There’s that no-good, gun-shootin’, Akubra-wearin’ Mad Hatter going at it again. My inbox is being flooded with these abhorrent, racist emails by the one and only Bob Katter.
“Live by OUR rules! Dress as we Australians do. Get a job!” he proclaims. ”We want our country back! I hope this offends all illegal aliens,” he exclaims. These messages are so offensive they can only be described as white supremacy. Oh wait, they are the work of white supremacists.
Yes, for months these racist rants had been doing the rounds, purporting to be part of speeches Bob had made in parliament. His electorate offices had been inundated with a steady stream of calls from members of the public and journalists wanting to know whether these rants were really that of Bob. But alas, they are the ravings of some white supremacists in the US.
But what’s with the perception that Bob is racist? You see the words “redneck” and “racist” down just about any comment thread under a news article about him. You see it when former Nationals Queensland premier Rob Borbidge branded Katter’s new party ”One Nation with a hat”, and you see it now, with his name being used to spread racist rants. There’s something going on here, and it’s got nothing to do with Bob, and everything to do with Australia.
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The perception that Bob is racist utterly confuses me. He is preoccupied with a range of issues — his anti-gay streak being his only inexcusable — but never has it occurred to me, and never has he given any indication, that he’s hung up on race in any way. This is a man who as Queensland’s Indigenous Affairs Minister in the 1980s was able to introduce the most progressive land rights reforms in the country. He did this under the watchful eye of an actual bigot, Joh Bjelke Petersen, which takes some guts.
So what’s going on? Australians saw Bob on television during the post-election stand-off in 2010 wearing that big hat, a stockman’s belt and cowboy boots, cursing at journalists and waving his hands around, and for some reason they came away thinking they’ve heard the ravings of a Pauline Hanson-like race baiter, when really he was cursing the free market, Pilipino bananas and the National Party, among other things.
Bob had this to say about the Australian Party being continually compared to One Nation by the city-based media: “I don’t mean to be disrespectful to Pauline — she showed very great courage — but what the hell has this got to do with what we’re doing?”
Is it to do with the way he looks and presents himself: an embattled grazier-looking battler living way beyond the fault line which separates city from country? I don’t know.
And I don’t know whether the people who framed him in this instance were naive left-wingers or opportunistic white supremacists. But the perception throughout Australia, especially among city-based elites, is that he is racist in some way.
The irony is that most of these people probably couldn’t keep up with Bob in an intellectual conversation about de Tocqueville or John Stuart Mill. I know I can’t keep up with him when he’s talking about building a transmission line through north-west Queensland and somehow relates it to a Henry Lawson poem, and then starts reciting whole verses.
But, hey, that’s Bob. He’s a lot of things — and there’s lots of things to criticise him about — but being a racist isn’t one of them.