The Nationals’ willingness to embrace Pauline Hanson and One Nation, and leader Michael McCormack’s boast of how closely aligned his own party and One Nation are, is a disastrous moment in Australian democracy. A major political party is both facilitating the electoral prospects of a white supremacist political organisation, and declaring how mainstream the views of that organisation are.
How tactically smart McCormack’s endorsement of One Nation is at this point is an interesting question: Hanson’s campaign has been derailed today by the resignation of Queensland senate candidate Steve Dickson over a strip club video. How much support One Nation is still attracting after revelations of its treachery in seeking help from foreign extremists to change Australia’s gun laws is unclear, with Clive Palmer moving to pick off discontented minor party voters for himself. But this should be a never-forget moment in Australian politics.
The Nationals were once the bulwark against One Nation. Queensland senator Ron Boswell led the fight. He was denouncing One Nation’s peddling of Port Arthur conspiracy theories when memories of the tragedy were still raw. Boswell fought Hanson off and prevented her from securing a senate spot in 2001. In his 2014 valedictory speech, Boswell lauded that as his finest hour.
In 1988, I tackled the League of Rights, a far-right-wing, anti-Semitic organisation I saw as trying to exert influence over the churches and other areas of society. For me, this was a defining moment: to be taken seriously, you have to stand for something. In the fight of my life, against Pauline Hanson, I risked everything to stand up against her aggressive, narrow view of Australia. Defeating Pauline Hanson and One Nation in 2001 has been my greatest political achievement.
Earlier this month Boswell again called for One Nation to be put last. “The best thing the Coalition can do for regional Australia is to take One Nation on. Don’t give it an inch. Give no quarter, win the ground and hold your nerve.”
McCormack and the Nationals, and the LNP in Queensland, may as well have spat on Boswell’s legacy. Far from giving no quarter, McCormack has abjectly, cravenly surrendered, legitimising a party of open racism, conspiracy theories, crackpot economic ideas and misogyny, as being just like his own party.
This is partly justified by the Nationals with the insistence that One Nation is better than, or no worse than, the Greens — a narrative also peddled by News Corp’s right-wing commentators as well as part of a general response to the rise of violent far-right extremism in Australia. Embarrassed that the right is now being directly linked to terrorism, especially after Christchurch, the right sought to paint violent white supremacism as simply a right-wing version of left-wing extremism, deserving of “plague on both their house” condemnation. In doing so, McCormack and his colleagues wilfully overlook the lack of hate speech from the Greens, the lack of hateful stunts like Hanson’s burqa effort in the Senate, the lack of blatant racism from the Greens, the lack of bizarre conspiracy theories aimed at Jews. How many Greens Senate candidates sought money from the NRA to change the Howard-Fischer gun laws?
One Nation is now worse than when Rob Boswell fought it. It’s more hateful and it is seeking assistance from right-wing groups in other countries. And right-wing violence is now a serious threat to the safety of Australians. Supporters of another, formerly One Nation senator now engage in brownshirt-style attacks on journalists. Their goal is to normalise open fascism and racism, to give it a legitimate role in Australia’s democracy. Instead of fighting that, the Nationals and the LNP are helping it.