Tuesday, July 21, 2015

OPINION: An uncomfortable intersection of political interests


On Sunday, thousands of fair dinkum real Aussies will gather at rallies across Australia, raising the Australian flag and shouting slogans. Among the places they'll gather is the central Queensland coastal town of Mackay. Coalition federal MP George Christensen will be speaking. On behalf of Prime Minister Tony Abbott? Reading a message from the PM? Who knows.

A previous Reclaim Australia Rally in Melbourne some months back was characterised by the presence of some, er, interesting people engaging in interesting conduct. A fair few neo-Nazis sporting visible swastika tattoos on shaved heads and/or wearing swastika T-shirts and carrying Aussie flags joined the parade. They were jostling and shouting slogans and carrying placards saying "Abbott! No halal certification" and "No Shariah law!" I doubt even Zaky Mallah would do that sort of thing in an ABC studio.
Christensen certainly has more testicular fortitude than Abbott's frontbenchers who have been ordered not to appear on a certain ABC show whose ratings have gone through the roof. Brisbane's Courier Mail reports Christensen declaring he will defy even the PM's orders and attend the rally.

Reading through the 24 pillars of the Reclaim Australia manifesto, I couldn't help but wonder why Abbott would object. There is a call for ...
... [t]he right to exile or deport traitors ...
... which I guess is akin to Abbott's original call for people engaging in terror-like activities to be stripped of their Australian citizenship even if it was their only one.

Where will Indigenous Australians fit in an Australia reclaimed by the far-right white reclaimers? "Equality at Law", screams pillar No. 3, "No more 'cultural considerations'". That should make Andrew Bolt very happy.

The ideology of Reclaim has a distinctly supremacist feel to it. But in case you thought it was fringe, the reclaimers are singing from virtually the same rhetorical and policy songbook as the federal Coalition on cultural and security matters. Despite trumpeting separation of religion and state, Reclaim's manifesto mentions Christian values and rights numerous more times. How often have we heard Abbott and his ministers lecture us on how Australia has a Christian heritage?

It's true that Coalition MPs tend not to jostle and shout slogans and sport swastika tattoos. But as a former federal Liberal candidate, it pains me to say that in so many ways the more contentious political beliefs on issues like culture and citizenship promoted by the Coalition are effectively the same as those of the far right.

It's hard to say who is influencing who. Certainly the Coalition strategy in the 2001 Tampa election was to destroy Pauline Hanson by mimicking her rhetoric on asylum-seekers. Howard would frequently speak of integration and wasn't too fond of multiculturalism.

Ironically, Tony Abbott held the opposite view. He regarded multiculturalism as a fundamentally sound and inherently conservative social policy. Abbott was one of the few frontbenchers who refused to join the chorus of Muslim-phobic and migrant-phobic hysteria around issues of citizenship and national security. In addresses to various audiences, Abbott recalled what it was like for him and fellow Catholics during previous decades when Catholics were demonised.

Abbott is a victim of the far-right. A former staffer of his walked out to join Pauline Hanson. Abbott and his allies worked hard to ensure One Nation was made accountable for financial irregularities. There was little indication in Abbott's quite brilliant manifesto Battlelines that he would go in an extreme direction. True, he did see Australia as within a broader Anglosphere of nations. But his policy platform did not include stripping people of citizenship for spraying graffiti on public buildings.

If Abbott does give the order to the federal member for Dawson not to attend this rally, it will sound almost hypocritical. I have never seen Tony Jones and the Q&A panel and audience wear swastika T-shirts. There has been no jostling or arrests made, nor are racist slogans tolerated. If Abbott doesn't stop Christensen from attending the Mackay rally, it will show he regards far-right white supremacist extremism as being less troublesome than some kid sporting a marijuana cap and suggesting a minister's rhetoric is pushing Muslim kids to join Islamic State.


It would not be an exaggeration to suggest that events overseas appear to have radicalised the conservative side of politics in Australia than they have local Muslims. Today we see far-right lunatics and their Coalition friends using IS as an excuse to beat their chests. Sikh temples are being attacked as the chest-beaters are happy to attack anything or anyone they deem Muslim. Only God knows what Asian Australians will experience should China decide do more than build islands in the South China Sea.

This all shows that discussions (or lack thereof) on national security in Australia are rarely conducted in a sensible manner. Phillip Adams recently wrote in the Weekend Australian:
The current liturgy chanted in unison by ministers prime and junior in the Gregorian manner, including Stop the Boats and Death Cult. They are not designed to encourage discussion but to end it. To drown out doubt, debate, calibration, nuance and context.
The results of repetitious paranoid Coalition rhetoric, channelled through ridiculously rabid columnists and shock jocks, will be seen this Sunday. Hopefully it won't be too ugly.

Irfan Yusuf is PhD candidate at the Alfred Deakin Research Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation at Deakin University. First published in the Canberra Times on 17 July 2015.

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