Four years after Pauline Hanson was elected to federal parliament, her One Nation party seemed unstoppable, winning 11 seats at the 1998 Queensland election.
There was the prospect of many more One Nation MPs across the country as her populist, far-right, anti-immigration message resonated with voters, drawing support away from the Nationals and Liberals.
In 1999, John Anderson succeeded Tim Fischer as federal Nationals leader, becoming deputy prime minister to John Howard and inheriting the party most at threat from One Nation.
Mr Anderson said initially Mr Fischer had been critical of One Nation, while Mr Howard was very subdued.
“I was confronted by some people in Queensland who I actually quite respected and didn’t think of as redneck racists, who were talking sympathetically about One Nation,” he said at the National Archives’ official launch of the 2000 cabinet papers.
“I thought I’d better understand why.”
Mr Anderson said he had some research conducted so the government could address legitimate concerns of the One Nation constituency, while allowing illegitimate concerns and racism to wither.
That research showed that many people, particularly in rural Queensland, felt they were no longer respected as Australians for what they had achieved in their lives, whether it be farming or local industries.
“They felt left out, they felt totally disadvantaged by what they saw as the discrepancy in health services, communications, roads, in education versus their city counterparts,” he said.
“We were able to do a very great deal, to adopt the toolbox approach, to try to address in a legitimate way and in partnership with rural communities, some of the pain they were feeling,” he said.
That included a $500 million health package for rural and regional Australia, including practical measures to get more country students into medicine.
“That made a huge difference,” he said.
There were many other measures.
The Roads to Recovery program launched in response to the crisis of deteriorating rural and regional roads. It still operates.
The Country Women’s Association produced a paper declaring that the main issues for rural women were access to health and education, for which they needed roads.
Cabinet papers for 2000 show another example of the government’s approach.
In its first term, the coalition had mostly privatised job services, of which the loss-making Employment National was the sole remaining government provider.
Finance Minister John Fahey and Employment Services Minister Tony Abbott wanted it closed, arguing that affected rural areas had more job services than ever.
Mr Howard, backed by his Nationals ministers, said closing Employment National would be seen as a cut to services in the bush, so it stayed.
Mr Anderson said it was frustrating to see another wave of voter dissatisfaction in recent years.
But one of the lessons learned from the past was to have political leaders who were highly skilled at advocacy, like Mr Howard.