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Inside One Nation's attempt to capture SA's right

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One Nation is gearing up for its first South Australian state election campaign since 2006, with its state leader insisting the Pauline Hanson-founded party is well-placed to influence both the policy debate and the state’s next government.

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Jennifer Game, a Hanson policy adviser who will reprise her run as One Nation’s SA senate candidate at the federal poll, is overseeing the party’s first foray into state politics since the ‘Rannslide’ era – when it ran just six candidates.

This time round, it will be 18 in the lower house, with three Legislative Council candidates as well.

And the party is hoping to capitalise on a dearth of representation on the political Right since the demise of Family First – notwithstanding its planned revival under former Labor frontbenchers Tom Kenyon and Jack Snelling.

It appears better placed to launch a challenge than this time four years ago, when it reportedly missed the deadline to register with the state’s electoral commission and had to forgo the campaign.

Game says the state director at the time, Steven Burgess, is “no longer in the party”, but insists Hanson “had no intention of registering the party here in 2018”, wanting instead to focus on Queensland.

The shift in focus came after Game stepped in as SA candidate in 2019.

“They didn’t have a candidate here but I was living here, and they asked me whether I’d stand for the senate,” she tells InDaily.

After Family First’s demise, One Nation was the fourth highest polling party, with 4.87 per cent of the primary vote.

“I talked to [Hanson] about that afterwards, because we’d run a very modest and short campaign [and] she’d said ‘I think there’s sufficient support to start a party in SA’,” Game recalls.

“But almost as soon as that happened, COVID came along – and all my plans to have her come over disappeared… she hasn’t been over since 2019.”

I think people have fallen for the stereotype and I don’t think that’s our membership now… and maybe it never was

Instead, Game has spent the past two years “very quietly setting about trying to build up the membership here in SA… to a point where we’d comfortably have the numbers to meet registration requirements”.

In so doing, she says she was “personally surprised” to discover a membership quite at odds with a stereotype she says is peddled in academic circles about a largely male, unemployed base.

“I asked them about themselves, who they were… they were almost all working, from very interesting backgrounds – a lot of tradespeople, small business owners and people who had high flying jobs.,” she says.

“I was personally surprised – it didn’t fit with what I thought might be our membership, but I think people have fallen for the stereotype and I don’t think that’s our membership now… and maybe it never was.”

She also takes issue with “the idea we’re a racist party”.

“People to say that to me, ‘what are you doing with a party that holds racist views’ [but] I can’t find that,” she says.

She’s eager to emphasise cultural diversity among candidates, with Punjabi immigrant Rajan Vaid – who has previously run under Fraser Anning’s party banner – standing in Enfield, and Nharangga indigenous elder Kerry White running in Narungga.

White tells InDaily: “I don’t like Liberals, I don’t like Labor, I don’t like the Greens – Pauline offered an alternative to those, so this time I decided to run with One Nation.”

Game insists that “even when I read [Hanson’s infamous 1996] maiden speech, she doesn’t think the colour of your skin should define disadvantage”.

The preceding line in the speech, though, was: “Along with millions of Australians, I am fed up to the back teeth with the inequalities that are being promoted by the government and paid for by the taxpayer under the assumption that Aboriginals are the most disadvantaged people in Australia.”

White, who has worked in the health sector, is scornful of the “indigenous representation in parliament”, arguing: “You can’t represent someone that doesn’t know you, and you don’t know their issues.”

“From my point of view and an Aboriginal point of view, there’s been too many lies told by government,” she says.

“Pauline understands what Australian people want – she knows them, and she’s their voice, she’s a voice of the people.”

Game insists the diversity of One Nation’s SA membership is showcased by its candidates, and hopes to avoid the pitfalls that have bedevilled a party with a track record of controversial defections.

“We want people to be reflective of society, and I wanted them to have real-life experience: common-sense and honest and do it for the right reasons,” she says.

“You can never be 100 per cent sure – which is what [Premier Steven] Marshall has found… he started off in majority government and now he’s in minority. I’m sure he thought he did have the right people when he started.

“I’m not saying I won’t be disappointed, I’m just saying I’ve done my very best not to be.

“I’ve certainly eliminated some very poor candidates.”

Game says she disendorsed one hopeful “because he wanted to use the party as a platform for his key issue – which was about the management of COVID in SA”.

“He didn’t want to talk about anything else… but I don’t think that’s the only issue around,” she says.

Still, with the issue set to dominate the campaign, it’s one the party appears set to carve out a niche around.

