Hanson supporters' common enemy isn't Islam

VINTAGE Australian-made cars, Harley Davidson-enthusiasts in their dozens and breezy Queenslanders built into the sides of fertile hills and valleys.

This is Cunungra (population: 1147) in the Division of Wright, otherwise known as the start of Pauline Hanson country, polling as one of her strongest electorates in (20.9% in the 2016 Federal Election) in what was the strongest state for One Nation, Queensland (9.19%).

"The people are as nice you'll meet. Always smiling, always polite," begins the service station attendant, "but they're also the types to sit on the veranda in their rocking chair with a shotgun across their lap.

"They like to take care of their own business up here. That's where the territoriality and the One Nation thing creeps in," she says, adding: "There's unsolved murders and everything out here, bodies hidden in rivers and the bush."

Cunungra is a spec of a town most famous for being the former mecca of Queensland's timber industry. Thirty minutes west and signs of changing fortunes are in the air as we reach Beaudesert, a town which has been in steady decline since the local Meat Works packed up here.

Until a few weeks ago it was also suffering its hottest, driest summer in living memory. Here we meet local landowner Michael who owns the "Gun and Ammo" store in town, complete with mounted animal heads on the walls and Native American Indian statues at the entrance.

Michael in his gun and ammo store.
Michael in his gun and ammo store. Madison Davies

"It's pretty cruisy. Just do what you need to do and go home at the end of the day and sink a rum," he says of life in these parts.

That's if you're lucky enough to be employed by one of several family owned businesses in town or a nearby military base. Otherwise, it's bleak.

"Next to none this stage," he says of work prospects. "You won't get much of a chance unless you go through Coles or Woolies or something like that."

His political opinions are limited, other than to say, "Generally they're all a bunch of lying pricks."

"And the government trying to change all the gun laws to take the guns off people … if the opportunity comes along and (the public) need to defend themselves they're not going to be able to and the military and all that are not around in all suburbs nor is the police force," he says.

Declining living standards in towns like Beaudesert, while corporate profits boom, and the disconnect between workers and the political system have pushed many toward One Nation.

"I think (politicians) are running the country into the ground myself. With the wars going on, the refugee problem, always trying to take money away from the people that need it," says Jerry, an ex-servicemen and One Nation voter who works as a volunteer at the war museum in Beaudesert. He voted for Hanson's party to "keep 'em honest."

"People want (someone) to talk out about the things that concern them and One Nation seems to be listening to what the common person wants done," he says.

There is a common enemy in Pauline Hanson country but it isn't Islam. It's our political system.

Dairy Farmer Greg Dennis is sick of farmers suffering while Woolworths and Coles make a fortune.
Dairy Farmer Greg Dennis is sick of farmers suffering while Woolworths and Coles make a fortune. Madison Davies

Further on the outskirts of town we find intergenerational dairy farmer, Greg Dennis, 47, who made national headlines last year when he drove his tractor from Beaudesert to Cairns to generate awareness about the many dairy farmers suffering under the "corporate duopoly" of Woolworths and Coles.

He has been suffering from depression lately, which he says is in no small part related to his ailing business interests and our broken political system.

"We're experiencing a lot of downward price pressure towards the farmer because of supermarket wars and it's becoming increasingly difficult to make a profit as a farming business across different agricultural sectors," he says.

"It's something I'm having a bit of a challenge with right now because I'm actually getting to a point of giving up on Australians. The Australian people don't get it and they don't care.

"They talk like they care but that's not how they spend money. So when it comes to farmers who grow food, the consumer in Australia has been brainwashed by the duopoly; the cheap-cheap and down-down campaigns, and that is the way they are spending their money," he says.

Dennis blames a political system corrupted by the profit motive of multinational corporations.

"We're becoming oblivious to the fact that small business employs nearly as many people Australia wide as large and medium businesses combined. Yet small business is the one really suffering financially. It's not just agriculture, it's small business in general. There don't seem to be any incentives coming forward to make small business to remain profitable or even viable," he says.

Dennis had previously voted conservative - either for the Liberal Party or National/Country Party (now the Liberal National Party in Queensland) - for thirty years. That changed for the first time last election when he voted for the Nick Xenophon Team and the Greens. He might have been tempted to vote for One Nation if it weren't for their "dangerous" and "divisive" brand of politics.

"I think there is some frightening things happening in politics Australia wide … A lot of (Hanson's) support is really coming from fear. It's more of a protest vote. For all of One Nation's good ideas, I think any party that becomes divisive on race and religion, to alienate sectors of society because of the actions of very small minorities, that's dangerous," he says.

Heading further west we arrive at the Royal George Hotel in Rosewood (population: 2155). It's one of the pubs Pauline Hanson visited during her election campaign and there's a signed note from her hanging above the bar.

