Dealing with racism

The Senate results are in, and Pauline Hanson’s One Nation has won four seats. That’s not a disaster in itself. The point of democracy is that everyone gets a say, including bigots and racists. One Nation members, including Hanson herself, have been elected to Parliament before now, without doing any great harm.

That’s because the major parties have, until nowl taken a principled stand against racism, putting One Nation last in their preference allocations and refusing to do deals. Tony Abbott took the fight against One Nation even further (too far in my view) pushing the prosecution of Hanson for alleged breaches of the electoral act (she was convicted and jailed, but ultimately freed on appeal).

Following the Senate election, however, it will be impossible for the government to pass legislation opposed by Labor and the Greens unless they have the support of the One Nation party. Already, the Oz is pointing out how convenient it will be for Turnbull to be able to bargain with Hanson for her four votes, as opposed to the splintered remnants of the Palmer United Party in the last Senate.

The correct response, advocated by the LNP in relation to the “tainted” votes of Craig Thomson and (in Queensland) Billy Gordon, would be to nullify One Nation votes by directing four government Senators to cast opposing votes. Of course, that’s not going to happen. Failing that, the only response that avoids complicity in racism is a refusal to have any dealings with One Nation. That is, the government while accept One Nation’s votes in favor of government legislation, they should not discuss it or modify it, let alone offer support for One Nation proposals.

Of course, the same applies to Labor on the handful of issues (such as a Royal Commission into Banking) where they might be in agreement with One Nation. If securing a majority on any particular issue involves making deals of any kind with Hanson, it would be better to lose.

It seems likely, however, that Turnbull is going to treat One Nation, for the first time in Australia, as a normal political party, and to negotiate with Hanson as an equal. That would be a new low for him, and for Australia. And, sooner or later, it will come back to bit him and the LNP. For an object lesson in the dangers of courting racist votes while maintaining a claim to be non-racist, he need only look at the US Republican party,

As I’ve mentioned before, the only real instance of political correctness in Australia is the taboo on calling anyone a racist. But, if the word has any meaning at all, it applies to Hanson. That’s true whether you regard the defining characteristic of racism as support for racially discriminatory policies or expressing the view that members of particular groups are inferior (for example, her claim that Aborigines were cannibals). Hanson’s main focus now is an anti-Muslim bigotry and her supporters are keen to make the pathetic point that Islam isn’t a race but a religion. But as far as Turnbull is concerned, the distinction doesn’t really help.

36 thoughts on “Dealing with racism

  1. I believe we have no option but to treat them as a normal party. (After all, that is what they are.) They are duly elected according to the rules PM and Greens put in place.

    Truth is, it will be their own behaviors, endeavours that will probably bring them down.

    Attacking them in any way will only create sympathy for them.

  2. This piece presumes that the other three One Nation Senators dutifully line up behind Senator Hanson and dutifully do as they are told. But history suggests that the four ON Senators will split at least four ways. Hanson has never managed to get even her own supporters to stick with her for more than five minutes.

  3. I think Pauline Hanson’s views on race are the least of our worries when you hear the views of her fellow Senator, Malcolm Roberts.

  4. “a new low for him”

    For a guy that show constant bad judgement and lurches from disaster to disaster how can he go lower?

    You put One Nation as racist outliers but they are no different from the LNP extreme right. Do you think Turnbull should nullify their votes too?

  5. What Beethoven said. If their past performance in Queensland and NSW is any guide, they’ll make Palmer’s motley crew look like solidarity incarnate.

  6. One Nation members are the symptom. Fear-ridden intolerance is the disease. Inequality is the breeding ground of that disease. It’s the inequality we need to correct.

  7. I have to point out the link between the un-Australian’s publishing of Bill Leak’s blatantly racist cartoon and the COALition’s need of One Nation support. That would have buttered up the queen of racism to some extent.
    Still, I think she is very embittered towards the Liberal party which, like PUP was, can be a good thing for Australia in general.

  8. I think the ball is in Labour’s court. They need to lead the way in voting on policy lines rather than party lines and stop trying to turn every vote in a wedge issue. Of course the LNP woukd have to play fair for this to work. Please, please can we enter a new more rational era of politics. 90% of people voted for relatively sensible non-racist major parties. It is up to both Labor and the LNP to not turn Australia over to a racist minority.

