Having always regarded myself as a bit of a right-on lefty, albeit with rather libertarian tendencies, it came as a bit of shock upon moving to Crikey to discover that I wasn’t exactly the ravingest socialist in the collective. Holding to views like, say, capitalism basically works except when it doesn’t, Israel has a right to defend itself, and anyone using the term “genocide” is automatically to be suspected of pushing an agenda, I was alarmed at some of the views I found myself sharing an email with. Nevertheless, diversity is a many splendoured thing and who gives a rat’s what I think anyway.
But Jeff Sparrow’s piece on Pauline Hanson on Wednesday was, if not quite the last straw, then the last packet of straws in the supermarket half an hour before your four-year-old’s birthday party. If that makes sense. I actually had to re-read it a couple of times to make sure he was saying what I thought he was saying. I was then moved to copy Bill Nighy in Pirates of the Caribbean and yell “Sparrer!” in a fury (and yeah, I know, with a name like mine I’m the last person to be making jokes about other people’s names).
In particular, Sparrow said about Hanson’s original disendorsement:
The nation in which that happened — a place in which racial prejudice automatically excluded you from mainstream politics — has now entirely vanished, and if you go back to Pauline Hanson’s maiden speech in Parliament, there’s not much that would cause a ripple today in either Labor or Liberal.
What a load of… nonsense. If Sparrow really thinks Hanson’s views on Aboriginal people are now widespread throughout politicians of both sides, perhaps he should look at Hansard from the apology debates at the start of 2008. Forget about speeches by Kevin Rudd or anyone on the ALP side. Try this.
If there was any failure on our part, it was in relation to recognising the significance of symbolism in helping Indigenous communities to move forward. We were unashamedly focused on practical outcomes but we can now acknowledge that that was at the expense of important symbolic acts… We do accept that the lack of a formal apology from the federal government has been an impediment to better relations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. The Coalition now recognise that this apology is very important to Indigenous Australians…
That was right wing bogeyman Nick Minchin explaining where the Coalition had gone wrong on the apology. And this:
To all those people who have those doubts, see an inequity or express cynicism, I simply say: I understand those reservations, but nevertheless I plead with you to give this apology a go. Many people have asked for it for many years. Many say it will make a material difference for a group in our society that have been undeniably mistreated, so why not give it a go? Some time ago, a group of Christian Aboriginal women that I spoke with apologised for their hatred of the white people. Racism in this country has been a two-way street but I think most of the traffic has been on the white side. If these Aboriginal women had found it within themselves to seek forgiveness from the white community why can we not find it within ourselves to also offer an apology for past misdeeds?
“Racism has been a two-way street but most of the traffic has been on the white side.” Which raving leftwinger said that? Eric Abetz.
Liberal MP Scott Morrison acknowledged indigenous Australians at the start of his maiden speech last year. In fact it’s now pro forma for Ministers to acknowledge traditional owners at the start of their speeches. Yesterday Kevin Rudd gave his first annual report on Government efforts to close the gap in indigenous health.
To suggest any of this would have happened in 1996 is absurd.
And while the departure of John Howard from the political scene is partly responsible for this change in attitude among politicians, it’s not the whole story. What about Peter Costello — who commendably told his Prime Minister where to get off on the issue of One Nation preferences — and Tony Abbott walking as part of the Reconciliation Walks in 2000? And on refugees, what about the Coalition being shamed into removing children from detention despite their gleeful exploitation of the issue? Or Labor’s further amelioration of the refugee assessment regime since?
What about Hanson herself? Perhaps Sparrow and Crikey’s many left-wing readers might comment on whether they agreed with Hanson’s statement that “since the Tampa and 9/11 we’ve gone from a position of international respect in relation to race and human rights to a laughing stock.”
There’s a lazy snobbery reflected in the assertion that our major political parties are casually racist, a snobbery based on the assumption that anyone who fails to wholly adopt an ideological position approximating that of the Green Left Weekly must be a reactionary and a bigot. There are indeed reactionaries and bigots on both sides of Parliament. But they’re a tiny minority, and it’s unlikely even they’d endorse the drivel that poured out of Hanson 13 years ago.