Just prior to the election, Hanson made comments to The Queensland Times - a daily newspaper in Ipswich - advocating the abolition of special government assistance for Aborigines above what was available for other Australians. These comments led to her disendorsement by the Liberal Party during the campaign. However, ballot papers had already been printed listing Hanson as the Liberal candidate, and the Australian Electoral Commission had closed nominations for the seat. As a result, Hanson was still listed as the Liberal candidate when votes were cast.
Hanson subsequently won the election easily, with 54 percent of preferences going to the coalition.
As a result of her controversial maiden speech, Hanson was briefly catapulted to the forefront of Australian politics, with the Australian population divided on whether Hanson was honest and plain-spoken, a far-right nativist, or misinformed, uneducated and a racist. Some of Hanson's critics also derided what they saw as her inarticulate style—the very trait that her supporters took to be evidence of her credentials as a speaker 'for the people'. On 13 October 1996, asked by Tracey Curro on 60 Minutes if she was xenophobic, she replied "Please explain?", which has since become an oft-parodied catch phrase within Australian culture.
The reaction of the mainstream political parties was overwhelmingly negative, with parliament passing a resolution (supported by all members except Graeme Campbell) condemning her views on immigration and multiculturalism. However, the Prime Minister at the time, John Howard refused to censure Hanson or speak critically about her, acknowledging that her views were shared by many Australians, commenting that he saw the expression of such views as evidence that the 'pall of political correctness' had been lifted in Australia.
In 2004, Hanson appeared on the nationally televised ABC interview show Enough Rope. Archival footage from a 60 Minutes program shot on the streets of Ipswich was used to introduce claims about racism and bigotry in Hanson's views. Hanson challenged Denton to show her things that she'd said that were racist. Denton responded with an example of the kinds of things that were being said as a result of Hanson's expressed views. According to the transcript, Hanson was unaware of the racist outcomes of her views, despite the similarity to her own words. In 2006, ten years after her maiden speech, its effects were still being discussed within a racism framework, as well as being included in resources funded by the Queensland Government on 'Combating racism in Queensland'. In 2007, Hanson publicly backed Kevin Andrews, then Minister for Immigration under John Howard, in his views about African migrants and crime.
The peak of Hanson's success occurred in June 1998, when One Nation attracted nearly one-quarter of the vote in that month's State elections in Queensland, and One Nation won 11 out of 89 seats in the Queensland Legislative Assembly.
In November 1997 Hanson, under suggestion from Oldfield, recorded a video which was to be screened to One Nation members and supporters in the event of her assassination, following claims that she and her daughter had received anonymous death threats. The 12-minute tape started off with the following message:
and then urged that
She lost her seat in Parliament after an electoral redistribution split Oxley before the 1998 election. She contested the neighbouring Division of Blair and won 36% of the primary vote,slightly over 10% more than her nearest rival. However, preferences were enough to elect the Liberal Party candidate, Cameron Thompson. Nationally, One Nation gained 8.99% of the Senate vote and 8.4% of the Representatives vote, but only one MP was elected - Len Harris as Senator for Queensland. (Heather Hill was originally elected to this position, but the High Court of Australia ruled that although she was an Australian citizen, she was ineligible to sit as a Senator as she had not renounced her childhood British citizenship). Hanson alleges in her 2007 autobiography Pauline Hanson: Untamed & Unashamed that a number of other politicians had dual citizenship yet this did not prevent them from holding positions in Parliament.
At the next Federal election on 10 November 2001, Hanson ran for a Queensland Senate seat but narrowly failed. She has accounted for her declining popularity by blaming Prime Minister John Howard for stealing her policies.
"It has been widely recognised by all, including the media, that John Howard sailed home on One Nation policies. In short, if we were not around, John Howard would not have made the decisions he did."
Other interrelated factors which have contributed to her downfall include her connection with a series of advisors (John Pasquarelli, David Ettridge and David Oldfield), all of whom she has fallen out with; disputes amongst her supporters and a lawsuit over the organisational structure of One Nation.
Hanson also claimed over the years to have been systematically misrepresented and publicly vilified by the mainstream media.
