CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Right-wing firebrand politician Pauline Hanson, who opposes Muslim immigration, has a realistic chance of returning to Australia's Parliament in July elections, experts said Tuesday.
Hanson became one of Australia's most divisive politicians in a generation when she used her first speech to Parliament in 1996 to attack the country's nondiscriminatory immigration policy. The independent lawmaker warned that Australians were "in danger of being swamped by Asians."
She was dumped by voters after a single three-year term in 1998 and has made several failed attempts to be elected to federal and state parliaments.
But experts agree the 61-year-old's chances of winning a Senate seat in her home state of Queensland are enhanced because the July 2 poll is a rare so-called double-dissolution election, in which candidates need a smaller share of the votes to win a seat.
In a normal election, only half the Senate seats in each state are open for election. In a double-dissolution election, all 76 Senate seats are re-elected, giving an advantage to minor parties and independents.
Queensland University political scientist Katharine Gelber said Hanson has her best chance at being elected since 1998, but declined to give odds.
Griffith University political scientist Paul Williams rated her chances of winning a seat at "about 50-50."
Williams said he expects either Hanson or independent senator Glenn Lazarus to win a seat on the back of the so-called conservative protest vote. Lazarus is a colorful first-term senator known as the "Brick With Eyes," a nickname he gained as a Rugby League football star.
Williams said Hanson's near win in a Queensland state election last year proved she remains "politically alive."
Hanson has maintained a public profile as a commentator, author and even contestant on the Australian version of "Dancing With the Stars."
Hanson told Nine Network television on Tuesday that she was "quietly confident" of becoming a senator.
"But I don't take it for granted," she said. "I've traveled around the country and mostly through Queensland to gain the confidence of the people to give me another go."
Penny Wong, the opposition Labor Party's Senate leader, who had a Malaysian father and Australian mother, did not welcome the prospect of Hanson returning to Parliament after an 18-year absence.
"The commentary suggests that she might be in with a chance," Wong told reporters. "I've spent a lot of my ... adult life arguing against the views that she's promulgated; we'll see how that turns out."
Hanson's political party, Pauline Hanson's One Nation, is opposed to globalization and free trade, and its focus has shifted from Asian to Muslim immigration. The party would end Muslim immigration and resettlement of Muslim refugees.
It also would ban burqas and niqabs in public, and halal certification would be banned except for exports. Also, Muslims would not be allowed to use the Quran to be sworn in as lawmakers.
Hanson was sentenced to three years in prison in 2003 on a conviction of illegally registering her party in 1997 and of fraudulently claiming electoral funding. But she was released after 11 weeks when an appeals court overturned the conviction.