is Pauline Hanson, a woman from outback Queensland, who has single- handedly embroiled Australia's political scene in an ugly debate over race. Until she entered the federal parliament last year as an independent, few Australians had heard of Mrs Hanson outside her home town of Ipswich, in a region known as Australia's "deep north", where she ran a fish-and- chip shop. She became a household name last September with a notorious maiden speech in which she claimed Australia was being "swamped by Asians" and that Aborigines were the most privileged group in the country.
Then last week, just as it seemed that Mrs Hanson's political side-show had run its course, she sprang on to Australia's front pages again, revived by even more provocative and outlandish claims. Draped in the Australian flag, and launching her own political party called Pauline Hanson's One Nation, she released a fund-raising book, Pauline Hanson: The Truth.
The author was anonymous, but copyright was attributed to Mrs Hanson. Its central claim, that 19th-century Aborigines were cannibals, was presented to bolster her argument that their descendants are unworthy of the millions spent on their welfare each year. "They killed and ate their own women and children and occasionally their men," the book says. "The older women were often killed for eating purposes, like livestock."
Elswhere, the Hanson book suggests that Australia in 2050 will be known as the Republic of Australasia, part of the "United States of Asia", with a population of 1.8 billion (100 times the population now) because immigration will have been thrown open to "everyone".
It is a familiar, if more sinister, mixture of nationalism, xenophobia and attacks on welfare spending that Mrs Hanson has been proclaiming as she embarks on a speaking tour through Queensland where, to the alarm of Australia's main political parties, crowds of supporters have been filling halls to clap and cheer her. An opinion poll last week showed that her One Nation party had more support than the Greens.
Her claims have brought a torrent of criticism from historians. "These claims are totally unsourced and without evidence," said Henry Reynolds, an authority on Aboriginal history at James Cook University in Queensland. "They are profoundly ignorant and insulting to Aboriginal people. Not even a 19th-century newspaper would have published them."Mrs Hanson does not seem to let her wildness with facts trouble her. In her maiden speech, she claimed that Malaysia had a population of 300 million (it is about 20 million).
She appears to have struck a chord with a constituency of middle Australia, people who see themselves as struggling in a climate of turbulent change and job insecurity while governments dish out favoured treatment to immigrants, Aborigines and other minorities.
There is no telling how far Mrs Hanson will rise. She is a mediocre media performer with a gritty voice and little to inspire her oratory beyond ethnic-bashing. But there is no doubting her tenacity and drive.Reuse content