The mainstream is taking a break from racebaiting, but the far-right in Australia intend to continue throwing bricks through the Overton window.
By the time you read this, the Australian Federal Election will be over. It’s widely expected that the liberal Labor Party will have come into power after several years of leadership instability within the conservative Liberal Party, with some betting agencies even paying out bets to that effect days ahead of election night.
Never ones to shy from a challenge, Labor may yet snatch defeat from the jaws of victory through their leader Bill Shorten’s dedication to cultivating whatever the opposite of a cult of personality is.
Or coal baron billionaire and leader of the United Australia Party Clive Palmer’s extensive advertising campaign may have paid off, and we’ll all have been forced into Titanic cosplay re-education camps.
Amidst the uncertainty, it’s easy to predict some outcomes, Australian elections being steeped in tradition. There will have been the standard photos of voters in their budgie smugglers, the coffers of local schools will be bulging with the proceeds of Democracy Sausages, and many a penis will have been surely drawn on a ballot paper.
There is, however, one Australian electoral standard that was somewhat muted this year – at least in the mainstream – racial fear-mongering. To understand why this is so strange, it’s necessary to look back on some of Australia’s classic racist hits.
How did we get here?
26 January 1788: A penal colony is founded. Perhaps not the most auspicious birth of a nation, but it will be very important to some people 230 years later that this is celebrated without reflection. Over the next 150 years there are over 270 massacres of Indigenous people.
1901: The various colonies unite in federation to form Australia. A constitution is written. Buried in the middle is Section 44, which outlines that a person is not eligible to sit in Parliament if they are loyal to a foreign power. Intended to avoid awkward waiting around until the next election in case of infiltration of the parliament by Czarist agents, nobody pays much attention to this section for around 116 years. Also passed in 1901 is the Immigration Restriction Act, a law designed to keep Australia white. This legislation is not ignored.
1976: The band Sherbert have an instant hit with cricket/anti-adultery anthem Howzat. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8EmSanSFXEM) Nothing racist about this one, just thought you might appreciate a break from the gloom and doom.
1996: Pauline Hanson is preselected as a candidate for the Liberal Party for the seat of Oxley in Queensland. After making controversial statements that Indigenous people receive more public benefits than non-Indigenous people, she is disendorsed as a candidate at the behest of Liberal leader John Howard, though too late to remove her from the ballot. She wins the seat and introduces herself to Parliament as an Independent with a maiden speech decrying the swamping of Australia by Asians. Going on to form the One Nation party, her far-right anti-immigration rhetoric strikes a chord with Queensland voters. The Liberal Party responds to the electoral threat One Nation poses by co-opting the bulk of their policy platform. This takes a lot of wind out of the sails of the far-right, but sets the stage for two decades of increasingly mainstreamed racist ideology. One of the more stark manifestations of this is Operation Sovereign Borders. Designed to deter asylum seekers through cruelty, it enjoys bipartisan support and has served as an inspiration to far-right groups in Europe.
2017: With a very shaky majority of one seat, Liberal Party leadership are unable to censure the hard right of the party when they get up to mischief like appearing on alt-right podcasts or at Islamophobic events. Shaking that majority even further, a Perth lawyer, seemingly out of a simple desire to keep things interesting, reveals that Green Party Senator Scott Ludlam has dual Australian/New Zealand citizenship, and is thus ineligible to sit in Parliament. He was not alone in this. The subsequent constitutional crisis does not discriminate, with 15 politicians from across the spectrum ruled ineligible. One victim is steely-eyed One Nation senator Malcolm Roberts, best known before his stint in Parliament for his determined effort to disprove climate change using a combination of conspiracy theory and punctuation. He is replaced by the next candidate down on the One Nation ticket, Fraser Anning, who elects to sit as an Independent. Anning is a hotelier descended from participants in the Frontier Wars genocide campaign.
