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There has been a flurry of anti-Hanson rallies round the country in past months. Anti-racist groups, ethnic communities and the Left have united to deliver a powerful message against the politics of race hatred. One Nation Party leader Pauline Hanson claims she is not a racist, yet she blames Asian immigrants for high unemployment and claims that Aboriginals are a privileged layer. In a ghost-written book published in her name, she claimed that tribal Aborigines cannibalised their own children: even raised them like livestock for slaughter.
Small wonder that violent racists once again feel confident enough to come out from under their stones to bash and harass Asians and Blacks. Yet the upsurge of racism does not exist in a social vacuum.
So why has Hanson has generated so much support?
Racism cannot be turned on and off like a tap. It feeds off extreme social distress, both among working class and middle class people. Many people support the One Nation Party because they are angry, hurt and disoriented by a system that has abandoned them to poverty and unemployment, or at least the threat of such. In the absence of real alternatives, desperate people will turn to Pauline Hanson as a patient will consult a quack when conventional medicine has failed.
For the past 20 years, under both Labor and Liberal Governments, we have seen a relentless attack on wages, working conditions, trade union rights, and the social wage. Unemployment has sky-rocketed; officially around 8.5% of the workforce, it is over 21% when all those who wish to work but cannot are included. And for those in still in work, there is no job security. The incidence of part-time, casual and contract work has snowballed. Outwork is increasingly prevalent. In the countryside, small farmers are being driven from the land in unprecedented numbers.
The beneficiaries are always the rich and super rich.
Masquerading as battlers’ friend
Neither of the major parties have solutions for these problems. In fact they are part of the problem. Anyone who believed that a spell in opposition would radicalise the Labor Party must be sorely disillusioned. The Socialist Objective has been ditched even for the remote future and last month’s Victorian ALP conference on unemployment was a farce. It is because of this that Hanson is able to masquerade as the battlers’ friend. One Nation director David Ettridge even claimed that ‘we are a jobs organisation’ and neither of the major parties is in any position to challenge him.
One Nation’s claims echo those of other far-right parties around the world; the National Front in France or the Canadian Reform Party, for example. In common with such parties, One Nation has made a deliberate attempt to capitalise on disillusion with the mainstream parties to build mass support. The themes are the same from country to country. Only the language changes.
Finding scapegoats None of them have anything positive to offer those they seek to recruit. Migrants, they tell us – particularly ‘people of colour’ – are responsible for unemployment and even for the spread of disease. Aboriginal people, they claim, are given privileges far in excess of anything enjoyed by the general population.
None of these arguments stand up to scrutiny. Migrants actually built this country and in a real way all of us except for the Aboriginal peoples are migrants or the children of recent migrants. What is 200 years compared with perhaps 80,000?
Migrants bring skills and capital and create new markets. They have also enriched the cultural fabric. Contrary to ignorant rumour, they have never been given ‘red carpet’ treatment but have always had to work their fingers to the bone for every cent they earned.
Nor can they be blamed for outbreaks of disease, such as last year’s epidemic of TB at the Dandenong Hospital in Victoria. The reason for that was the Kennett Government’s savage budget cuts.
One Nation’s slanders against the Aboriginal peoples are beneath contempt. On any socio-economic indicator, Aborigines remain a Third World people in a First World country. White Australia’s treatment of them is as shameful as it ever was.
The task for the Left is to build a credible alternative based on real policies which can grasp the popular imagination. It is up to us to open up a real debate on unemployment and to provide a fighting programme against it.
By John Tully
Originally published in the August 1997 edition of The Militant, the predecessor of The Socialist.