Charles Smith is a Member of the Western Australian Legislative Council, representing One Nation in the East Metropolitan Region since the 2017 election. Charles became a Platinum Sponsor of the UWA Politics Club in 2018, and kindly agreed to sit down with Tyler Walsh for an interview this July.
Part One of this interview focuses on Charles and Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party.
Why did you run for parliament, and why with One Nation?
Running for parliament was a decision that’s been in the making for, I guess, many years, since I first got into politics around six or seven years ago when I was living in Kalgoorlie, when I was a police officer out there.
I got introduced to regional politics in particular, as you do living in Kalgoorlie, and you can see quite a difference between city politics and regional politics and life in general and you can see a big divide there. So I was happy to get involved and, sort of, agitate for more investment into the regions, and that was why I have been involved with the National Party back then, which sort of started my interest in politics in Australia and Western Australia state politics.
So it went from there really, and I was on the journey with the National Party for some years. When the time came for me to move back to Perth, I went to work for the National Party and that relationship didn’t work out well in the end, and we ended up parting ways.
I guess while I was in the National Party I went through their pre-selection processes to be nominated to run for a seat. With that experience behind me, when the last state election came up and I wasn’t involved in the National Party anymore, I thought, well, “Who’s out there?” and “What’s going on?”. I wasn’t interested in Liberals and Labor at that time, and I’m still not. Then I heard that One Nation were possibly going to come to Western Australia, and that really opened up an opportunity to join a new political party in WA.
I understand that it’s their second reincarnation, but under the ‘Pauline Hanson’ banner it was a new political party. So I got in touch with those guys and talked to them about what they were trying to achieve, what they were doing, who was involved. I said I was happy to assist them initially to set up as a new party, and I talked to the contacts here in WA about becoming a candidate. At the end of the day, they agreed that I should run in the East Metro area as the number one choice, because obviously I have some political experience; I worked in Parliament House for a while.
And obviously during that campaign I was lucky enough to actually get over the line and get elected to the East Metropolitan region in the number six spot.
So that’s really why One Nation was there, it was an alternative to the Liberal Party and Labor Party. I think people are still looking for an alternative beyond the majors. At that time, One Nation was really the only other choice for people to park their vote who were fed with the ongoing, what I call the ‘duopoly’, where people don’t really perceive there to be much difference between the majors.
Who would you say has had the biggest influence in your life?
There’s many people. As you grow older, you come into contact with many, many people personally, professionally, and now I’m meeting lots of interesting people politically who, of course, I would just never get to meet if I stayed with what I was doing before.
Personally, for me, I think great people that I know is probably my father. As I get older, I increasingly appreciate my father’s influence on my life as I’m growing older, and how he’s had his life, and how he’s been so generous to impart his knowledge and experience on me. As I’ve grown older I saw what he was doing. When we’re young we don’t really appreciate our family and our parents, and what they try to do for us. But as I grow older I realise how great and generous my father is and continues to be.
In terms of now, in recent times, I like to talk to people like Augusto Zimmermann who is a very, very interesting man, who’s very intelligent, and he’s very conservative, and he’s a big, Christian man, and I think that’s something which as an example is something worth examining a lot more closely. Those are the people that motivate you to keep on going and reinforce your worldview is something worth pursuing.
What is life like as a politician?
At first, I didn’t know what to expect – how parliament works, how it runs, rules, rules which are only spoken and not recorded, how things operate. Generally speaking, as a backbencher, that’s the only political life I know, I see my role in the party is to have a crack at both sides of politics because I see them both as the problem. So that makes it sort of different, if you like, because people are just Liberal-Labor-Liberal-Labor, having a crack at each other in the chamber.
Well, I want to keep both parties accountable to what’s happened before, what’s happening now. How life is good, I came to meet lots and lots of interesting people on both sides of the political spectrum. I’ve met lots of younger people who, I want to harness their support, because I think my view on how things are going wrong really, really affects the younger generations. I think there’s a good argument for a youth party to put those perspectives forward.
But life is good, it’s interesting. Travel, meeting hoards of people, getting abuse because I’m a member of One Nation, so it’s all part of the course. I think people’s perception of One Nation or right-wing politics is mostly wrong. This term “racism” is thrown around far too easily. People like me, and if you get to know me, all of my colleagues will say that’s just nonsense, absolute nonsense. And I think the biggest challenge for me is changing that perception, which is what I’m trying to do.
How has the experience of being a police officer out in Kalgoorlie influenced the role that you play in parliament?
Policing changes people. If you are a cop for long time, what you get to do and see and deal with has a big impact on your psyche, and how you perceive the world. Many, many people call that becoming jaded with the world. You’ve seen too much death, destruction, family violence, drug addiction, dead people; it all plays a role in how your mind starts to function.
