The Politics    Tuesday, July 12, 2016

The new adventures of old Pauline

By Michael Lucy

The new adventures of old Pauline
Pauline Hanson is back in politics and Australia’s public life is already worse off

Pauline Hanson will be returning, somehow, to the parliament of Australia. Her last spell in parliament, 20 years ago, is usually credited with reintroducing xenophobic and racist nationalism to the political mainstream. In 1996, Hanson’s comments on Aboriginal people and welfare were distasteful enough to see her disendorsed by the Liberal Party:

How can we expect this race to help themselves when governments shower them with money, facilities and opportunities that only these people can obtain no matter how minute the Indigenous blood is that flows through their veins and that is what is causing racism.

Hanson lost her seat in 1998. In 2001, after an unsuccessful tilt at the Senate, she said John Howard had “sailed home on One Nation policies”.

These policies were largely the ones to do with Indigenous policy and immigration. In her infamous maiden speech to parliament, Hanson said, “I will be called a racist, but if I can invite whom I want into my home, then I should have the right to have a say in who comes into my country.” It’s not hard to hear an echo of that in Howard’s “We will decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come” at the 2001 election.

And the same sentiment lives on in our current bipartisan policy of boat turnbacks and eternal offshore detention for asylum seekers.

So Pauline Hanson, despite the fact that she could be dismissed as a complete joke – chunks of her platform were nicked from Wikipedia and right-wing websites; she has now called for a referendum to more strictly define marriage; she will use her place in the Senate to stick up for some Nauru detention centre guards who appeared with her at a Reclaim Australia rally; the list grows every day – is no joke.

She is no joke because she represents very real tendencies in Australian culture. Not just in Queensland culture, or in working-class culture. We are a very racist country, and we have been from the beginning of settlement. The racism is what permitted the settlement. We didn’t steal Australia from Aboriginal people because we thought they were inferior; we decided they were inferior in order to justify our theft. More recent attempts at multiculturalism may have taken off some of the rough edges, but the ideological bones are unchanged.

If you’ll forgive the personal aside – which I include because in discussions of racism it always seems to be someone else who is racist – I don’t excise myself from Australian culture. I’m racist. That is a hard thing to type. But how could I not be racist? I grew up in a society that has been designed by white people for white people, one that implicitly values white people above all others. You’re probably racist, too.

I should make clear that I absolutely think racism is bad, and I’m not a raging xenophobe. But I’d be foolish to say I have no unconscious biases or unexamined prejudices about race, and I’d be lying if I said I have never enjoyed unearned privilege, without complaint, as a result of being white. I don’t spend a lot of time engaged in rigorous self-criticism about my racism – and yes, the freedom to ignore race is a privilege in itself – but it’s something I keep in mind. We won’t fix anything if we pretend the problems are elsewhere.

But back to Pauline Hanson. Last time she had some power, she nudged the whole country a few degrees to the right. Don’t be surprised if she pulls it off again.

 

Today’s links

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Michael Lucy

Michael Lucy is a writer based in Melbourne.

@MmichaelLlucy

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