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Pauline Hanson

After the election results came in, I posted about the implications for the Turnbull government of dealing with One Nation as if it were a normal and legitimate political party.

“It seems likely, however, that Turnbull is going to treat One Nation, for the first time in Australia, as a normal political party, and to negotiate with Hanson as an equal. That would be a new low for him, and for Australia. And, sooner or later, it will come back to bit him and the LNP. For an object lesson in the dangers of courting racist votes while maintaining a claim to be non-racist, he need only look at the US Republican party.”

It is already clear that this analysis fell far short of the mark. Far from being “just another minor party”, One Nation has become a semi-formal member of the LNP Coalition and part of the dominant right-wing grouping within that coalition. The two most striking developments, among many, are:

  • The decision of the Queensland LNP to preference One Nation ahead of Labor. This is unusual in itself, given that no election is in prospect any time soon, and it is a radical reversal of the pre-election position of putting One Nation last; and
  • The alliance between One Nation and the LNP right to promote a change to hate speech laws, allowing racial speech that “offends” or “insults” the target.

I remain convinced that this will prove a path to disaster for the LNP in the long run, but it could do a great deal of damage to Australia while the LNP-ONP coalition remains in office.

The 18C issue — a whole post to itself, but the central point here is that this move does not reflect any general commitment to free speech, along the (apocryphal) Voltairian line that “I disagree with what you say, but defend to the death your right to say it”. The backers of this proposal are people who want to exercise the freedom to make offensive and insulting racial attacks.

Of course, it’s important to avoid the ad hominem fallacy here. The claim that “people have a right to be bigots” isn’t invalidated by the fact that most of its proponents (though not, I think, George Brandis) are bigots themselves. But the simple political fact is that racists are now viewed as acceptable by the LNP, and are already a substantial, if not dominant, faction within that party. Most of this faction has no interest in free speech for anyone but themselves.

If any change to laws governing public speech is to be addressed by this Parliament, it should not take the form of an escape clause specifically designed for bigots. Rather we should be looking at a general guarantee of free speech, something that does not currently exist in Australia.

Finally, I’ll repeat, in sharper form, a question I’ve raised before. If right-wing LNP backbenchers have a consequence-free right to vote against party policy on hate speech, why don’t supporters of equal marriage have the same right? The most obvious target of this question is former IPA official Tim Wilson, who has vigorously attacked 18C while toeing the party line on equal marriage, despite his stated support.

*This article was originally published at John Quiggin’s blog

Peter Fray

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