Last Tuesday I ventured to Burnie to attend the campaign launch for Pauline Hanson’s ‘One Nation’ party in Tasmania.
I’m not sure how to describe what I saw; it was like Kath and Kim speaking at the Nuremburg Rallies, an uneasy mixture of amusement and dread. But this was no comedy.
I could give a blow-by-blow account of the proceedings, which would no doubt be very funny in a dark sort of way as I recount Ms Hanson’s ham-fisted attempts to drum up racial hatred using rhetoric straight out of Joseph Goebbel’s playbook.
Or I could reflect on the socio-economic conditions of a country that allows for Ms Hanson to be an “esteemed” guest rather than a typical flannie-wearing yobbo who sits on their veranda and complains about immigrants “terkin their jerbs” as they swill down their umpteenth Bundy and coke.
Ultimately this experience has confronted me with something that has been concerning me over the past few months, and that is the startling rise of the politics of fear.
Australians have increasingly been subjected to a great deal of vitriol and fear-mongering from politicians and the media, as well as the fringe loons who endlessly chirp on about a group in society that supposedly threatens our democracy, our culture and our lives.
Muslims are the latest in a long line of victims of an ignorant attitude that stretches through the social history of this country.
Whether it’s Jacqui Lambie talking nonsense about Halal certification, Peter Dutton belittling “illiterate” refugees, Pauline Hanson frothing at the mouth about Sharia law (or Indigenous Australians, or Asians, etc.), or columnists like Andrew Bolt denigrating an entire culture, the politics of fear is still being peddled through televisions, radios, and in print media.
While it’s often easy to dismiss the ramblings of such people as antiquated throwbacks to a less tolerant era, it is also easy for us to build up an ivory tower for ourselves and count ourselves lucky to not be as bigoted and stupid as these people. I say this as a reflection on my own experience from the drive back from Burnie.
But it’s not as simple as that.
Look at Coburg last Saturday: shops were closed, doors were locked, streets were emptied.
The United Patriots Front and Antifa met and fought,against each other; one group fighting “for Australia” and the other fighting against racism and intolerance.
We might say that this brawl was a heroes vs villains battle, where a handful of tolerant individuals fought a handful of backward racists.
The only villain in this conflict was the politics of fear.
It was this fear that encouraged people to go out and disturb the peace by spouting racist and hateful slurs against a section of the community. It was also this fear that encouraged other people to go out and oppose them.
In the end, no lessons were learned, no reasonable dialogue between the two groups was attempted, and there were no victories.
There was only violence.
I hope that we won’t see this sort of violence again, though I am too pessimistic to trust in the level-headedness of people in the climate that’s arisen in this country (and overseas, look at Donald Trump and his rhetoric that similarly inspires brawls and public displays of aggression).
If I could have said one thing to Pauline Hanson, I would have recited lyrics from the oft-ignored second verse of our national anthem:
“For those who’ve come across the sea,
We’ve boundless plains to share;
With courage let us all combine
To Advance Australia Fair.”
Australia cannot advance when Australians are brawling on the streets, and we certainly cannot advance when politicians and the media continue to engage in this politics of fear that divides and ostracises entire communities.