You get to see the justice system very, very closely, because that’s your primary purpose, of course, enforcing the criminal code and criminal law. In getting involved in the criminal justice system you see how it works, how it doesn’t work, how it fails people, and how it fails families.
That’s really the driving force behind me in politics – is crime, law and order, the prison system, the correctional system, and the whole justice system. I perceive it to be quite dysfunctional and it needs a serious review and big change. So that’s what really drives me right now in politics, is that whole system, the whole ‘merry-go-round’ with the justice system, prison, ineffectual sentencing; that’s my view and experience.
I think that’s becoming widely popular out in the community, as people see sentencing as being quite weak. That’s something I’m trying to address, that’s difficult for a lone member who sits in the cross-bench in opposition; it’s a very difficult task. That’s really what drives me forward, the big law and order issue. I think it’s becoming increasingly important that it’s dealt with, but I think majors have their head in the sand about this issue quite badly.
Policing changes people. If you are a cop for a long time, what you get to do and see and deal with has a big impact on your psyche, and how you perceive the world.
Now we’ll go on to that incident in Fremantle, the war memorial, and you jokingly had the solution of building a wall around the “socialist hell-hole” that you called [Fremantle]. That made it onto the news, and the media, Channel Nine, referred to you as ‘Chris Smith’, because they didn’t know who you were. So, throughout the years, and One Nation’s journey from the early nineties to now, has the media been a help or hindrance to the reputation of One Nation?
The experience I’ve had with mainstream media, being part of One Nation in Western Australia, has been very negative, in that they will not publish anything good that One Nation tries to do or actually achieves in parliament. It’s just not available for anyone to know about. This I perceive to be just a tactic used, just to make sure One Nation is shown to be invisible in the mainstream media so people don’t know what the party is doing, what they’re trying to do, or what they’re achieving. So, in three or four year’s tie, no one’s heard of One Nation – “What have they done? They’ve done nothing,” – no one will vote for them again. That’s a political strategy which I think is biased.
They love to report bad news: One Nation people arguing against each other, people leaving the party, and what they perceive to be outrageous posts on social media. They think “Maybe that’s embarrassing for One Nation,” so they’ll happily broadcast that.
Except, in this case, they seem to have missed the point of it being satire and a bit of a joke. You know, channelling Donald Trump about Fremantle is just a complete joke, and all these people are taking it seriously. Although they missed the point that the offence was this guy desecrating the war memorial, which they didn’t talk about, rather than the comical post about building a wall around Fremantle.
Yes, it was designed to get attention, which was what it did, so that’s good for me. At least my name’s on television, although they did call me Chris.
So, with the media not reporting the “good” that One Nation does or tries to do, you see that as a media tactic?
I think what I’ve noticed is the agenda I’m trying to drive often appears two to three weeks later with someone else and is reported. Things like stab vests for the police, body cameras, the number of assaults the police have to endure before their worker’s compensation, it’s time to be worked on.
So it’s those issues, and the population issues, the infrastructure issues, are starting now to gain traction. These are issues that I raised in parliament months ago, but nobody really wants to report anything positive or interesting that I’m trying to achieve. And that’s just the way it is, something we have to live with, and that’s why we use social media to bypass the mainstream media so people are actually aware of what we’re trying to do.
I mean, I think without mainstream media, I think One Nation would just be dead and buried. But, at least for me personally, I’m gaining some traction out there. People are starting to recognise my name a little bit and the things I stand for, in particular the crime issue, the population, infrastructure, I’m also interested in education.
So those are really my main ideas. I do post about education now and again, and that’s something I think is not being dealt with at all in Western Australia or Australia-wide. They just want to chuck money at it, hope it gets better, rather than review how people are taught, classroom disruption, teacher quality. All of these things are not being addressed and I think they’re the biggest issues which need to be discussed. I don’t know if you know, I mean, Australia’s ranking in the world is just going down. Education outcomes in primary school and senior school are just going down and down. People are hoping and keeping their fingers crossed that it’s going to improve without doing anything, which I think is what major parties do with so many issues – put their head in the sand and hope it gets better without taking action.
Jim Saleam, who was running in the Longman by-election, the leader of the Australia First Party, said that “One Nation is merely just a satellite of the Liberal Party.” How would you respond to that?
I think that’s an easy and lazy quip to make for a political opponent. I guess people say that because Liberals are supposed to be on the right of the political spectrum, One Nation is supposed to be on the right of the political spectrum. They’re natural allies, it’s as simple as that.
I guess, in the federal government, you’ll find that One Nation votes more with the government than it votes against them. That’s just normal for me, so that’s just an easy and lazy slur I suppose.
One Nation has far too different proposals and policies in Queensland than the Liberal Party does, so they’re separate entities but there’s a natural alliance there, anyone can see that. They’re not going to vote Labor first are they? They’re going to put Liberals before Labor aren’t they? Very simple.