2018: In anticipation of the 2018 Victorian state election, federal Liberal MPs enthusiastically participate in a baseless scare campaign about African gangs. This doesn’t translate into electoral success (it’s hard to be tough on crime when you’ve been caught out dining with the Mafia.)
Fraser Anning gives his maiden speech to parliament on 14 August, invoking the antisemitic conspiracy theory of Cultural Marxism, calling for an end to all Muslim immigration and suggesting a “final solution” to immigration would be a plebiscite on restricting immigration entirely to Europeans. The use of the phrase “final solution” causes an uproar, the Cultural Marxist conspiracy already being reasonably mainstream and a ban on Muslim immigration not an especially radical concept for Australian politicians either.
2019: Fraser Anning attends a neo-Nazi rally in Melbourne, protesting against African gangs. The Liberal Party gears up for a refugee-based election campaign, suggesting that murderous asylum seekers will sneak into the country under Labor’s watch. Then an Australian walks into two mosques in New Zealand and murders 51 people. Post-Christchurch, you’d be hard-pressed to make the case that there has been a sufficient level of introspection within the Australian government, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton, for example, finding the best defence is a good offence when it comes to what role decades of racist rhetoric and policy from the political class might have played. Elements of the Australian media haven’t performed much better. David Koch of the morning Sunrise program grilled regular guest Pauline Hanson on the role her party might have played in inspiring the attack, correctly noting that elements of the killer’s manifesto read like a One Nation policy document. Unaddressed in the interview was the impact that regularly broadcasting One Nation talking points on a breakfast television show might have. Far more airtime has been devoted to the ethics of egging politicians than to any self-reflection.
One of the few concessions made in the wake of the massacre was the cancellation of Milo Yiannopolous’ visa, and as a result his upcoming tour. The visa had been knocked back previously on character grounds, a decision which was overturned after lobbying from Pauline Hanson and others. The reversal was unreversed after he blamed the left for the attack. This may represent the beginning of the end for the revolving parade of right-wing grifters making their last stand in Australia. Another recent visitor was Lauren Southern (whose security was provided by a neo-Nazi grouplet) – it seems unlikely that she’ll be back soon given her close connection to Austrian far-right activist Martin Sellner, who is connected to the Christchurch killer.
The other impact has been felt in the election campaign. For the major parties, race hasn’t just been taken off the table, the whole racist menu has been fed down the memory hole. Candidates like Jessica Whelan in Tasmania, who says she told the Liberal Party that she had a robust social media presence, are being disendorsed over comments made on Facebook years prior. Of course the parties on the far-right are in no rush to follow this newfound distaste for racism – their policy platforms being essentially cobbled together from racist Facebook posts. How committed Fraser Anning’s Conservative National Party is to victory remains to be seen – an allegedly thorough vetting process having failed to weed out bankrupts, convicted criminals, and members of far-right organisations who had been contacted by the Christchurch killer. In a recent podcast interview with the Daily Stormer contributor Vince Law, Australian far-right stalwart Andrew Wilson, appearing incognito as ‘Archibald’ – the “secret mastermind behind Fraser Anning’s media campaign” – explains that winning or losing this election is not important to their goals, as they’ve used the election to build lists of supporters. He goes on to describe his ultimate goal of forming white-only Casapound-style communities.
Leaks from within the Anning group described plans to perform a number of attention grabbing stunts in aid of re-electing Anning, ranging from far-right mass-texting and Koran burnings, to blackface pranks and the setting up of an ‘African crime register’. The exposé seemed to put the brakes on those schemes (they’re a bit less shocking when you already know about them) but their meme warfare has continued in other areas. Aping a neo-Nazi slogan from 1960s Britain, one campaign ad (featuring a photo of a grieving family) advised “if you want a Muslim for a neighbour, vote Labor”. Other posts paraphrase the white supremacist ‘14 words’ slogan.
It would seem that even if the mainstream is taking (a no doubt very temporary) break from race-baiting, the far-right in Australia intend to continue throwing bricks through the Overton window.