Twenty years ago, when Pauline Hanson first held a seat in Australian parliament, her views were inflammatory and polarising. In a society that has moved on in many ways and needs to embrace diversity for our ongoing prosperity and peace, the return of the One Nation party into the Senate is certainly cause for concern.
The reality is that Hanson will have a legitimate right to represent her party in the Senate after securing more than 9 percent of the vote in Queensland.
But a right to representation should not be confused with a legitimacy to make inflammatory claims. With the rise of One Nation, we must be prepared to respectfully call out bigotry and racism when we see it.
To summarise the many articles and interviews given by Race Discrimination Commissioner Dr Tim Soutphommasane over the past week, we should never give license to xenophobia. It undermines harmony and unity in Australia's rich and diverse landscape.
I spent some time reading the policies set out by the One Nation party on their website and what struck me most about them was not so much the extent of the xenophobia and bigotry being peddled, but rather the absence of any evidence or facts. Apart from the inherent laziness of such an approach to policy development, this is also a dangerous way to use one's voice.
If there is one thing we should expect of our politicians, it is that they have done their homework and that when they use their voice in the House or the Senate, they are speaking from a position of evidence-based knowledge.
It is not good enough for our representatives to just espouse any 'views' that call for policy change. To be legitimate policies, those 'views' must be grounded in evidence based on rigorous research. Anything less is a misuse of voter trust.
Upon examining the Hanson policy manifesto, several issues around diversity and inclusion arise and must be contested.
Firstly, One Nation makes a strong accusation that multiculturalism in Australia is "negative" and "divisive". The opening line of the One Nation policy on multiculturalism states that it has "failed everywhere".
As the daughter of post war, non-English speaking migrants, I have to wonder -- is Pauline including me in this? It's hard to tell, but what is very important to note is that simply saying something is true doesn't make it true.
The facts are that Australian multiculturalism has been a resounding success.
Diversity Council Australia research reveals that multiculturalism has enriched our society, our economy and our connection to the global economy. In our digital world, traditional walls and barriers are less relevant and diversity is a strength.
One Nation also devotes an entire policy to 'Islam', basing their views on I'm not sure what.
Their assertion that Australia is a country based on 'Christian' values completely invalidates the tens of thousands of years of rich beliefs practiced by the oldest living culture on earth, the First Australians, who are proud to practice 270 languages and a plethora of diversity across their many sub cultures. It also negates the many waves of immigration from divergent parts of the world, particularly in the decades since the end of World War II.
The One Nation proposition also fails to appreciate the growth in the number of Australians identifying as having 'no-religion'. A seven-fold increase has been seen since the question was first asked in 1971. And for the first time this year, the Australian Census will show 'no-religion' as the first option for respondents, recognising this growth. Indeed, using this past trend to forecast future trends, my prediction is that there will be a further increase in 'no religion'. But then again, the headline: 'Australia is being swamped by skeptics and rationalists', doesn't quite inspire the same levels of fear.
So how do we prepare ourselves for possibly six years of One Nation having a platform for their views?
The first thing we need to do is establish the 'courage to call it'. DCA's latest project reports on research about building inclusion have shown the insidious effect that not standing up to non-inclusive language has on individuals and workplaces.
We need to be brave enough to continue to speak out against racism and xenophobia when we hear it and see it.
This is not about political correctness. That accusation is merely a device used to try to shut down debate and de-legitimise genuine concern. In the immortal words of Auschwitz Survivor and Nobel Peace Prize Winner, Elie Wiesel, who passed away last month:
"We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented."
The more we gather to discuss evidence and facts, the more we will be able to reduce the ill-founded fear and hysteria of groups such as One Nation. And while Pauline Hanson and her followers are entitled to their own opinions, those 'opinions' should never be confused with 'facts'.
Evidence should always prevail and when this lens is applied to the One Nation policy manifesto, it just doesn't pass muster.