One Nation created by void left by National Party, former deputy PM John Anderson says

Former deputy prime minister John Anderson said he shared some of the responsibility for One Nation's rise in the late 1990s. Picture: Karleen Minney
Former deputy prime minister John Anderson said he shared some of the responsibility for One Nation's rise in the late 1990s. Picture: Karleen Minney

At the precipice of a new millennium, Australia faced a new political threat.

The year 2000 was a relatively calm period in the world's history - the Cold War had ended, the war on terror was still a year off and the extreme weather events spurred on by climate change hadn't yet fully actualised.

But on the domestic front, tears in Australia's social fabric were appearing and being exploited by a new political party - Pauline Hanson's One Nation party.

Forming in 1997 after Ms Hanson was disendorsed by the Liberal Party for derogatory comments, the far-right political party emerged from the fringes during the 1998 federal election to win nearly 9 per cent of the vote and its first seat in the Senate.

Former deputy prime minister and National Party leader John Anderson said at the release of the 2000 cabinet documents he shared responsibility for the party's rise into popular discourse and parliament.

Mr Anderson's hands-on approach as party leader along with fellow former deputy prime minister Tim Fischer spending time away from the bush meant One Nation filled a gap left in rural areas, particularly in Queensland.

"[The National Party] left a bit of a void, and politics abhors a void," Mr Anderson said.

"Queensland loves to have the politicians around. They say terrible things about them but they want them to be there and I wasn't there enough."

While Mr Fischer took a more spear-headed approach to the party by attacking its policies, Mr Anderson said he wanted to understand why the people were supporting the party in the first place.

"A lot of people ... felt that they were no longer respected as Australians for what they had done in their lives," Mr Anderson said.

"They felt totally disadvantaged by what they saw as the discrepancy in health services and in communications, in roads, in education, versus their city counterparts."

The cabinet papers, released on Friday, show one particular budget announcement Mr Anderson attributes as the reason the Nationals were able to claw back support in the bush.

A $500 million regional and rural health package would deliver much-needed improvement and access to doctors and health services.

Mr Anderson said the package made a huge difference - something possibly reflected in the nearly halving of One Nation's vote during the following year's election and being relegated to irrelevance for four election cycles.

But as the history books show, its support had not been totally extinguished, just subdued.

A little more than a decade later, One Nation reared its head once more, snapping up headlines and controversially winning four Senate seats in the 2016 election with just 4 per cent of the vote.

"I cannot begin to tell you the frustration I felt when life was breathed back into that dissatisfaction and its political manifestations in later years," Mr Anderson said.

"I felt we'd gone the right way, the honourable way, the sensible way about dealing with the problem."

A lot has changed in the 20 years that have since passed.

The rise of misinformation and disinformation on social media has added another hurdle for social cohesion. The arrival of last year's once-in-a-century global pandemic has also meant we're online more than ever before. Enigmatic algorithms have contributed to leading some internet dwellers down the misinformation "rabbit hole".

Altogether, it means politicians are once again faced with a rising threat that's not fully understood.

"The environment's less trusting than ever so it's harder now to establish credibility," Mr Anderson said, adding it "needs to be considered" that recent and serving politicians are to blame for the party's resurgence.

There's no easy solution, Mr Anderson said, but he believes his "sensible" approach two decades earlier - understanding the concerns and working to address them - is the best way forward.

"Building social harmony, particularly when you're introducing economic change and the times themselves are changing, is incredibly important," Mr Anderson said.

"John Howard used to say that the things that unite us are far greater and more enduring than the things that divide us. That's a powerful message."

This story 'I wasn't there enough': John Anderson reveals guilt over One Nation's initial rise first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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