Speech: Merchants of Hate
It seems that almost every day we are met with a new far-right conservative movement. The spectrum ranges from straight-up neo-Nazis, or fascists masquerading as libertarians, to the tinfoil hat brigade with their United Nations conspiracy theories. Some of them are in this very parliament. Collectively, I call these groups 'merchants of hate'. Perhaps 'charlatans' or 'quacks' would be better terms. They prey on the anxieties of Australians and offer solutions that are empty, hateful and divisive. They shadow-box with imaginary enemies, whipping up hysteria against minorities to cover for their own inadequacies. Why? Because they find it easier to destroy communities than to build them. Where is their vision? Where are their big ideas for a better Australia? When we open the cupboards and inspect their wares we realise how little they have to offer but breathless rhetoric.
We have big problems in this country: wages are stagnant and corporations refuse to bear their fair share of tax so that we can fund essential public services like schools, universities, TAFE, health care and public transport. People are being left behind. More than 116,000 people are homeless, and that number is rising. Each and every day, more than 250 people are turned away from homelessness services because governments around the country refuse to fund them properly. A culture of corruption and the revolving door between politics and big business costs us all. The voices of big money, and their donations, echo far more loudly in the corridors of parliament than do the voices of the community.
But, instead of offering solutions that will actually help people in our society, the merchants of hate choose to whip up hysteria against minorities in this country because it suits their weak-minded political vision that hopes to keep Australia in turmoil. It is the classic divide-and-rule, distract-and-act mentality: point to an imaginary enemy and hope that no-one notices you don't actually want solutions because you thrive on problems, conflict and suffering.
The merchants of hate are selling Australians lies, because that is all they have. What else can we conclude when parties like One Nation talk about 'Aussie battlers' but then go ahead and vote to strip billions of dollars out of our public schools? They talk a big game but, time and time again, they side with the Liberals and the big end of town. They tell their supporters one thing and then do another. I wonder how they sleep at night?
Mario Peucker, a postdoctoral research fellow at Victoria University's Centre for Cultural Diversity and Wellbeing, has looked at the far Right and its emergence. According to a news.com.au article he found that economic betrayals of workers and everyday people by elites around the world have led to the far Right seizing upon the fears that people have about the future. He noted:
Australia, the UK and the US have their individual circumstances but there is an underlying root cause and that is there are economic shifts and social shifts that some segments of society aren’t happy with. Some people feel left behind.
A relatively large segment of the society, although still a minority, feels like they’re kind of stuck in their socio-economic mobility, they don’t have hope that their kids will be in a better socio-economic position. They might have a job but they feel like they might lose it. They probably think they might lose it to some overseas investor who might bring in their own overseas workers.
So there’s a lot of fear about the future and this fear drives some kind of self-protection and a feeling that it 'used to be better' and wanting political leaders to recognise them and their situation and do something about it.
Rather than providing ideas that address the root of people's anxieties and concerns—roots like neoliberalism and constant attacks on working people by politicians and governments—the merchants of hate exploit those anxieties to get themselves elected.
Underlying these groups like One Nation, and perhaps within them, are a whole range of weird and whacky groups. Some are comical, but some are quite dangerous. These groups embrace weird conspiracy theories about Agenda 21, the New World Order and the United Nations, and there are too many who consider climate change to be some elaborate international hoax. Others seek to persecute people under the banner of patriotism and nationalism. Some even embrace the vile ideology of Nazism. Scratch the surface and you find sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and, of course, racism and intolerance.
Let's be clear: this isn't a new phenomenon. We've always had far-right fringe parties like the League of Rights, National Action, the Australian Nationalist Movement and Australians Against Further Immigration. In recent years, a plethora of primarily online based groups has exploded. This echoes what is happening around the world. In August 2018, the so-called Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville in the United States saw far-right extremist groups openly rally with horrifying chants attacking the Jewish community in particular. One of them drove a car into a group of peaceful protesters, killing Heather Heyer and injuring many others.
Here in Australia, ABC's Background Briefing recently exposed the far-right wing infiltration of the New South Wales Young Nationals, where members of the alt-Right succeeded in getting a seat on the executive. At their national conference in May, new members started putting forward motions calling for the party to endorse immigration from culturally compatible peoples and nations, with strict immigration controls for those who are not. To their credit, the Nationals have taken swift action to remove these people from their party.
Who is responsible for the rise of the far Right and legitimatising hate? The current government have to bear some responsibility for stoking the flames of division. Just recently, we saw the whole of the Liberal and National parties walk in here and indulge Senator Pauline Hanson's obsession with race by supporting that vile motion. We know exactly what they were doing; they were telegraphing to the far Right and racists to tell them: 'Don't worry, we have your back.'
The media has to bear some responsibility. Sky News continues the cycle of 'outrage, apologise, outrage, apologise', knowingly inviting racists and fascists onto its shows to generate media. Sunrise regularly paid Pauline Hanson to join its show before she was elected to parliament. Even the ABC felt it was okay to devote an entire episode of Four Corners to Steve Bannon. Bannon, the former Chief of Staff to the President of the United States, is hardly a marginalised voice. He is a man who has edited a website, Breitbart News Network, that was and still is openly Islamophobic, sexist and racist and appeals to the very worst of human nature.
The far Right also relies on social media to spread its lies. I have highlighted many times the kinds of racist and misogynistic abuse that comes my way. We know that social media has become a breeding ground of hate and fake news, but those platforms have not taken seriously their responsibility to protect their users from abuse.
The good news, though, is that it doesn't have to be this way. There is another way. The far Right has been exposed as the emperor with no clothes. While they stand around furiously stamping their feet, trying to direct attention away from the fact that they have nothing substantial to offer, there are people working hard to build a better future for all of us. I got involved in politics because I wanted to give a voice to marginalised and ignored people and to the environment and animals. A core part of the Greens' mission is to champion the voices of those silenced, to dissent on behalf of the dissenters. Every day, these long-silenced voices and long-shut-out decision-making processes are speaking more loudly and demanding to be heard. It is up to us to change the narrative—to expose the far Right for their empty promises and hateful rhetoric that offers nothing but bile and certainly no solutions to everyday problems.
At the core of it is a narrow neoliberal agenda that consistently prioritises the interest of big business and big money above people. The reason we have decaying social infrastructure, high youth unemployment, insecure work and a rising cost of living is not because of migrants, ethnic communities, refugees or Muslims; it's because governments over decades have not prioritised people's needs. They have not invested for the public; rather, they have sold off our public services and assets and helped fill the deep pockets of their mates in big business. It is the politicians and their mates who ingratiate themselves at the expense of the public. They should be the target of your anger, not already marginalised people who are being locked out of having a say on how our country is run.
So, instead of coming in here and piling hate on people and communities you don't like, for once try and bring in some real debate, some substance, about how we can turn Australia into a country where everyone thrives. You might be surprised at the response you get. You might even feel good about it.