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The far-Right continues to rise, but why? It is both the effect of populism, and the dismissive response that wears much of the blame.
The news of a Reclaim Australia member being arrested in an anti-terrorism raid was deliciously ironic but, in a way rather disturbing. If anything, it ought to make one reflect on the rise of far-Right nationalism in Australia. And it would hardly be one’s first reflection, either. As a movement, it has been going on for some time, and was given parliamentary legitimacy last week with the confirmed return of Pauline Hanson and the election to the Senate of four One Nation candidates.
So, in light of this, to what can we attribute the rise of the far-Right in Australia?
Understandably, there is in response to the above quite a lot of talk of the problem of racism. The legacy of White Australia has not faded quietly. It has in many ways done quite the opposite, as shown by cartoons such as this. At the core of racism is fear and ignorance, and for that reason, it is ineradicable. However it is possible to combat it with open debate and education. Nonetheless, I think there is far more than racism to the rightward political phenomenon in question. Indeed, to assert otherwise is to view things only through the lens of identity politics – a lens that heavily distorts one’s view in all instances of usage.
Although many variables are involved, I think two, in particular, are most crucial to the Right’s ascendancy: populism, and a strong backlash against perceived ideological marginalisation. These are also clearly intertwined.
The nationalistic populism that inspires the far-Right in Australia has emerged out of political disillusionment. Anti-establishment attitudes have grown rapidly throughout Western politics. Many people are wholly dissatisfied with two-party centrism in which there is no serious competition between the major parties. There are some distinctions on matters of principle, but these distinctions are seldom to be found in policy debates. It is an unwavering sign of political degeneration that when looking for options, people see nothing. And fair enough: people cannot be blamed for that kind of disillusionment, and certainly not for the failings of the “sensible” centre.
Also on The Big Smoke
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As long as this is the case (or as long as enough people think this is the case), there will be a longing for the so-called straight-shooter – someone who claims to be beyond the political process, to be keeping the other bastards honest. Or perhaps even someone who is not a career politician.
As with all political movements, one can only respond to One Nation by understanding the central grievances of its supporters. Political dishonesty, mass immigration and weakened national pride through the perceived loss of Christian values, are among those considered to be most important. Problematic though most of the policy prescriptions designed in response to these issues may be, given their influence and sheer popularity, it would be misguided to dismiss the movement as illegitimate and wholly irrational. Indeed, such dismissal – as opposed to proper engagement – has contributed a great deal to One Nation’s success. And through this they have gained undeniable legitimacy: legitimacy confirmed at the ballot box. (The incredible thing about democracy is that even the most unquantifiable political emotions are ultimately made quantifiable by the ever-powerful ballot box.)
It is out of the failure to acknowledge the above that the second factor, namely a political backlash, has occurred. As long as people feel as though their grievances are not being addressed, that they are being ignored rather than engaged, they will become more agitated and keener to see their platform represented at a parliamentary level.
In the case of One Nation, a most salient example is their rather aggressive resistance to a religion, namely Islam – the kind of resistance that makes negotiating with them (One Nation) rather difficult. Negotiation is made even more difficult, however, by targeting them with slander. Policies such as an immigration ban and a Royal Commission are no doubt extreme, but the correct response is not the shouting and hollering of “Islamophobia” – a non-term if there ever was one – at every mention of those policies. Radical opposition to religion is not a psychological disorder and to malign and belittle someone as though they suffer from a disorder for holding such a view is extraordinarily conceited and insulting.
We have before us a genuine cultural (and political) division, one in which it is easy, because of haunting throwbacks to White Australia-esque nationalism, to become lazy in response. The election to the Senate of several representatives of the far-Right presents a unique, though not historically unprecedented, challenge: to counter the difficulties of fear and racism while understanding that a broad sector of the population cannot be ignored or dismissed.
To be dismissive is not to bolster education or enliven debate, but to hinder it, and that is not a path on which we should be headed.