In 2003 she left Queensland, moved to Sylvania Waters, Sydney in New South Wales (NSW) and stood for the NSW Upper House in the 22 March State election. She lost narrowly to Shooters Party candidate John Tingle.
Hanson had also assisted Australian country musician Brian Letton in making a record with Tommy Tecko. In 2006, she commenced a new career selling real estate in Queensland.
She has been parodied and impersonated by drag queen Pauline Pantsdown, who sampled snippets from Hanson's speeches to create a song called "I'm a Backdoor Man". After Hanson successfully pursued legal action against Pantsdown, Pantsdown used the same technique to create the track "I Don't Like It", a 1998 Top 10 single in Australia.
The case did not escape politicians' notice: Prime Minister John Howard thought it was "a very long, unconditional sentence". Bronwyn Bishop MHR claimed Hanson was a political prisoner, drawing analogy between Hanson's conviction and the oppression of Robert Mugabe's opposition in his Zimbabwean regime.
On 6 November 2003, the Queensland Court of Appeal (comprising Chief Justice P de Jersey, Justice MA McMurdo (President of the Court of Appeal) and Justice JA Davies) quashed Hanson's and Ettridge's convictions. McMurdo J publicly rebuked many politicians including Prime Minister John Howard and Mrs Bronwyn Bishop MHR, whose observations, she said, demonstrated at least "a fundamental misunderstanding of the Rule of Law...[and] an attempt to influence the judicial...process". The Court also ruminated that had the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions been better resourced, "the present difficulty may well have been avoided".
Some criticism was directed at the political interference of Tony Abbott, who had arranged for the lawyers who instituted the legal action which resulted in Hanson going to gaol to act on a largely pro bono basis. Investigations by the ABC's Four Corners programme showed that Abbott had financed disgruntled ex One Nation member Tony Sharples's court case against Hanson, in order to derail the One Nation party.
Queensland Premier, Peter Beattie, initiated legislative changes to Queensland Law shortly after the verdict ensuring Hanson's conviction would mean she could not return to politics in the State, despite her convictions being eventually overturned and her prison sentence ruled wrongful. Peter Beattie and his Government also denied Hanson any financial restitution for her ordeal, despite her very public protests. Questions were raised as to why former Queensland Chief Magistrate, Di Fingleton, received a large sum of restitution following her wrongful imprisonment in a very similar set of circumstances. Critics slammed Peter Beattie for the apparent double standards.
In January 2004, Hanson announced that she did not intend to return to politics.
After legal troubles in 2000 related to fraudulent registration of the One Nation Party, Hanson was facing bankruptcy. She made an appeal to supporters to give money to help her through her hard times. Sean Nelson attacked Hanson, saying, "She can afford to live on a $700,000 mansion just outside of Rosewood. The people up here that she's asking to give money to are pensioners and farmers that are doing it tough. Hanson, however, claimed she considered selling her home.
Hanson claims she did not run for the senate to make money, saying, "I think everyone would know I don't do it for the money." However, running in elections has earned Hanson electoral funding. According to Misha Schubert from The Age, "Ms Hanson, earned $199,886 from taxpayers for winning more than 4 per cent of the vote, and another $7695 in donations. She declared only $35,426 in campaign expenditure, potentially pocketing as much as $170,000." Hanson refused to repay the money back to taxpayers.
In October 2007, Hanson launched her campaign song, entitled "Australian Way of Life." At the first performance of this song she spoke inclusively of all audience members regardless of nationality, saying "Welcome everyone, no matter where you come from." This is despite her support for a freeze on immigration and her claims that African migrants carry disease.
In late 2004 during her election campaign, Hanson competed in the Australian Reality TV show Dancing with the Stars on the Seven Network. In the show a number of Australian celebrities compete against one another in ballroom dancing. Hanson and her partner Salvatore Vecchio made it to the final, surprising many in Australian politics and media as she advanced due to audience support in SMS voting, but lost to former Home and Away star Bec Cartwright.
In September 2006, Hanson appeared in a commercial for Donut King, an Australian chain of doughnut retailers, with the slogan "What do you feel like?". Hanson has also promoted New Zealand company MR MOSS run by friend John Lehmann.