Mungo Mac Callum. Photo Doug Eaton / The Northern Star
Mungo Mac Callum. Photo Doug Eaton / The Northern Star Doug Eaton

ScoMo 'the great healer', he is not

LET'S be clear about the Al Jazeera sting against One Nation: the drunken braggarts who fell for it deserved all they got and more.

We are used to Pauline Hanson's atrocities, her long years exploiting the politics of resentment and paranoia among the gullible and disaffected, but this latest caper with the NRA and its financial backers to subvert Australian law is quite simply unforgivable.

However, having said that, as a journalist I must join Peter Greste and others in feeling a bit uneasy about the ethics of the operation. I have no problem with using subterfuge - the use of deception, including hidden cameras and microphones, in order to expose activities that the participants would prefer hidden.

But becoming part of - indeed, orchestrating - the story rather than simply uncovering it and reporting it is going very close to the line. It is not illegal - Hanson's attempt to involve ASIO, of all organisations, is as crazy as the rest of her agenda. And it can hardly be called entrapment - James Ashby and Steve Dixon went for the bait like a pair of rabid hyenas. They were more than willing participants everything from the conspiracy to the Scotch.

But perhaps the Al Jazeera team would have been better to have kept a little further from direct involvement in the action. At least that would have avoided the distractions Hanson and her rough mates are offering as their excuses as they scramble for cover.

The point is, of course, that whatever reservations I might have about the means, the end was that revealing the depravity in the two-part series is overwhelmingly in the public interest. It won't sink Pauline Hanson - decades have shown that her devoted fans will never be convinced she is anything but a paragon, the messiah who will deliver them from whatever they are whingeing about at the time. But it must surely hurt her party and the so-called advisers, if only because they have been unmasked as buffoons.

There is an old saying that you cannot con an honest man, which is why Rodger Muller's con worked: Ashby and Dickson knew perfectly well that what they were doing was utterly unacceptable, which is why they constantly urged secrecy and talked about ways of laundering the money they coveted. But unacceptable is One Nation's default position; that was not the problem, even before the sauce started flowing.

What mattered was pure greed. Ashby has always been keen on making money out of Hanson and fancies himself as a master manipulator - his behaviour is vile, but at least it is marginally rational. Dickson, on the other hand, appears completely deranged - the kind of political berserker who presents as a prime candidate for the men in white coats and big butterfly nets, or as a One Nation senator from Queensland on a ticket with Malcolm Roberts - take your pick.

Thus it was entirely predictable that once they were sprung they went straight to the NRA playbook: offence, offence, offence. Even from Hanson's tick-infested bunker, this was not helpful, so the supreme leader doubled down with her own appearance, in which the pair stood silently on each side of her as she ranted about, predictably, Islam and the ABC.

This was at least what her base wanted to hear. What it did not what to hear was Scott Morrison, belatedly and reluctantly admitting that reprising Hanson's 20- year-old conspiratorial fantasy about Port Arthur in the wake of Christchurch had finally forced him to put One Nation below Labor on Liberal how to vote cards.

Hanson said that would end his government. Well actually ScoMo's government was looking pretty moribund anyway, and it is unlikely to look any worse from (finally) a decision that can at least pretend to be decent. But what will make it worse is, yet again, intransigence from the Nationals, who will not only ignore his ukase, but in many cases are preparing to embrace the party of racists and gun nuts with welcoming anti-democracy sausages.

(So is Tony Abbott in what might be called a courageous decision to encourage preferencing One Nation anywhere and everywhere, a somewhat bewildering tactic in Warringah).

This is being spun as the Nats asserting their long-suppressed independence from their senior partners. Assuming some of them survive, they will have plenty of opportunities to be independent in opposition. The split not only reveals Morrison's lack of authority - we already knew that. But it draws attention to the fact that Morrison has played footsie with Hanson for so long that his sudden discovery that she is beyond the pale may be regarded as less than convincing.

Since Christchurch, Morrison has decided that Moslem bashing is no longer a winning move, except to the basest of his base. But, having indulged in the politics of fear and division and egged on others - especially Peter Dutton, deeply unhappy about the One Nation ban - for most of his political life, his conversion, while welcome, is best greeted with caution.

He is currently indignantly denying an old story that he once urged his cabinet colleagues to use prejudice against Moslems as an election tactic. The difficulty is that the story is entirely believable, given that ScoMo made his reputation from demonising and denigrating asylum seekers, and was still doing so a mere couple of weeks ago.

The great healer he is not.

And that being the case, it was time to change the subject - offence, offence, offence, the obvious target being the Greens. They were the real extremists, the clear and present danger. So the rust-bucket reactionaries let loose with all guns blazing. True, One Nation tried to gain illegal funds from the American merchants of death to provide unlimited use of guns, subvert the democratic system and install their version of Trumpian dystopia. Unacceptable, no doubt, but it really didn't matter because it wouldn't happen.

But the Greens - they would ban new coal mines, bring asylum seekers to the mainland, implement a bill of rights and give lots of money to education, child care and the disabled; and, horror of horrors, they would pay for this communistic spending orgy by cutting the defence budget.

Of course it isn't going to happen either, but that's not the point. It is an existential attack on western civilisation, a dagger aimed at our freedoms and our way of life. And if you believe that, you'll believe anything. Hell, you may even vote for Pauline Hanson - or Scott Morrison.