Australian politicians and pundits are lining up to express their dismay at the return of racism to public life, urging the electorate not to vote for Ms Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party in the snap October 3 election called partly to contain its growing threat to the main political parties. But they are clearly at a loss to explain how an obscure former fish-and-chip shop owner could establish in less than two years a thriving political party simply by playing the anti-Asian immigration and anti-Aboriginal rights card in a society that has ceased to be racist. They also totally ignore the blatant religious discrimination against Australian Muslims which pervades all levels of Australian life and government.
Four former prime ministers issued an open letter on August 31, the day after current premier John Howard ordered new elections, to reject politicians who campaign on racism during the poll. The former leader of the Liberal Party of Australia, Malcolm Fraser, and three former leaders of the Australian Labour Party, Gough Whitlam, Bob Hawke and Paul Keating described racism as ‘unmitigated evil and immoral’ - warning that it ‘does Australia significant harm through Asia and in the wider world.’
‘It destroys our-self-esteem and self-respect,’ they said. ‘In Australia it would pit Australian against Australian. It would be destructive of our society.
‘At this election everyone has the opportunity to demonstrate that there is no room for racist politics in Australia,’ they continued. ‘We therefore urge you to put any candidate supporting any element of racism last in the election.’
Under Australia’s electoral system, voters rank candidates in order of preference. And according to analysts, the impassioned appeal of former leaders will have little effect on the issue of race, which they say has effectively hijacked the poll. This could give Ms Hanson enough votes in the senate - largely at the expense of Howard’s Liberal National coalition government - to control the balance of power there.
The Australian Democratic Party, which in the past has held the balance of power in the senate is now competing with Hanson’s One Nation Party for the role of the third force in Australian politics. The Democrats began their campaign under the slogan ‘Vote Democrat to stop One Nation dividing Australia.’
Hanson shot to fame after being elected as an independent to the federal parliament two years ago. The Liberal Party which won the general election under Howard’s leadership had dropped Hanson because of her blatantly racist views. In her maiden speech to parliament she asserted Australia was being ‘swamped by Asians.’ Last year she launched her own party (One Nation) which proceeded to win 23 percent of the vote in the Queensland state election in June. Opinion polls also show that the party enjoys 13 percent support at federal level.
One Nation is not only opposed to Asian immigration, the size of which it flagrantly exaggerates, but it is also against the modest concessions in the shape of land rights and access to welfare benefits made in recent years to the Aborigines. Hanson says she is not anti-Asian but that she is simply against the ‘Asianisation of Australia.’ She explains her opposition to Aboriginal rights on the grounds that they are too costly and are in any case a prelude to the creation of sovereign States for the Aborigines.
She is of course misrepresenting the number of Aborigines and Asian immigrants, knowing full well - like other Australian politicians, who are deeply racist but will not admit it in public - that immigrant and Aborigine bashing is a vote-winner. Why else is the ruling coalition, which only two years ago won a landslide victory in the national elections afraid of losing votes to a new party?
Prime minister Howard himself agrees with Hanson, knowing that the Australian voters are deeply racist. When his colleagues urged him to denounce her racist views he refused to do so on the grounds that that would be counter-productive. He even postponed her expulsion from the party as long as possible. She rewarded him by saying in public that he was a ‘gentleman.’
Of the two issues of racism, the Asian one has arisen only in recent years, after Australian governments slightly relaxed immigration restrictions in the late 1970s and 1980s. Before then a whites-only policy was strictly applied. This could not have been maintained after Asia replaced United Kingdom as the country’s main trading partner.
The Aboriginal issue goes back to 1788 when the white colonisation began. The Aborigines numbered about three million. Today, there are only 350,000 of them. Only unbridled genocide, as history records, re-inforced by a policy of systematic suppression, could have reduced a population of three million in 200 years to less than half a million today.
No country that has committed genocide on such a scale and has operated a strict racist immigration policy for 200 years can claim to have ceased being racist simply because it has slightly relaxed its whites-only system in the last 15 years to safeguard its national security and economic interests in the region. When the former prime ministers say in their open letter that racism will damage the country’s interests in the region, they are, of course, right. And that is all they are really interested in.
When Hanson says she is only opposed to ‘Asianisation of Australia,’ she has in mind not only numbers but also culture and religion which includes Islam, hoping to tap the votes of those Australians who have shown such hostility to Muslim Australians in the last few years. According to the August 1996 census results, Muslims number 200,185 compared to 199,812 Buddhists.
The Australian population is clearly overwhelmingly European and Christain. (The 1996 Census figures showed Christians as numbering an estimated 12,582,764). And it is difficult to believe that Australians will accept as equals racial and religious minorities they have been raised to view as aliens. Politicians certainly are not normally exercised about minority rights unless they win votes.
Hanson’s One Nation will not win the October elections and may not even gain control of the balance of power. But it will show the enduring racist nature of Australian politics.
Muslimedia: September 16-30, 1998