Australian Politics

A Stark Message Written in Blood: The Mainstreaming of White Supremacist Rhetoric in 21st Century Australia

In light of the recent Christchurch Mosque shooting, Sarah Jeffrey critiques the rise of White Supremacist discourse in contemporary Australian society.

As is expected following any terrorist attack, we must call on right-wing Australian voices to condemn, counter and wholeheartedly reject the ideology that encourages violence seen in the white supremacist terror attacks in New Zealand last week. The apparent leader of this attack is an Australian whose manifesto highlights his admiration of such figures as US President Donald Trump and perpetrators of white supremacist violence elsewhere.

We should never accept such ideology as a legitimate part of our political discussions, and yet that is exactly what has happened in Australia over the past few years in particular. We must not accept this anymore, whatever phase of development a person on the path of right-wing radicalisation is in. After all, while not all hate speech leads to hate-fuelled violence, all hate-fuelled violence begins with hate speech.

It may be uncomfortable to confront the fact that the anti-immigrant and Islamophobic rhetoric that motivated this terrorist has become a normalised part of mainstream political dialogues in modern Australia. Whether the people who use this rhetoric actually believe in it or simply see it as a way to turn knee-jerk fear into votes or views is irrelevant; 50 innocent people are dead because of its legitimised presence in the mainstream.

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Senator Pauline Hanson (One Nation) referred to Islam as a “disease” we need to “vaccinate” ourselves against while calling for a ban on Muslim immigration (March 2017). Source: Fairfax and Nine Network

Of course, racism and xenophobia have always been a part of Australia since the arrival of the British fleet. Trying to deny such a fact is an incredibly naïve and destructive attempt at patriotism; we are home to the Stolen Generations and the White Australia Policy, after all. But, at least for a short time before the prime minister-ship of John Howard and the arrival of Pauline Hanson, politicians going after immigrants in public dialogue was seen as poor form. Then, thanks largely due to the rise of One Nation in the 1990s, they realised there are votes in xenophobic fear-mongering.

I am glad that Scott Morrison, members of his party and most other similarly-aligned politicians have in no uncertain terms condemned this terrorist attack and called it for what it is. I am also glad that they have in no uncertain terms condemned Senator Fraser Anning for his vile press release blaming Muslims for their own mass murder, and are moving to censure him when Parliament returns. Yet such statements come across as somewhat disingenuous after the events of the past few years. Do these people think they have no part in this? Seriously?

Is this not the party who in just the past few months once again stirred up us-and-them rhetoric by falsely claiming that the Medivac bill for refugees being detained on Manus Island and Nauru would boot Australians out of hospital and open the floodgates for more asylum seekers arriving by boat?

Is this not the party who at last year’s Victorian state election attempted to scare people into voting Liberal because of a racist panic about African gangs terrorising Melbourne?

Is this not the party who voted for Pauline Hanson’s “it’s okay to be white” motion, a slogan commonly used in white supremacist circles, later blaming an apparent “administrative error” despite Attorney-General Christian Porter twice directing the government senators to vote for it?

Is this not the party whose members shook Senator Fraser Anning’s hand after he used the phrase “final solution” in reference to immigration during his maiden speech in Parliament?

Is this not the party who have repeatedly counted on the cross-bench votes of One Nation and its defectors, including Fraser Anning, to pass legislation in the Senate?

Is this Prime Minister not the man who in 2011, as then-shadow immigration minister, was reported as allegedly arguing there were votes in pursuing an anti-Muslim election strategy during a shadow cabinet meeting?

Senior members of one of our major parties have either used or alluded to xenophobic rhetoric as significant parts of their election strategies and public policy throughout the 21st century. The remaining Liberal MPs have fallen into line by echoing such sentiments or simply avoiding the question; either way, they have been complicit in allowing this rhetoric to be legitimised.

Also complicit are a shamefully high number of senior figures in the Australian media. While I don’t make a habit of giving the members of the Sky News After Dark line-up much of my attention in an effort to preserve my own sanity, it is often hard to ignore.

Hence, perhaps the clearest example of this rhetoric in recent months is a column Andrew Bolt wrote in the Herald Sun, a Murdoch/News Corp publication, in August last year entitled “The foreign invasion.” In it, he lambasts everyone from Jews to Indians for swarming Australia, forming “colonies” and failing to integrate. While we could get into the rich, heart-stopping irony of any non-indigenous Australian criticising the formation of colonies in this land, we should stay on the subject at hand.

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Andrew Bolt’s Herald Sun column. (August 2018)
Source: News Corp

Yet Andrew Bolt is but one in a chorus of mainstream right-wing voices legitimising anti-immigrant, anti-refugee and anti-multicultural sentiments in our public discourse. This is dangerous not only for members of the religious and racial minorities that are the key targets of such rhetoric, but for all of us. Allowing the digging of such depths in our public discourse goes to the heart of the destruction of democracy. Appeasement is not a policy we should be adopting here; let us, for once, learn the lessons history teaches us and stop the runaway train of xenophobia and fascism before more people are killed.

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A cartoon by Warren Brown published in the Daily Telegraph during the Medivac bill debates. The cartoon depicts a caricature of a Middle Eastern man with sharp, pointed teeth chasing after a white female medical professional. (February 2019)
Source: News Corp

Countless people both within Australia and around the world have called for more to be done to unequivocally reject and de-platform people who espouse such views. They have repeatedly warned of the consequences of allowing extremist views to fester and spread in the name of upholding unrestricted freedom of speech. They have repeatedly warned that inviting extremists for “debate” is little more than free propaganda.

These warnings have increased in frequency and intensity over the past few years: after the support for Donald Trump began to surge; after the Unite the Right riots in Charlottesville that took one life; after the shootings in a Quebec City mosque that took six lives; after the shootings in a Pittsburgh synagogue that took 11 lives; after a gunman in Kentucky tried unsuccessfully to enter a predominantly black church and later took two black lives at a grocery store. Now another 50 are dead in Christchurch. These events are entirely related.

All previous words of warning about growing white supremacy were not heeded; unfortunately, most people don’t listen to such warnings until those words are headline news written in a pool of blood. Is the blood of 50 innocents a large enough pool? Well, that’s entirely up to us.

Sarah Jeffrey graduated from UWA with a BA in Political Science & International Relations and Population Health in 2018. She is currently completing Honours in Political Science & International Relations at UWA, with a thesis focused on the security impacts of climate change in Africa.

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