Game says One Nation is “pro choice and non discriminatory about people who are non-vaccinated” – which she says will make the party unique in the state campaign.

When InDaily arrives to take candidates’ photographs at their registration day at the Coopers Ale House in Blair Athol, one is loudly venting her frustration that her child needs a medical procedure but that it can’t be booked because none of the family is vaccinated.

“I’m vaccinated – I’m fully vaccinated,” Game tells InDaily.

“But I’m very much wanting pro-choice and no discrimination.”

She says Hammond candidate Tonya Scott has participated in the controversial COVAX-19 trial by Flinders University researcher Nikolai Petrovsky, but that “when she went to her employer and said ‘I’m vaccinated’, they said ‘but this vaccine is not on the list’”.

“She’s not got her job any more – it’s not right,” says Game.

A Facebook post by Hammond hopeful Tonya Scott.

She argues “some of the decision making has been very poor” around SA’s COVID management.

“It’s been overly bureaucratic and the government should have taken back responsibility… they’ve misused the emergency management act for a very long time, and allowed a couple of bureaucrats to run the economy – and in that time they’ve achieved nothing: they haven’t fixed ramping, they haven’t fixed the hospital system,” she says.

“We’ve increased our debt here under the Liberal Government but there’s not much to show for it.”

Game also emphasises policy areas such as education, in which the party spruiks a broad-brush “back to basics” approach, and housing affordability, with a prospective ban on foreign property ownership.

“We’d like to keep whichever party forms government more accountable than they’ve been,” she says.

“We’d like to get some of our own policies implemented – housing affordability is a central issue for us.

“What’s come into focus with this pandemic is the poor state of the hospital system here [and] we’ve got businesses closing down, rather than businesses coming here.”

If Game emphasises a party breaking down its own stereotype, it’s probably because she hardly fits the mould herself.

“I’ve had that said to me a few times,” she concedes.

She boasts an honours degree in science before moving into research, and working at the State Library in Victoria, as registrar of the Australian War Memorial in Canberra and later the National Maritime Museum in Sydney.

From there, she moved into the taxation office, which sponsored her to study tax law at the University of New South Wales.

It led to a role as Head of Secrecy for the ATO’s Operation Wickenby, a high-profile crackdown on alleged tax avoidance by high-profile Australians, which famously pursued actor and comedian Paul Hogan for a decade.

In that role, she acted as a whistleblower about her concerns about the office’s approach to secrecy, with her complaints helping launch the Boucher Review into the ATO’s internal practices.

However, she found herself isolated in the organisation and “decided to resign”, later working for a law firm that contacted her after she “happened to have my name in the paper”, before retirement.

A chance invitation to an interfaith meeting event saw her seated next to Hanson.

The conversation led to an offer to work in the returned senator’s office.

“I just found myself finding it hard to disagree with her on many of the things she said,” Game recalls.

“I went and checked a lot of things – I’m very practical about checking my sources.”

One Nation SA leader Jennifer Game. Photo Tony Lewis / InDaily

Game says One Nation will distinguish itself against both major parties in SA, both of which she says are “very progressive, socialist really”.

One Nation preferences will be determined on a seat-by-seat basis, largely based on the incumbents’ voting record on the recent and controversial “late term abortion Bill”, Game says.

However, she says the party will also consider preferencing against MPs accused of misusing the country members entitlement – despite the fact that that would include many members who were staunch opponents of the Termination of Pregnancy Bill.

Game says the party expects to run strongly in marginals such as Newland and King [Liberal] and Mawson [Labor], saying the incumbents “have to be potentially concerned”.

“I think we’ve got a very strong candidate in Narungga, and in Finniss,” she says.

The latter candidate, Carlos Quaremba, says he’s “been following One Nation for a while [as] the party that most aligns with what I believe in”.

Finniss hopeful Carlos Quaremba. Photo: Tony Lewis / InDaily

“I’ve been disappointed with what’s happened in our area in Finniss – a lot of big ticket items have been thrown out there that don’t do anything for what’s required at the moment,” he says, referencing the recently-completed Granite Island Causeway.

“I’m a builder by trade, and when you go over budget by 30 or 40 per cent and call that a win – it’s not a good thing,” he says.

“I woke up one morning and decided, enough’s enough – somebody’s got to stand up and say something.”

The political Right will boast something of a resurgence at the state poll, with the Nationals emerging from their recent near-death experience to last week announce their own election line-up, led by prominent former Port Adelaide Enfield mayor Gary Johansen, who has previously run as an independent and under Nick Xenophon’s SA Best banner.

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