Chasing the Norm

Australian academic and blogger on politics, international relations, and culture

Tag: Racism

Racists have rights too

This apparently is the political story of the day:

A member of the Queensland Young Liberal National Party faces expulsion after he called Barack Obama a monkey on a social networking site.
Scores of party members this morning called on the party senior executive to immediately dismiss Nick Sowden, president Rod Schneider told
Sowden last night posted messages on Twitter while the United States president was being interviewed on the ABC’s 7.30 Report.
“I’m not sure why they paid kerry to fly to america, if they wanted an interview with a monkey surely a Ferry to Taronga would have sufficed,” one tweet said.
“If I wanted to see a monkey on TV id watch Wildlife Rescue,” said a second.

Snowden’s deleted his twitter account and seemingly his facebook too, and set up a lame defence (via the excellent 2UE reporter @latikambourke) “He says it was just a joke for friends which we’ve ‘unfortunately,’ taken out of context.”

But Snowden did say one sensible thing: “it’s a sad day for free speech if the Twitterverse is going to be policed Stazi-style. Says best to have a fake Twitter name.”

What’s really problematic about this is that we have our press jumping up and down over a dumb racist comment by a nobody. Why should we care if he’s a racist? Why should we care if he’s an idiot. It’s not that we have better things to do (from taxes to nukes to healthcare), but rather that he’s allowed to be a fool if he wants, and this mass peer pressure via our media onslaught is just an example of tyranny of the majority at work. Even if its for a good cause – rooting out racist in our major parties, it’s still unacceptable and base mob behaviour.

Over at Catallaxy recently was the argument coherently put (this time about emails encouraging Earth Hour) that classical liberals don’t worry about non-governmental pressure. And generally thats true (such that if your boss is announces he is going to pay you you 3c an hour, that should be nobody elses problem), but there is also in the John Stuart Mill tradition of liberalism a worry just as much that public opinion can be just as coercive as a government regulator. Indeed Mill devotes the majority of his brilliant ‘On Liberty’ to the question of public pressure, rather than legal coercion.

This of course is not to endorse either snowdens comments, nor the inferiority complex that seems to lead conservatives everywhere to claim they are a minority under attack, and whose conspiracy theories on everything from global warming to Obama’s citizenship ought to be given equal place in our debates. It’s not. But it is a reminded that as our technology to disseminate opinions grows larger & quicker, the role of peer pressure does too. Often this will be for the good, encouraging nation states and societies to stop human rights abuse & give up their inhumane weapons of mass destruction, and to support a pluralist, tolerant society. But if we find ourselves jumping up and down over every little idiot we are simply going to encourage the belief that there’s a virtue in holding minority views no matter how illogical and immoral they are, and giving significantly more attention and hence support to such views as well. In a free society, this kid has the freedom to be an idiot. We should celebrate that by freely ignoring it, and knowing that in this case, even his friends quickly called him on his “joke”. Job done.

The Open Society and its Enemies

Shorter John Pasquarelli: Libs should be non-professional racists.

Johns claim to fame is only as ‘a former member of the Liberal Party and of the One Nation Party’, but you have to wonder what the editors of The Australian were thinking publishing this piece as serious commentary. In various forms it:
– Credits B.A Santamaria with stopping communism in Australia
– Calls Petro Georgiou liberalism “mischief” that has no place in the Liberal Party
– Accuses the Liberals of being too close to the Greens
– Labels Howards 1988 call for reducing asian immigration ‘innocuous’
– Claims Hanson ‘merely’ sought equality for ‘Aborigines and other Australians’
– Argues the public voted one nation because of her ‘treatment’ at the hands of the liberal party
– Claims anonymous ‘ Indians, Filipinos, Asians and Aborigines’ supported Hanson (so therefore its not racism!)
– Attacks the idea of allowing in Sudanese migrants, whilst asserting unnamed evidence shows some claim to be Christian when actually Muslim
– And finally argues the Liberals can re-find their feet by ‘flying the flag on the continuing Aboriginal industry, immigration, refugees, Pacific Islander guest workers, multiculturalism, militant Muslims or ethnic crime’.

This is what passes as commentary from our leading conservative newspaper ? Really? At a time of major economic crisis, bashing immigration & pacific islander guest workers is raised as a sensible suggestion ?

Other than the suggestion for less young hacks (& ‘phone manners’) nothing advocated here will gain the Liberals more than a thousand votes nation wide if that. In fact, given John’s regular efforts to insert himself into the story (‘in the 1990s, I was having a cup of tea with Bob Santamaria’; In 1996 I came to fully appreciate the implications of Hansonism. I began to receive calls from Indians, Filipinos, Asians (mainly Chinese) and Aborigines; It didn’t take me long to realise that most of these people spoke good English, were Christians and the product of assimilation; When I questioned Abbott about the Sudanese, he said they were favoured because they were Christians. I reminded him that evidence was mounting that many Sudanese were Muslims posing as Christians; As I watched Turnbull being sliced and diced by Labor’s Tony Burke in parliament …. I wondered what ordinary Australians were thinking. My emails to Turnbull’s office asking him how he was going to sell Double Bay to “Joe Blow” remain unanswered‘), the Liberal Parties lack of good phone manners to this obnoxious man stands as the best point in their favor in the entire article.

