Let's Keep The 'Return' Of Pauline Hanson In Perspective

Her views are out of step with the overwhelming majority of Australians.

05/07/2016 1:57 PM AEST | Updated 19/07/2016 8:20 PM AEST

Let's keep the 'return' of Pauline Hanson in perspective.

Ms Hanson speaks for a very small group of people and her views are out of step with the overwhelming majority of Australians. Of the 15 million people who voted last weekend, at least 96 percent did not vote for One Nation. National support for Hansonism is in the low single digits.

Nevertheless, Ms Hanson is back. And we must be clear about one thing: it is not in the national interest for politicians to give licence to prejudice.

In her maiden speech to Parliament in 1996, Ms Hanson warned that Australia was being "swamped by Asians". This week, Ms Hanson again claimed the country is being swamped by Asians. Her One Nation Party has also made it part of its platform to abolish the Racial Discrimination Act, impose a ban on new mosques, and have a royal commission into Islam.

Apart from the new emphasis on Islam, the politics of Hansonism haven't changed during the past two decades. By contrast, Australian society has moved on. We have grown even more diverse. Close to half of our population is first or second-generation Australian. The largest source countries of immigration are now China and India.

Multiculturalism enjoys robust public support. Surveys show that about 86 percent of Australians believe it is good for the country. The vast majority of us are relaxed and comfortable about leaving room for diversity in our national identity.

There is, of course, a small but vocal minority who are fearful and anxious about cultural change. Sometimes, racism can play a part in forming or expressing these concerns.

It's important that we are able to have debates about multiculturalism and immigration. But the manner in which we conduct debates matter. Citizens should be civil and respectful. Arguments should be grounded in facts and reason. Passions and emotions must never spill over into violence.

The recent experience of the United States and Britain demonstrates what can happen when politicians appeal to xenophobia. Consider the violence seen at rallies in support of Donald Trump. Or consider the murder of British parliamentarian Jo Cox in the lead-up to the Brexit vote, which has since unleashed a spike in racist attacks.

Every member of our society should be free to live without fear of discrimination. Taking our values seriously means fighting any resurgent intolerance. It means confronting racism and bigotry.

We shouldn't be apologetic about responding to ignorance or nastiness. Indeed, calling out racism or bigotry doesn't mean that you are preventing someone from having an opinion. It just means that you are holding them to account for what they say. If people don't want to be called a racist or a bigot, they can start by not expressing a racist or bigoted opinion.

Which brings us to how we define racism and bigotry today. Some believe something is only truly racist if it involves a belief in racial superiority or is motivated by malice. Anti-Muslim hostility, meanwhile, is frequently excused on the grounds that "Islam is not a race".

We can dispense with both excuses. The first overlooks how racism is as much about impact as it is about intention. You don't need malice in order to vilify or discriminate. Lazy stereotypes and casual exclusion can also cause harm. Sometimes ignorance or arrogance is all that it takes.

As for Islam not being a race? That's a clever trick -- one that ignores how anti-Muslim feeling can involve a mingling of ideas about race, culture and religion. Whatever its nuance, religious bigotry does little to aid racial tolerance and harmony.

Elections often give countries a chance to measure their social progress. So far after this election, we have seen some early signs of the racial ugliness and social division that erupted 20 years ago.

More On This Topic