The campaign to “rescue” white farmers in the republic of South Africa is becoming the most extraordinary internal collapse of the right for a long time. It’s disgusting too, but we’re accustomed to that now. The racism of it is so bare, astounding and vicious that it will eat through what remains of Australian liberal-conservatism like acid — is already doing so. But is it a new level of depravity? Or an utterly cynical campaign by Peter Dutton to retain preselection, and his marginal seat of Dickson?
The latter explanation would certainly fit with the way this hideous campaign has gone. Dutton has led it; selected elements of the yellow rightwing press have run with it – Jennifer Oriel and an astoundingly racist cartoon by Lobbecke (is there anything this man won’t draw?). Is it really being run by the “threatened whites” brigade, as part of a culture war? It’s a risky move if it is. Many Liberals, even those holding the line on mandatory detention, are going to find explicit race preference stomach-turning.
The “all politics is local” angle presents a more rational case. Dutton held the seat of Dickson 51.5%-48.5% in the 2016 election. Created in 1992, the seat changed hands twice before Dutton nailed it in 2001. He’s held it ever since, but had a swing against him of 5% in 2016. The seat was to have a Labor-shifting redistribution in 2009, and Dutton went carpet-bagging, trying to ease his way into the safe seats of Gold Coast and Wright.
To no avail, and as the redistrib proved small, he managed to survive in the 2010 election. By now, however, he had angered local voters and branch members with his cowardice. His most recent result, and the political odium in which many hold him, make him a target for dumping by the branch, or loss in the poll.
However, Dutton has one secret weapon: neighbourhoods of white South Africans around the electorate’s Albany Creek area, little Johannesburg East. Being white South Africans, they are active in the local Liberal National Party.
Dutton’s sudden adoption of the “poooor white farmers” cause – raised in Australia by immigrant white South Africans from Zimbabwe, now living in Perth – is a branch factional play, projected onto the nation as a whole. Sections of the national right have been happy to follow along, to make more trouble for Turnbull and what remains of the Liberal centre.
The “conservatives”– the racists’ — belief that it will prove popular among anyone other than the sun-struck devotees of News Corp Queensland product is delusional. One hopes. Either way, it’s a new low in a country where the production of lows appears to have replaced the car industry as our manufacturing base.