The Royal George Hotel in Rosewood, where Pauline Hanson stopped during her campaign.
The Royal George Hotel in Rosewood, where Pauline Hanson stopped during her campaign. Madison Davies

Publican Bernie says support for One Nation is strong among his customers and while he was impressed by her personally he doesn't much care for politics. "I've got enough problems with me wife, let alone politics," he says.

Next door we meet Cathy, 46, a mother of four and grandmother of one, who was born in Ipswich, Pauline Hanson's hometown. Today she holds down a gig as a body-piercing specialist at the tattoo parlour across the road from the pub. Prior to that she spent her life in the air force serving on bases around the country.

"I've lived in a lot of places. I've lived in the centre of Melbourne and it was a bit sort of hectic there, full of a lot of younger people but most of 'em you couldn't trust. It's nicer here," she says.

Rosewood body-piercing specialist Cathy (centre).
Rosewood body-piercing specialist Cathy (centre). Madison Davies

Personally, she finds Pauline Hanson offensive. She was turned off by how mean spirited she was toward immigrants on her first go round in 1997.

"I mean, good on her, giving it a go and stuff like that but when she first hit the political scene I was a little bit offended with all the 'get the immigrants out'," she says. As for her appeal today, Cathy says it's likely because "she's a bit more down to earth. When you speak to her she's not full of herself, so that helps."

Heading still west, along the recently christened Darren Lockyer Way, we reach the home of Australia's Christian far-right, none too subtly illustrated by the numerous billboards that line the highway advertising various churches and religious slogans. The pace of life is noticeably laid back and the people are polite, but money and work are scarce.

"Gatton and this end of the Lockyer (Valley) is a low socio-economic area. It's very much at the lower end of things, and people do struggle quite a deal here in the Valley," says the Pastor of Gatton's Lutheran church, James Haak.

"Pauline Hanson does have a great deal of support here. I think one of the things people like about her … they see that she gives answers when sometimes other politicians will equivocate.

"I think that's attractive to people in an area where that's what they want, they want solutions. They don't necessarily want someone telling them what the problems are. They know what the problems are. When you're hurting, the thing that you want is you want solutions. If someone offers them you're going to jump at them," he says.

Lutheran pastor James Haak.
Lutheran pastor James Haak. Madison Davies

It's mostly farm work out here, which is seasonal and dominated by transient backpackers. Those in need of a regular income are "overwhelmingly" forced out to one of the cities, Brisbane or the Gold Coast. Exacerbating the lack of work and income opportunities is a lack of support services, says the Pastor, evidence he says of the higher priority given to urban areas.

"I do get a number a year who want help for one kind or another - either foodstuffs or even accommodation and so forth."

"Accommodation is very difficult. If you're in a difficult situation whether you're coming out of domestic violence or simply have no permanent housing it can be difficult to find somewhere that will take you in even for a little while," he says.

From Gatton we do a loop and finish our journey at the home of Pauline Hanson, Ipswich, where we visit the local mosque and find four Islamic men sitting cross-legged on the carpet talking life, prayer and the teachings of Allah.

Two are IT worker-migrants from India and the other are Anglo-Saxon Australian converts. One of the converts, Mohammad, dresses in traditional religious robes, a koofi (skull cap) and wears a long distinctly Islamic-style beard.

He is from Redcliffe originally and converted to Islam in the nineties. Today he lives in Ipswich where he works as a horticulturist and takes care for his elderly mother. Since the resurgence of Pauline Hanson he says he has experienced an increase in Islamophobia on the streets of Ipswich but welcomes the challenge as a way to demonstrate the "humility" and "patient" virtues of the Koran.

"Life is good here. You find obstacles in terms of negative behaviour from some people but in our religion that is actually a good thing because we learn humility and patience through that sort of behaviour. That is part of our religion to learn humility and patience, so when we walk down the street and someone says that's 'rag head' and they pretty much want to vent their anger at you we just have to respond in a mild, calm manner," he says.

Whatever surface tensions exist, behind the scenes the mosque has the full support of local council, who helped fundraise to get it built.

Various Christian groups and ministers from the area, meanwhile, have pledged their support for local Muslims and the two faiths meet intermittently to share teachings and demonstrate solidarity.

It's a similar story in nearby Toowoomba where despite the local mosque being burned down twice this year by arsonists, various community groups from the area - Christian and otherwise - have rallied each time to raise funds and get it rebuilt bigger and better.

"It's just some local goons," explains Asha, an Indian Muslim who lived in Ipswich before moving to Browns Plains five years ago, adding that he has never experienced any threats or ill-feeling toward Islam in his time living in Queensland.

"The mayor (of Ipswich) is very friendly and he respects every religion," he says, finishing with the story of the time he was brought to tears by a speech the mayor delivered at an Islamic college in Brisbane.

"The whole ceremony and the occasion was to fundraise for this mosque and I heard his speech and tears were rolling down my eyes. These kind of people are governing this area so how can you think of anything wrong?" he says.

News Corp Australia

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