  9. I think he should treat the party on its own merits, bill by bill that is put before it. People voted; sufficiently many thought Hansonite Luggage better baggage than the alternatives on offer. Fair enough, and now it is up to the elected members to demonstrate they can do the job. If the Hansonites can use logic and reason to argue against/for aspects of a bill, more power to them. If, on the other hand, they reduce to using what are essentially racist bully point scoring as the extent of their argument, tell them to go take a holiday—preferably overseas.

    While I have littleno political commonality with Hanson, I thought Abbott’s relentless pursuit of her by any means necessary was disgraceful. It had more to do with burying her for turning from a shunned outcast of little note into an actual political threat to the Liberals, than it did with principles. Well, except for the principle of don’t cross Abbott or the Liberals.

  10. @bjb

    Yeah, it’s about time that we got a real “climate skeptic” into the Federal Parliament. I just can’t wait to find out about all those $trillions that those “banking families” are making out of their confected alarmism – more than Her Britannic Majesty makes out of the drug trade, I bet.

    Besides, if anybody wants to know how things will go, just remember back to that non-racist, just ‘religionist’, Brian Harradine. And Harradine was very principled in his own way who traded his Wik vote for Howard and Abbott banning RU-486, but wouldn’t support Howard’s GST because it was a “regressive tax”. So Howard had to ‘duchess’ Meg Lees of the Democrats to get his tax through – in a process that in fairly short order led to the political demise of the Democrats as an electable Party.

    But then, One Nation has never been a political party and it isn’t one now.

  11. I do not think Nick Xenophon, who is a reasonably sophisticated individual, has often been much amused at the foibles of the right.

    What bothers me a little is the attention diverted from real issues to follow the burlesques of rightie nongs, but Hanson starts to look a potential Trump or Palin locus for the irrational populist right.

    James Wimberley, the “rock” spelling is Crue.

    Donald Oats, I have marvelled at her being willing to drag herself back to this after what Abbott had done to her. If Hanson didn’t realise the true nature of the system after her misfortunes, there must be something deeply wrong.

    Salient reminds me to mention this peculiar move toward Americanisation even in language and politics. We are being intruded on by all sorts of odd US type caricatures of whom the Hansonist Roberts is but one of several, as is msm even more tabloid and dishonest..

  12. I am curious. Why has racism become the cardinal sin? The sin that will rule all sins

  13. I believe there have already been intimations that on some issues, NXT and Hanson may caucus. That won’t necessarily be a bad thing. The idea that anyone who deals with Hanson & co. will be somehow tainted is bizarre, and I think historically amnesiac with regard to some recent convolutions (definitely NOT evolutions) of the Greens and Labor. If Hanson plays her cards right and keeps her cool she may learn a thing or two from Xenophon and others. I agree with those above who have pointed out that Hanson’s group are likely to diverge on some matters, and Hanson herself may in time be seen as the least whacky of them all. I note that among the retiring bunch of x-benchers were some who showed little early promise but who surprised us with their integrity and frankness on various matters, whether we agreed with them or not. On Senator-elect Roberts, none of the extreme views on climate change (etc.) he has articulated are likely to get much of a hearing, let alone any support, so let’s not be too hasty to demonise these newbies or to catastrophise about the consequences of their election. As the Professor has noted, that’s democracy (as we know it), and better to have them elected and open to constant parliamentary and public scrutiny than to be buried in some compost heap, seething and stewing in their own troll-fed conspiracies.

  14. Two more random thoughts:
    (1) Senator-elect Roberts says he studied climate change science and “followed the money trail”. Has anyone ever asked him if he has followed the money trail (actually a superhighway) that runs between fossil fuel interests and energy policy?
    (2) I caution against catastrophising about the election of people some of us don’t find attractive. In effect, that is what is happening with much centre and left commentary about the prospect of a Trump victory in the USA. But the concerns and doom-saying rest on an assumption that a President Trump would have untrammeled power and freedom to wreak havoc, build walls, drop bombs, etc. Does anyone offer an analysis of the strengths and potential of the checks and balances in our democratic systems? We are not talking about Duterte in the Philippines. Despite the breakdown of systems and processes in the USA, the UK (I think of Chilcot) and in this country, from time to time, we still have strength in our judiciary, our press (or some elements of it), in our social-media savvy public (for better or worse), in our universities and public intellectuals, and not least in our bureaucratic institutions and policy-making structures. Does anyone have confidence in the capacity of these institutions and their representatives? If not, why not? If the checks and balances are weak, or fail their first stress test, then we are in trouble, but I’d like to hear more discussion about that, and an understanding of democracy as relying on more than the machinations of highly visible individuals.

