Australia, racism, and the uncomfortable conversation we never seem to get around to having…

Today Pauline Hanson made her maiden speech to the Australian Senate. I’m not going to link to it, because she’s had more than enough airtime for her xenophobic hate speech.

Much of it is a carbon copy of her maiden speech to the House of Representatives, 20 years ago, when she claimed that Australia was being swamped by Asians. Today, the Asian horde has been replaced by Muslims; her supposed fear of ‘Straylians being bred out of their own country has been replaced by her supposed fear of being blown up by a bearded terrorist clad in an ISIS flag.

It makes me really sad that we’ve come so … NOT far in the last 20 years, that this overt racism hits a note with enough voting Australians that people like Hanson are being elected to our Parliament. Again.

Hanson Part 1

In 2001, lots of things happened, most notably the September 11 attacks in New York, and in Australia, the Tampa incident.

A boat of refugees – and let’s use the proper term, refugees, not the closet “we don’t accept that they’re refugees because ew brown people from the Middle East, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka…” term ‘asylum seekers’ – was rescued from certain death in the open seas by the Norwegian freighter, the Tampa. The captain of the Tampa, following the Law of the Sea protocols for open water rescue, headed for the nearest land to deliver his human cargo to safety.

Except… the nearest land was Christmas Island, which is Australian territory (despite being stuck out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, relative to the west coast of Australia.) And the Australian Immigration department (as it was then, now dubbed the more menacing and farcical “Border Force”) refused to let the Tampa dock. You see, Australia under the leadership of John Winston Howard, Prime Minister, great leader of the neoconservatives and stupidly sexist men, had declared that “we will decide who comes to this country, and the circumstances in which they come.” Boat people were not welcome, despite the fact that most people who arrive by boat are found to meet the criteria for refugee status, compared with only 20-30% of those who arrive by plane.

And the worst bit? According to some poll conducted during 2011 and this ridiculous stand off, apparently 77% of Australians supported the moves to deny the Tampa leave to dock and discharge the refugees to Australia’s care.

Or as Urthboy put it: “77% of Aussies are racist”

Why did John Howard and the Liberal-National Coalition government take such an overtly racist stance?

Because the election of Pauline Hanson in 1996 had made it OK to be overtly racist. The conservatives of Australia stopped trying to hide their racism under the banners of assimilation or backhanded remarks about the challenges of multiculturalism. The presence of someone in Parliament saying that Australia was being swamped by Asians, that Aboriginal people got too many handouts, and how terrible multiculturalism was had broken the taboo on governmental racism. Suddenly it became OK, and not political suicide, to be racist. And thus commenced the race to the bottom between the Liberals and Labor as to who could have the most restrictive, international law-violating, inhumane and insanely expensive immigration detention policy.

Australia is far more the poorer for this lapse in judgement.

Or we could call it a lapse, had we not spent the last 10 years just digging that hole even deeper.

Hanson Part 2, and the Greens’ walkout

This afternoon, Pauline Hanson pulled up to the Senate and unhitched her wagon of racism, fear mongering and bullshit. (I mean, let’s just call it what it is, shall we?)

The entire Australian Greens Senate team walked out. Not immediately – just as soon as she dropped her first racist bomb.

I wholeheartedly approve of this action. As Senator Richard di Natale and his colleagues have spent all evening explaining on social media, it’s not appropriate to interject, boo and interrupt a maiden speech. It’s not a standard debate. It’s a piece of theatre, to introduce all parliamentarians to each other and for them to put on record why they stood for public office.  So how do you protest someone using parliamentary privilege to relentlessly attack a minority group?

You walk out.

And this silent protest does have an effect.

Listen to the Project discuss this, and particularly pay attention to what Waleed Aly says:


“It’s hard to explain what it is like watching a parliamentarian get up like that and, using parliamentary privilege, just abuse you, relentlessly… [the Green’s walkout] is the first sign that anyone, y’know, has our back.”

Australia: we have a problem with racism. Can we deal with it?

Australians generally fall into two categories: those that will agree that Australia has a huge problem with racism (i.e. those who can see the facts!) and those who get horrendously outraged and claim those alleging racism are “unAustralian” when presented with these facts.

Let’s just cut the crap: Australia has a long, entrenched problem with racism.

White Australia is racist towards Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, to the point that we can’t even state the bloody obvious historical fact that Britain invaded these Aboriginal lands without it causing a major brouhaha.

White Australia implemented the damn White Australia Policy in the post war years to try to curb the allegedly undesirable waves of non-Caucasian migration. Imagine modern Australia without Italian espresso, Chinese yum cha, Greek souvlaki, Vietnamese phõ or any other of the multitude of vibrant and tasty cuisines that immigrants brought to Australia? (Because seriously, English food is crap. And I say this as an Anglo-Celtic Australian brought up on meat + 3 veg.)

White Australia needs to pull its head out of its arse and into the modern world.

If you don’t like that Ms Hanson, then why don’t you go back to where you “came from”?

A final note from @snaxotl who noted that there are some positives to be drawn from Hanson’s speech:

Postscript: the next day…

The good news is that the universal media and political reaction has been a resounding “hell NO!”

Celeste Liddle (@Utopiana) has reblogged a piece she wrote after the election, and she’s so right:

It’s deeper than this though. For years, we have seen racism bubbling away, yet politicians and the media continue to neutralise it. The rise of various nationalist groups such as Reclaim Australia, United Patriots Front and the True Blue Crew, while extreme manifestations of this socially-embedded racism, also do not occur in a vacuum. They have been buoyed by several years of anti-immigration policy; demonisation of minority communities; years of attacks on Indigenous autonomy and social programs.

Indeed, some of our current politicians have actively supported their rallies. While these racist sentiments should be something a civilised society works to combat, the people involved have instead been referred to as “regular Aussie mums and dads” on current affairs shows. In addition, society remains reticent to accept its own national foundations as inherently racist. It shouldn’t be so difficult to call an invasion an “invasion” 228 years after the fact.

Many Australians perceived the downfall of Hanson and One Nation as the end of racism in this country, but that could not be further from the truth. Instead, Hanson’s ideas became mainstream politics, and we have been trying in vain to undo the damage ever since. So as I ponder what her re-emergence means while listening to old Powderfinger songs which so accurately captured the political situation back then in the late 1990s, I can only fear what we are heading towards next.


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