In what was a deeply offensive rant by Andrew Bolt about a “tidal wave of immigrants” earlier this week, there was a line that was especially sickening.
In Melbourne’s North Caulfield, 41% of residents are Jews, including hundreds who have lately fled South Africa. Dandenong now has an official Little Indian Cultural Precinct, with 33 Indian businesses. Such colonising will increasingly be our future as we gain a critical mass of born-overseas migrants. Like tends to attract like and these new colonies can then more easily keep their cultures thanks to satellite TV, the internet, and cheap travel.
To see Jews being singled out and criticised for forming “colonies” and failing to integrate, in a mainstream media outlet, makes the blood run cold. We know where this goes; we’ve seen it before. Once upon a time, Bolt had no truck with this sort of thing. He rightly called out climate denialist Malcolm Roberts, pre-politics, for peddling theories about Jewish banking families. Now, Bolt warns of Jewish people who “keep their culture” and who form “colonies” — it’s impossible to think of a word more intended to inflame prejudice and stir up hate than one that portrays people as seeking to impose their own sovereignty on Australians. Then again, given Australia itself is a colonial settler society that imposed its sovereignty on Indigenous Australians, such words are deeply ironic.
The level of debate in Australia has been falling in recent years. Trump accelerated it, plumbed new depths for what it was permissible to say in what passed for civilised democratic discourse. But it was falling before him. That first became clear under Julia Gillard, who was subjected to a hateful barrage of misogynist abuse. But it’s got worse since then.
The Seven Network readily broadcasts the views of racist hatemongers and gave a pre-election platform to Pauline Hanson, gratis. Non-white Australians who dare to express an opinion, like Yassmin Abdel-Magied are vilified and smeared in major media outlets and on social media. Female journalists and commentators are routinely subjected to the most foul misogynistic abuse on social media. Left and right peddle conspiracy theories of the most lunatic kinds.
The result has been a vicious circle in which the falling standard of debate has legitimised what was once illegitimate. If the fringes have become more extreme, what was once extreme has become acceptable. Tony Abbott recently questioned all immigration from Africa; we have thus moved from fringe players like One Nation and backbench bigots in the Coalition questioning Muslim immigration, to a former prime minister flagging a return to an immigration policy based on skin colour.
A push to return to the White Australia policy — anathema under both sides of politics since the late 1960s — from a senior figure in a major party is no longer unthinkable. Abbott — an immigrant himself — has paved the way by suggesting a race-based immigration policy. And now Bolt, the child of migrants, with his warnings of Jewish and Indian and Chinese colonies.
It was Abbott who flagged last year that he would use immigration as an issue on which to undermine Malcolm Turnbull. But Turnbull and Peter Dutton have countered him by whipping up their own racial issue, Sudanese gangs in Victoria, and curbing immigration numbers. This appears to have forced Abbott to shift to a more extreme position to differentiate himself from the hated Turnbull. Bolt seems to have done the same.
It’s similar to the process that unfolds every night and on weekends on Sky when a stable of right-wingers compete to generate the most outrage from the small number of old white men who watch them, with inevitable results such as getting caught up in David Leyonhjelm’s disgusting smearing of Sarah Hanson-Young.
We used to have a centripetal media culture, in which outlets concentrated on the mainstream and centrist ideas, for better or for worse. Now fragmentation has given us a centrifugal media culture in which the constant pressure is to be ever more extreme lest you fail to differentiate your product. The result: a major publication starts talking about Jewish colonies.
Don’t let anyone tell you there isn’t something deeply wrong in Australia now.