  15. @Andrew

    Staying within the paradigm you suggest, the cardinal sins are overweening pride, greed, lust, malicious envy, gluttony, inordinate anger, and sloth. These cardinal sins are secondary; not of the same order of importance as the ten commandments in standard Christian dogma. In turn the ten commandments are subsumed as follows; “For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”” This should be regarded as the one fundamental commandment. Racism certainly breaks it so racism has not just “become the cardinal sin”. It has been, in Christian teaching, the fundamental commandment for 2,000 years.

    Now, I am not a Christian but since you invoked those terms it can be shown your question is misguided even in those terms.

  16. Why is racism in a minor party considered a problem in a country where the major parties seem to be OK locking thousands of people up in prison camps on small islands for racist reasons?

  17. @Peter Chapman

    “If the checks and balances are weak, or fail their first stress test, then we are in trouble, but I’d like to hear more discussion about that, and an understanding of democracy as relying on more than the machinations of highly visible individuals.”

    I wholeheartedly agree. I have consistently decried the increasing focus on personality politics on this blog. I have offered what I consider to be constructive criticism on this score. This blog needs to get back to more substantive analysis of political and economic issues. The current emphasis on personality politics, psephology and parliamentary tactics does not equate to a thorough and serious “Commentary on Australian & world events from a social-democratic perspective”, IMO.

  18. Re One Nation unity: Roberts was on TV yesterday saying that Hanson was explicit in telling him that if he didn’t agree with a party policy, he was free to vote however he wanted.

    In other words, seems to me he got into the Senate simply by latching himself to a name with a profile (which, unfortunately, has largely been kept alive by the producers of Sunrise – who I also blame for the rise of K Rudd and the resultant years of internal Labor conflict. Come the revolution, I’ll be pushing for Kochie to be sent to a gulag for crimes against good politics.)

    Roberts could come up with all sorts of bizarre tax reforms ideas too; One Nation attracts those types.

    But if this is Hanson’s approach to having a party – one pretty much in name only – at least she might avoid the fate of Palmer’s Party; but I would also guess this will be Roberts only go at the job.

  19. @Ken_L

    Roberts hasn’t even been sworn in yet and he is already threatening to split with Hanson.

    Today’s AFR:

    ” .. he said he would be willing to cross the floor against the wishes of one nation. ‘Although I have enormous respect for Pauline Hanson, my No. 1 allegiance is to the people of Queensland and Australia’ “.

    Turnbull might well do deals with Hanson. But she is just one vote.

  20. numerobis :
    Why is racism in a minor party considered a problem in a country where the major parties seem to be OK locking thousands of people up in prison camps on small islands for racist reasons?

    Because lies in the absence of complete knowledge are contagious and the normalization of lies on the fringe allows implicit support for racism etc. by the major parties to become more entrenched still and spread more widely. Like it or not we/people follow the herd much more than we like to believe.

    So you get what might be called creeping fascism…..and increasing ignorance…. being propagated and legitimized..why not hang criminals? why not lock people up for things they might do? why not accept science is uncertain and there is a good chance climate is not changing? why not lock people up in equatorial concentration camps in tents….its just like glamping on a tropical island? etc. etc. This stuff is pernicious.

    The result of ignoring it?….consider the gaggle of Republican candidates on display in the US a few months back pandering to the ignorance that party had legitimized. Even if Trump had not emerged the alternatives were nearly as bad…like Cruz. Separately the need to stop Trump is inhibitting control of Hillary who is far from an ideal candidate given her hawkish nature and reported closeness to Wall St, but rather the better of a bad pair of choices.

