Hubris and hate speech in Mark Latham's Nation

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Just eight days passed between an Australian-born white supremacist murdering 50 men, women and children as they prayed in their home city of Christchurch, New Zealand, and the people of New South Wales electing the retired former leader of the federal opposition, failed prime ministerial candidate and erstwhile shock jock, Mark Latham, to an eight year seat in its Upper House representing Pauline Hanson's One Nation (PHON).

Mark Latham and 2GB shock jock Alan Jones in 2017 during the launch of Latham's book Outsiders - I won't be silenced' (Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)The whole world, including Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, had praised NZ PM Jacinda Ardern, both for her compassionate, nuanced and respectful response to the Christchurch massacre, and for firmly renouncing Islamophobia. When, six days after she first spoke to her people, her government made it unlawful to possess the kind of high-powered automatic firearms and magazines the killer had, lawfully, bought for his purpose, even Latham supported it.

Yet even as the people and leaders of other countries applauded Ardern's profoundly dignified response to the attack on Muslim immigrants, many empty vessels of the Australian conservative media were calling for the right to incite racial and religious hatred as a necessary part of freedom of speech.

Meanwhile, the federal government equivocated over 'putting One Nation last' as it considered how to campaign for a win at the election due in May. This, despite observing the antics of a former PHON candidate, Fraser Anning, who, with his unabashed fascist tendencies, slipped into federal parliament and promptly became an independent instead of a PHON MP, because of his position on a PHON how-to-vote sheet and deals done with other parties.

PHON's policies taken to the NSW election included commitments to 'maintain the 1996 national gun laws that have played a role in preventing public massacres in Australia for 23 years' and 'crack down on the illegal importation of guns into Australia as a vital public safety measure'. Of course, these commitments were also linked to minimising 'the chance of radical Islamic terrorists getting hold of weaponry for their evil purposes'.

(In case PHON's other policies have not come to your attention, dear reader, they are profoundly anti-Islamic, in recent times portraying lunatics in cars mowing down pedestrians as part of the 'threat' that immigrants of Muslim persuasion bring with them to Australia, especially if they arrive in boats.)

What hypocrisy was on display then when we learned this week that PHON's tremulous leader was well aware that late in 2018 her chief of staff James Ashby and leading policy influencer Steve Dixon had embarked on a secret, expensive visit to the US to campaign for top-level support, advice and funding agreements from the NRA and its funders and supporters, with a view to introducing a 'gun rights' culture into Australia.

 

"Somehow, this 'party of bullies' continues to play a fringe but influential role in Australian policy-making and public opinion."

 

How is it that with so few people 'on the ground', with sharp divisions among its spokespeople, and with the flight of PHON candidates, once elected, to continue to hold their seats as independents, the party may sneak into a position where, as Ashby and Dickson mused in their ultimately unsuccessful US jaunt, they 'hold the balls of the government' in their sweaty little hands?

As Jeff Sparrow noted following the Christchurch attack, the killer's manifesto (gibberish though it was) bewailed the truth that the right can't mobilise people on the same large scale as the left. It's true that although PHON and Latham have a 'base' of fearful, uninformed folk, they do not have anything like the 'armies' that climate change or inhumane border policies or the cruelty of the live animal export trade provoke onto the streets.

Yet in NSW, PHON and Latham still got the votes, despite holding as reprehensible views as the Christchurch killer about immigration, white supremacy, Islamophobia, and even the proper role of women and their human rights. Somehow, this 'party of bullies' (as Alex McKinnon described them in the Guardian) continues to play a fringe but influential role in Australian policy-making and public opinion.

Australia's responses to the massacre in New Zealand have sharply exposed how different our respective national cultures are, and how vulnerable people are to hate speech and its consequences. While Ardern's immediate and spontaneous leadership of a little country struck to the heart by lethal, cold-hearted violence in the name of white supremacy called down racial and religious hatred, Australian speech remained, in large part, chilling.

We, the people of 'Australasia', are at a crossroads. If we sow the seeds of hate, through dog-whistling and hate speech, we will reap the consequences. It's time to build a society, otherwise we will tear ourselves apart.

 

 

Moira RaynerMoira Rayner is a barrister and writer.

Main image: Mark Latham and 2GB shock jock Alan Jones in 2017 during the launch of Latham's book Outsiders - I won't be silenced' (Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Topic tags: Moira Rayner, Mark Latham, One Nation, Fraser Anning, Pauline Hanson

 

 

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Tim Fischer, the former Deputy Prime Minister, who staunchly backed John Howard on the tightening of Australia's gun laws after the Port Arthur massacre, which effectively prevent the same sort of mindless, hate filled, utterly destructive massacre which recently happened in Christchurch, was on yesterday's 7.30 Report. He spoke about this recent attempt by staffers of One Nation to gain financial support from the NRA in return for watering down our gun control laws. He also urged the National Party to put One Nation last. Ron Boswell, a former Queensland National Party Senator, during his political career, was a constant critic and opponent of One Nation. These are respected figures from the conservative side of politics who see the pure poison One Nation is. Being conservative politically does not automatically mean you are a racist. Neither Fischer nor Boswell is, in fact they both consistently repudiated racism throughout their political careers. There are people who feel that they have lost out economically and in life, especially in some rural areas, who see Pauline Hanson and One Nation as 'saviours'. They need to be disabused of this view without being denigrated. It is these disenchanted and disaffiliated who need to be brought back into the mainstream.
Edward Fido | 28 March 2019


