I’ve been watching politics since I was a kid in the Fraser years and like everyone else I’ve seen plenty of stuff-ups, misjudgments, indecencies and outrages in that time. But few left me feeling sick in the way that the Coalition supporting Pauline Hanson’s “it’s OK to be white” motion in the Senate yesterday did.

There is no explaining away, contextualising, justifying or dismissing this outrage by the Coalition. Caught by surprise? What — you can’t read a notice paper? Confused about how to vote? You need guidance from your party leadership on whether to vote for a motion about “anti-white racism” from Australian politics’ best known racist? And in any event, Attorney-General Christian Porter only confirmed the government’s support for Hanson’s motion afterward on Twitter, backed by Mathias Cormann. Fair dinkum, Mathias. You’re supposed to be better than this shit.

This morning, after a firestorm of criticism, the rowing back began. “Regrettable,” the Prime Minister called it, hanging Porter and Cormann out to dry. Cormann then was sent out to declare that the government’s support was “an administrative process failure”. Porter released a statement blaming his staff for not “escalating” the motion to him, and trying to explain away his tweet. A bold statement against racism last night was suddenly an administrative error… after a hostile reaction. These people are running the country but can’t read an 18-word motion? They really do take us for fools.

Maybe some Liberals and Nationals actually believe there is “anti-white racism” in Australia. That white Australians suffer under the burden of living significantly longer lives than Indigenous Australians. That we endure the xenophobic torment of having better health and fewer chronic diseases. That we suffer the apartheid of better access to health and education services. That we are forced to live with greater wealth, more and better-paying jobs, and greater economic opportunity than non-whites. After all, is there not a Closing The Gap program to address exactly these kinds of racial injustices for whites?

Let’s Godwin this garbage. Yes, let’s go there. This is how Nazism grabbed power in Germany, by being indulged and legitimised and enabled by conservative politicians for their own political purposes. What was the Coalition’s political purpose? Presumably to keep in Hanson’s good books so as to ensure their chances of securing legislative outcomes in the Senate. As if their experience with Hanson on company tax cuts hadn’t shown them that Hanson lacks both the brains and basic decency to either stick to a policy position or a commitment once she’s given it.

The job of fighting fascism isn’t merely one for progressives and centrists. Conservatives also have a crucial role — conservatives with decency, values, a belief in protecting institutions and an understanding of history. Many in the Coalition have fought hard against the cancer of One Nation. Ron Boswell battled them ferociously in Queensland. Peter Costello went out hard early against Hanson, in the face of criticism from John Howard, and established the tradition — that would last until Malcolm Turnbull’s time — of putting One Nation last on how-to-vote cards under all circumstances. Even Tony Abbott in the 1990s dedicated himself to using all means to destroy One Nation. That tradition of opposing One Nation root-and-branch is now being mocked and degraded by a cynical, desperate and opportunistic government.

The point of Godwinning this is because fascism — white nationalism, neo-Nazism, alt-right, call it what you will — is surging in Australia and across the west. And it relies heavily on being legitimised by the media and by mainstream politicians. Violent fascists like Blair Cottrell now appear on mainstream media outlets here. Their racism and bigotry is echoed in the senate by Hanson and her ilk, whether in her camp or spread across other parties in Hanson’s Diaspora of Disaffection. Now they’ve got one of the major parties to endorse the toxic lie of white victimhood. If it happened in 1998 it would have been a footnote. Now, it’s a something quite different and far more sinister.

And every single Coalition senator who voted for it is responsible for legitimising and enabling it. We look back on the 1930s and wonder why people did nothing about fascism then. The answer was staring us in the face in the senate last night, “administrative process failure” or not.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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