  21. Graham :
    I think the ball is in Labour’s court. They need to lead the way in voting on policy lines rather than party lines and stop trying to turn every vote in a wedge issue.

    I recall reading that both parties vote together on most issues pretty much regardless of who is in parliament, so arguing that they differ, or that they don’t vote together when they agree, is hard. Jst because the media focus on the few areas of disagreement doesn’t mean that that is all that happens. Unfortunately a few minutes searching has not found anything useful, there are too many results for election votes rather than parliamentary ones.

    90% of people voted for relatively sensible non-racist major parties.

    90%+ of people here voted for explicitly racist parties. The ALP and LNP both support the “NT Intervention”, including the explicit suspension of anti-racist legislation, for example. I’m not sure we even *have* any solidly non-racist parties, or what one would look like.

    Mind you, you could also argue that 85% of them voted for more climate change, sooner. So perhaps the racism argument might be wrong if it turns out that most voters consider making climate change worse so much more important than racism that they will vote for racism they dislike because of climate policy. I’m not convinced.

  22. I find it difficult to believe that after this senate “reform” we now have Malcolm Roberts….

    One Nation senator-elect Malcolm Roberts once demanded Julia Gillard exempt him from carbon tax and threatened her with a $280,000 bill if she failed to act in accordance with his wishes.

    The threat was part of an affidavit sent to Ms Gillard in 2011, which Mr Roberts wrote in a very distinct style consistent with an anti-government movement who believe English grammar is used by governments to enslave citizens.

    I was initially skeptical of Ricky Muir, but he seemed to be the kind of person who should be in the senate. Is there really a large constituency for the likes of Roberts? Something is seriously wrong. I hope Turnbull enjoys the mess he has created.

  23. @suburbanite
    I remember a Lateline debate between Sam Dastyari and Nick Xenophon about these reforms earlier in the year. NX made the (strong) usual arguments about cutting out the backroom deals and wanting an upper house cross-bench that was more representative of the vote. SD had a pretty hard task rebutting these points but in retrospect, Sam was spot on the money.

    I really enjoyed and appreciated the previous upper-house crossbench 😦

  24. The real damage in the composition of this Senate was done, not by the voting reforms, but by the double dissolution which was Turnbull’s idea, and was not supported by the Greens.

  25. Ultimately the racist attitudes of a large number of Australians will only change if those who disagree make their individual voices heard whenever possible. I am so disgusted with the utterances of Trump, Hanson, Farage and others that I could not remain silent.

    So for example in my monthly article in the local newspaper on Health this week, I have taken up the matter of how discrimination affects the health of those who are subject to the discrimination. I have referred people to the PBS program “A Class Divided” on YouTube and insisted on my staff watching that program at our regular staff meeting. As David Suzuki is reputed to have said in relation to the environment, think globally act locally.

  26. @John Goss

    Yeah, that’s the interpretation that seems to have come out of the result: the double dissolution effect of halved quotas swamped any possible differences due to the voting rules.

    Nonetheless, we still got Leyonhjelm, Day and Lambie back, so maybe the new voting rules were visibly ineffective even so.

  27. John Goss :
    The real damage in the composition of this Senate was done… by the double dissolution which was Turnbull’s idea, and was not supported by the Greens.

    I agree. If they really wanted to wipe out the minor parties a New Zealand style 5% threshold would be necessary (less than 5% of the vote… instant elimination). Although possibly it would need to be higher than 5%.

    In some ways I’m surprised that the racist vote is so small, but I suspect it’s more that it looks small because it’s diffuse. There aren’t a lot of people for whom racism is the primary factor driving their vote. But when you drill into the polling just a little, about half of the electorate think we treat refugees too nicely, the other half think we should be better. But that’s soft – from 60% thinking boat people aren’t “real refugees” under Abbott to the same thinking we should let more in just before the last election.

    The other factor, of course, is that racists have so many options. Pro-union racist? ALP. Tax cut racist? Liberals. Christian racist? Family Fist. Country racist? Nationals. And so on. No need to vote for a racism-only party. It’s only the issues where the major parties are split that bring out the differences between voters.

  28. A quibble, Prof Quiggin, but does calling someone a cannibal ipso facto mean calling them inferior? After all, New Guineans are well known to have practised cannibalism – are they inferior?

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