Thanks Moira again for your contribution, and in particular for your last comment! It is more than time to re-build a society, otherwise we will continue tearing ourselves apart. We need policies and practices that recognize that cohesion of diverse human societies is needed, recreating us a citizens with responsibilities, not just self interested individualised distrustful customers. Enough economic emphases, and attention to social/communal needs would be a good policy direction for both the major parties, if we want more civil societies!!
eva cox | 29 March 2019


I love this Moira, so accurate. We have to believe we can make a difference, or it's too easy to lose hope, how awful!! A world without hope!! Thanks Moira, and Eureka street for balanced contributors. We need you more than ever
Julie Shannon | 29 March 2019


We used to have a reasonable society based on Christianity once, Moira, and have spent the last 50 years tearing that apart, sadly using the law in too many instances. What, I wonder, will be the foundational base of the new society we have to build?
john frawley | 29 March 2019


This is an excellent article Moria and rightfully challenges the behaviour and rhetoric of public figures who espouse racist, divisive and hateful views of fellow human beings. We need to call such behaviour and rhetoric for what it is or risk such views being accepted and eventually normalised.
Patrick | 29 March 2019


Thank you for this very thoughtful article, Moira. You have put your finger on the pulse of some very shameful aspects of politics in Australia. Mark Latham had already lost any credibility on the political landscape before he took the step of joining One Nation. In addition, Scott Morrison is losing credibility by being very tardy to put the policy that the LNP will preference the ALP over One Nation. He then used this as an excuse to claim that the Greens are more dangerous than One Nation. The Greens are not perfect, but their party is the only major one that is consistent on having effective environmental policies to combat the pollution that is causing climate change and huge environmental health problems that have seen millions of the world's population suffer from pollution-related diseases. It is also much better on human rights and social justice issues. It was encouraging to see the huge number of school children pulling out of school to participate in rallies demanding effective strategies to care for the environment. Hopefully, this will mean that when these young people get to vote, we will see more governments dedicated to the environment and more respectful of the human rights and the ethnic origins of the refugees who have come to Australia.
Andrew (Andy) Alcock | 29 March 2019


I remember my Matriculation class in 1951 discussing the pros and cons of PM Robert Menzies referendum on banning the Communist Party. It was my introduction to the polarised state of Australian politics. Left is Left and Right is Right and ne'er the twain will meet. The Right (Mainly conservatives, even though what they were supporting was extremely radical) assured the people a No vote would hasten the end of civilisation as we knew it. The Left (Mainly progressives, even though they were supporting the status quo) warned that a Yes vote would see an end to our civil liberties, one by one. The No vote won by approximately 52,000 votes of the approximately four and a half million votes cast. Professor Manning Clark with his characteristic acerbic wit wrote: "The Left hailed the result as a victory of Australian democratic traditions: what the Right thought was not made clear, though some whispered they were relieved to find a constitutional pretest for the traditional conservative policy of masterly inactivity." Over nearly six decade the political leaders of both the Left and the Right have had real difficulties trying to keep their supporters disciplined. With regard to same sex marriage the Right thought they had found an issue which would attract conservatives for various social reasons and of course wouldn't affect the government's budget. The Left read the signs of the times better and even argued that gay marriage would be good for the economy. I am not surprised that extremists have emerged on the Left (The Greens) and on the Right (PHON), The leadership of both the conservatives and the progressives has been pathetically short-sighted and uninspiring.
Uncle Pat | 29 March 2019


Thank you Moira for an excellent article. I hope our young people take to the streets to protest the idiocracy of One Nation and its deluded followers as they did over the lack of intestinal fight by the Government beholden to the fossil fuel industry , denying the very concerning issue of Climate Change . I watched the whole of the programme on their crazy escapade in the U.S. They are totally deluded!
Gavin O'Brien | 29 March 2019


Mark Latham is surely the most despicable example of that loathsome creature, the Labor Rat. To think that I once voted for this man!
Uncle Monty | 30 March 2019


I don’t know how ‘’reasonable’’ our society would have seemed 50 years ago, John frawley, if you were aboriginal, disabled, ethnic, gay or disabled. Maybe great for WASP/ privileged males- so it seems nothing much has changed.
Aurelius | 01 April 2019


Dear Moira, I agree with most of what you have written about "hate speech" and Islamaphobia. However I would caution you about engaging in "demonising" another minority group by using indiscriminately terms such as "lunatic" which may be seen as a term that encourages "psychophobia". The people that mow down people in their cars are "criminals". Please don't confuse this with the meaning of "lunatic" which refers to madness, as it may lead to a lack of empathy for people who through no fault of their own are mentally ill. I don't know the figures but the vast bulk of "lunatics" that I meet are law abiding citizens and have never been in trouble with the law and they suffer from "hate speech used indiscriminantly about them. These words used thoughtlessly can hurt them, "lunatic", "feral psychotic", "psycho" are a few. Lets all be mindful of the hurt we can inflict using language in an uninformed way.
Roz Beer | 16 April 2019


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