Still, the piece serves as a useful reminder that Hanson was a Liberal Party member, and many like her still remain in the party. Howard, Costello, Turnbull and the party leadership clearly don’t hold such views, but they have yet to sever the link rhetorically. They have embraced an open economic system, increased migration significantly, and claim to be the party of individual freedom and liberty. And yet, it all rings hollow whilst the xenophobic, culturally insular fears of people like John Pasquarelli still remain a significant element of the parties world view. Arguing for a clear and unafraid open society ideal, both economic and socially would be a good way for Turnbull to truly show the Liberal party stands for something. And one, he as a man who embodies such ideals is well placed to present.

She’s back (but thankfully not for long)

Right on the heels of my post on Female Politicians in Australia, comes the disquieting news that Pauline Hanson is now running for a seat in QLD’s state election. pauline_pantsdown

I suppose it was inevitable that Hanson would pop up, given that elections tend to be quite profitable for her, afterall she made $213’000 courtesy of the AEC in her failed attempt as a senator at the 2007 Federal election. Indeed Hanson has run and failed in most elections for the last decade including, Federally in 1998(as a MP) & 2001 (as a Senator), in 2003 for NSW (in the upper house), the aforementioned 2007 run and now in 2008 is going for a MP spot in QLD.

Hanson has always been a media and political phenomenon far more than an electoral one, a distinction worth remembering in these days of democracies omnipresence. Just because people are talking about you, doesnt mean you the people will be voting for you. Hanson was significant for what she represented, anger at the change and upheaval of globalisation, and a lightning rod for changes conservatives wanted in the national conversation that those on the right and left interpreted as an encouragement for racism. (The former doing, the latter condoning).

But Hanson herself has never been that popular and whilst QLD is her native backyard, we should not expect any more chance of her being elected this time around. For a start, the only time she won an election it was because (despite a last minute disendorsement) she was still listed as a Liberal Party candidate on the electoral ballots.) Her latest run comes after being reduced to a celebrity reality TV star and far from the political debate or even consciousness over the last 4-5 years. She has yet to nominate which seat she will stand for, or even assemble any kind of political operation (Though Possum Pollytics at Crikey has a post up suggesting she will run in Beaudesert).

Secondly, whilst these are tough economic times, Australia is yet to really feel the pinch in job losses, or business closures, and there isn’t the simmering long term resentment that the Government/major parties arnt doing anything about it that there was in 1996-1998. Bligh may well face a tough fight, but few will blame her, or Rudd (or the Liberal National Party) for the economic conditions they face. As such Hanson’s ability to whip up economic discontent will be limited. Likewise for Immigration, after several years debating the topic, the people are exhausted by it. Hanson’s message will play better in rural QLD than most of the country, and she has easily slid from being anti-asian to anti-muslim/Lebanese. However given 9/11 is now 8 years old, and the Lebanese community in QLD is tiny, she wont find a lot to work with. And finally, the election is set for march 21, that is 26 days away. 26 days to persuade tens of thousands of people to vote for her. Of whom many would have not heard of her in a decade, other than as an item of celebrity gossip. 26 days to establish a credible base, whilst the Labor Party (at both state and Federal levels) will turn their full guns on her, and the Liberals once bitten, twice shy (and afraid she will cost them a seat) will be doing all they can to deny her oxygen and credibility.
One final point about this noxious woman. Whatever our personal disgust with her views on race, religion, economics (a 2% tax on everything!), her imprisonment was a breech of justice and the rule of Law. Whilst I dont have a problem with her political opponents aiding legal efforts against her, the judges made major mistakes in reading and interpreting the law. Whilst one could only charitably classify her actions as ‘self-interested’, it was not illegal, and her imprisonment a miscarriage of justice. One that is unacceptable with a normal person and doubly so with a politician (Politicians are just as accountable under the law as everyone else, however the law has been the favoured tactic for centuries to remove and censor popular but radical politicians. The highest possible standard of justice is required in their case to ensure the law, not politics is the cause of any legal sentencing)

Hopefully this is the first and last post I’ll have to make on Hanson. She was a freak electoral result, who showed us only two significant points. 1 – That Politicians (Keating) can not get too far in front of the community when making changes, lest it cause outrage, and that 2 – Politicians (Howard) cant afford to ignore or justify this outrage when it works for their electoral/political benefit. Her story is one of main party failure, not personal capability. She should well lose in March, and with that fifth straight electoral defeat be consigned to the dustbin of Australian Political history.