My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for Tuesday 26 March 2019

Christchurch massacre has a background of deep-seated Aussie racism

Most of our political leaders have been quick to condemn Brendan Tarrant’s murderous rampage in Christchurch.

As well they should, but what rarely gets a mention is that with a bit of thought about the background of Tarrant’s killing spree their condolences ring hollow, for “If you want to know why an Australian man massacred 50 Muslims in a mosque in New Zealand, then you need to understand a little bit about our nation’s dark past and in particular the quality of our present leadership” Chris Graham wrote last week in New Matilda. In other words, Tarrant’s killer-thon didn’t come out of nowhere. It has a background and context.

So let’s unpick both. There are three major elements: mainstream media, social media, and the words of our politicians.

Today space restrictions will only allow room to comment on our politicians. Polllie-speak can be divided into two types. There is overt clearly stated racism, and there is also what is known as ‘dog-whistle’ speak, which, like a high-pitched dog whistle that only dogs can hear, is coded racism that only those with a predilection to wanting to hear it will grasp. Both have ‘normalised’ hatred of the ‘other’.

Let’s look at ‘dog-whistle’ racism first. Who can forget Mr Howard’s “We decide who comes to this country” from the time of the Tampa. He really meant we won’t let any of these brown skinned Muslims in, thereby introducing us to Islamophobia.

Closely following that came Tony Abbott’s infamous “Stop the boats”, using the excuse of drowning deaths at sea to disguise his racism.

Pauline Hanson is also an expert dog-whistler, as evidenced by her Senate speech when she used the famous dog-whistle of “It’s okay to be white”, meaning of course, it is not okay to be the opposite, that is, non-white.

Ms Hanson is also no slouch at the directly racist statement, indeed, they are her favoured utterances. “We’re being swamped by Muslims” she has frequently said in recent years, adroitly joining Islamophobia to her usual hate speech. This slogan replaced her previous favourite, which was to fantasise that we were simply drowning in a sea of ‘Asians’. Neither is of course remotely true.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton gradually morphed from dog whistles to directly demonising the ‘other’ when they claimed that we couldn’t possibly allow refugees from Nauru and Manus Island into Australia for medical treatment as ““They may be paedophiles, rapists, murderers or drug runners” – a direct steal from President Donald Trump.

They were stretching the truth to the point where it verges on being an outright lie, but the claim that ‘they’ would be “taking our place in the hospital waiting line” from Mr Dutton was definitely a blatant falsehood.

Equally distorting the truth was Mr Dutton’s claim that “People are afraid to go out at night because of African gangs” in Melbourne. Arrant nonsense, but it resonated with those who wanted to believe it.

Senator Fraser Anning’s assertion that we would rid ourselves of Muslim immigrants by adopting a “final solution” reminiscent of how the Nazis treated Europe’s Jewish population is probably the absolute pits as far as both dog whistles and direct statements go.

The Christchurch massacre was followed by a very clever but also very reprehensible dog whistle from PM Scott Morrison when he introduced the government’s cuts to immigration. It was clearly meant to read ‘non-white’ immigration to those who wanted to hear that message.

The Greens have responded with a renewed call for a parliamentary code of conduct to stamp out hate speech, a push also backed by Australia’s peak Muslim body.

Richard Di Natale warned that the likes of Senator Anning blaming the Christchurch attack on Muslim immigration was “not a lone voice in our parliament” and more needs to be done to prevent “hateful rhetoric” by calling for a code of conduct requiring parliamentarians to “reject discriminatory or exclusionary statements”.

All well and good, but reining in our parliamentarians won’t stop what they say in the wider community. That’s the real problem, as Senator Anning’s recent very public comment blaming the Christchurch massacre on Muslim immigration horribly shows.