Overt racism has been on the rise again for some time here on this land known as Australia. Politicians have been overtly race baiting, evidence and statistics seem to be nothing to those who wish to blame anything and everything on people of colour or minorities, and the media have been giving extensive airtime and coverage to white supremacy under the guise of freedom of speech and patriotism. And of course extensive structural racism, and disrespect continues being heaped on the First Nations People of this land.
But yesterday, on Tuesday 14th August 2018, our society saw a new low for overt racism being proudly advertised and promoted within modern Australian formal politics. Fraser Anning, an Australian crossbench Senator, used his maiden speech to call for a return to the White Australia Policy, and went as far as to use the term ‘final solution’ invoking the Holocaust.
Fraser Anning is one individual. But his words and influence as a Senator reach many. He is in a position of power, and has a platform to spread his hate. At the conclusion of his speech, who shook his hand was very telling. Watching the clip it is very disappointing to see that even the Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Nigel Scullion gives him a congratulatory response. While some politicians have condemned his words, with no Labor or Greens senators congratulating him, Anning’s refusal to apologise or back down on his statement shows that he is committed to that trajectory. And by the response of those who listened in person, he appears to have many supporters*. He may only be one individual in the senate, but now it is those around him who I am watching carefully for response and leadership. Especially, and namely, the current leader of this Government, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. A swift, and direct condemnation of Fraser himself, and his words, was needed from the Prime Minister.
Yet it was not forthcoming.
It may have only been 24 hours, but to understand the depth of this failing of Prime Minister Turnbull, we must look to his past behaviour, and see what he has personally, swiftly, condemned and rallied against previously in his role as Prime minister. And I can not help but think of the intensity and swiftness of his personal response in August 2017 when there was a small spate of paint vandalism against statues honouring the violent colonisers of this land.
After someone had thrown some paint on a public monument/statue of Captain Cook, Prime Minister Turnbull took to his own facebook account to make a lengthy, and scathing statement against the unnamed vandaliser. It did not matter that no lives were ever at threat, or that it was a faceless individual in the middle of the night, the act of throwing paint on a statue (which took two hours for the council to remove the following day) was compared by the Prime Minister as being ‘akin to Stalinism’. Our Prime Minister emphatically called for justice to be swiftly dealt against the culprit, calling the culprits act ‘cowardly’ and in his lengthy post also made it clear that such behaviour was not tolerated in this society.
So, in light of the vile, abhorrent, and socially disruptive, racist statements made by Senator Anning – what has been our Prime Ministers response?
On his Facebook, nothing.
On Twitter, he chose to re-tweet another person’s post, and simply added a broad comment about opposing racism.
He chose to not name, or condemn Senator Anning online. There were no dramatic comparisons and emphatic language as was seen in his attempt at a rallying cry against those who seek to minimise the honouring of violent colonisers. No acknowledgement that a senator had invoked words clearly connected to the Holocaust. He did not attempt a rallying call for us as a Nation to reject such disgusting and racist directions. Anning has refused to apologise, and stands by his statement. And the Prime minister in his silence, in his weak and watery lack of leadership, stands alongside him.
We are approaching election season, and clearly the racist vote is being coveted.
This will embolden racists and fascists everywhere, in the same way that we have seen an uprising of overt racism and literal Naziism since the inauguration of Trump in the USA. Our formal leaders make clear the direction that is welcome and encouraged, whether by direct endorsement, or failure to condemn.
Obviously, at some point, perhaps today during the very serious but somewhat yawn fest that many perceive federal politics to be, Turnbull will formally condemn Annings words and position, but lets be honest, right now the vast majority of Australians are not watching that. Turnbull did not leave his condemnation of statue vandalism to within the walls of parliament. No, he chose to use social media, to reach the everyday person, to influence the narrative for the average voter. And it is strategic that he has not done so here and now, to swiftly stand against the call for a ‘Final Solution’ and return to the White Australia Policy.
This is a tipping point for this Nation, for the future of this land and those who live here, and for the future which we want for our children. We have been here before, and as Indigenous people we have never really been free of it, but as Turnbull said in his emotional cry against throwing paint on statues – “a free society recognises that the history each generation makes, and writes, builds upon the ones that came before to create our nation’s remarkable Australian story” and so I must ask, what chapter we are writing now? Because looking around, it feels as though history is starting to repeat itself.
*supporters here references those who chose to approach Senator Anning, shaking his hand, offering hugs or kisses, congratulating him on his speech. these people are:
Minister Mathias Cormann
Minister Bridget McKenzie
Minister Nigel Scullion
Minister Conchetta Fierravanti-Wells
Minister Matt Canavan
Assistant minister James McGrath
Assistant minister Anne Ruston
Liberal Steve Martin
Liberal Amanda Stoker
Liberal Jonathan Duniam
Liberal James Paterson
Liberal Dean Smith
Liberal David Bushby
National Wacka Williams
National Barry O’Sullivan
One Nation’s Peter Georgiou
Centre Alliance’s Stirling Griff & Rex Patrick