My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for Tuesday 11 December 2018

by ray goodlass

Merchants of hate infest our parliaments

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 mad hatter brigade with their conspiracy theories. Some of them are in our current federal parliament.

“Collectively, I call these groups ‘merchants of hate’. Perhaps ‘charlatans’ or ‘quacks’ would be better terms,” said Greens Senator Mehreen Faruqi (Hansard 14 November 2018).

They prey on the anxieties of Australians and offer solutions that are empty, hateful and divisive. 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?

True, we have big problems in this country. Wages are stagnant, and corporations refuse to bear their fair share of tax needed to 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.

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 these ‘merchants of hate’, instead of offering solutions that will actually help people in our society, 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,” said Dr Faruqi.

They 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 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. 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.

Rather than providing ideas that address the root of people’s anxieties and concerns the merchants of hate exploit those anxieties to get themselves elected.

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. The media has to bear some responsibility. Sky News, for example, 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.

The far Right also relies on social media to spread its lies. 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, and there are good people in our communities and local, state and federal parliaments who are firmly standing up against the Far Right.

As Dr Faruqi said recently in the Senate “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”.

So don’t believe the Far Right when it blames migrants, ethnic communities, refugees, or Muslims for our decaying social infrastructure, high youth unemployment, insecure work and a rising cost of living. The fault in fact lies with the big end of town and its narrow neoliberal agenda that consistently prioritises the interest of big business and big money above people.