There is no amount of legalese at one’s disposal that could possibly obscure the coded messages that so often come rising to the surface in the Australian Parliament. It is routinely then – and only then – when the political sewage begins leaking around them, that Australians get a whiff of the stench of loathing. The odorous and all too familiar scent of chauvinism was there yesterday, where Queensland senator Fraser Anning, who only drew 19 votes in last year’s federal election, delivered his first speech calling upon the skeleton of the White Australia Policy – an invocation meant to stir the bones to life. Anning’s senate address was no dog whistle; it was a bellow expressed from behind a pulpit of legislative power.
The Katter’s Australian Party member condemned what he alleges to be the decision made by Gough Whitlam ‘and his hard left cronies’ to adopt a UN policy against the ‘preferential selection of migrants based on their ethnicity’, which had allowed a subsequent ‘conquest’ of the nation. Anning argued for a plebiscite in order to decide, in his own sulfuric words, ‘the final solution to the [Muslim] immigration problem’.
‘[W]hile all Muslims are not terrorists,’ Anning said, ‘certainly all terrorists these days are Muslims. So why would anyone want to bring more of them here?’ Despite this unabashed incitement, in the coming weeks this prepared maiden speech will undoubtedly be described by a myriad of pundits as ‘contentious’ and ‘controversial’, as though Anning had been caught wearing a pair of NSW Blues undies instead of deliberately calling for the targeting of an entire religious community.
Omar Sakr, Arab Australian poet and author, says that Anning’s speech has left him feeling utterly exhausted, and also afraid. ‘Senator Anning’s speech will be treated as an outrageous one-off – an aberration – but it is depressingly in keeping with mainstream Australian politics over the past two decades. It was only a few years ago, in 2015, that Eric Abetz declared that the government should prioritise Syrian refugees who are Christian. The year after, Sonia Kruger was on national TV calling for an end to Muslim immigration; Peter Dutton followed up by labelling Lebanese migrants, who were predominantly Muslim from the 70s onward (that is, following the civil war there), a “mistake”.’
Between 2015 and 2017, Sakr explains, 78% of the Syrian refugees that were accepted in Australia identified as Christian. ‘I haven’t even started talking about Manus and Nauru, where 12 refugees have died so far, and countless others have been assaulted and degraded beyond what anyone – innocent or guilty – should be made to suffer. This has been going on for decades. Only a week or so ago, a proud neo-Nazi was warmly hosted on a cable news program. It will seem far-fetched of me to say, I’m afraid this could end up with Australian-born Muslims in prison camps, but history suggests otherwise, and not just in Nazi Germany, I’m talking also of White Australia and what they have done, and continue to do, to Indigenous populations here.’
Fraser Anning’s address is not the rhetoric of controversy but more kindling for the fire. After all, the senator has only come out and said what Pauline Hanson, Peter Dutton, Tony Abbott, George Christensen, Andrew Bolt, and others before them have made clear as crystal: that there is a kind of person that will be accepted into the fold of society, and those who do not meet the White Australia standard don’t belong. Despite how frequently these odious characters bleat of censorship and ‘political correctness’ run amok, we are made to witness their smug rancor in every field of communication available – from our newspapers, and airwaves, to our television screens.
These are hellfire sermons being delivered by revolving clergymen of bigotry, and they are hoping to fill the pews. It is not enough for us to spurn the role of parishioner. The Australia of the past and present has allowed for their pulpits to rise with ease, and the only way forward is for us to work together to shake the lecterns and change the future. For every one of their whistles, let there be a retaliatory scream.