By Holly Reeves
A red-haired time-bomb was given a seat in the Australian Senate this week. Pauline Hanson, leader of the anti-Muslim One Nation party, managed a victory in Queensland that could not only shake up community relations in diverse Australia, but explode a heated discussion about Islam in Australian society.
“Both sides of parliament are not doing enough to address this whole issue,” she explained during her election campaign, “What Islam stands for is not compatible with our country … let the Muslim countries take them.” (http://www.news.com.au/national/politics/pauline-hansons-facebook-post-on-muslims-gains-support/news-story/9b13b3c6dbb5ada004ea4ba55c54a39a)
Her party’s key policy platform is explicitly anti-Muslim. It is calling for a royal inquiry into whether Islam should actually be recognised as a religion or simply an ideology and an embargo on Muslim immigrants and refugees entering the country. She also wants to introduce surveillance cameras in Islamic schools and places of worship and the total eradication of halal certification, the niqab and the burqa.
“You have our values, our culture, and our way of life. You don’t have a full burqa, you don’t keep putting up mosques,” she told reporters (http://www.theaustralian.com.au/federal-election-2016/federal-election-2016-pauline-hanson-says-islam-no-religion-of-peace/news-story/9e7689d443ed5167785db4784553437e) adding, “I’d like to know what they are teaching in those mosques. You can’t deny the fact that in these mosques they’ve been known to preach hate towards us.”
“Is this a society we want to live in? I don’t believe it is. Do you want to see terrorism on our streets here? Do you want to see our Australians murdered?”
A thorn in the liberal side
And as shocking as her policies are to the liberal classes, so are her levels of support. She received 339,005 votes – or just over 4% of the Australian electorate. And in Queensland in particular, the party received nearly 10% of Senate first preferences, performing particularly well in regional areas.
This should translate to around four seats for the party, one for her, one for an additional candidate in Queensland, another in New South Wales and the possibility of a final win in Western Australia. But is this a true reflection of community attitudes, or just a quirk of the electoral system?
Ms Hanson has been a force in Australian politics for over two decades – previously proving a thorn in the side to John Howard’s government in the late 1990’s. Though back in those days, her sights were trained on immigrant East Asians as the problem. (http://atimes.com/2016/06/ahead-of-australian-election-champion-of-anti-asian-politics-looms-in-the-wings/)
Following some ferocious battles in government her political enemies have conspired over the last two decades to ensure her party did not make it onto the ballot and remained far from the policy table. However, changes to the voting system this year placed the make-up of the voting lists back in the hands of the public and she has again raised her head, and her challenging opinions, in everyday debate.
But she’s not the only one pushing a biased agenda. The President of the Lebanese Muslim Association, Samier Dandan, recently warned members of his community of rising levels of distrust following the rise of a number of Australian far-right anti-immigration political parties, One Nation included. (http://www.huffingtonpost.com.au/2016/07/05/muslim-leader-samier-dandan-calls-out-the-rise-of-the-far-right/). He’s worried about the “divisive and toxic” policy decisions currently being made as a result of this surge in opinion,
“Their increasing influence is reflection of the critical mass of support public Islamophobia is currently enjoying,” he said. “The past couple of months and even these past couple of days much like most of the past decade have been difficult and critical for the Australian Muslim community.”
And even when viewed from inside the political system, Australia clearly has a problem. According to Muslim MP Mehreen Faruqi, “To attribute the rise of far right parties solely to their anti-political, populist rhetoric is naïve and simplistic. Their explicit racism has both drawn support to them and widened their potential audience.”
“We must not forget that Islamophobia did not spontaneously emerge when Pauline Hanson reoriented the “enemy” to be Muslims rather than East Asians. Rather, groups like One Nation provide an outlet for and amplify existing grievances and fears.” (https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/jul/06/the-pauline-hanson-resurgence-as-a-muslim-im-surprised-it-took-so-long)
The problem Hanson creates for the new Australian government has a number of tricky angles to negotiate. The success of One Nation clearly suggests there is an undercurrent of Australians that feel they are not being represented by the regular parties. As such, Hanson and her ideas cannot be ignored. In addition her party’s bloc of four votes could be useful for the governing party when getting majority agreement on legislation.
On the other hand her ideas are very difficult to integrate into balanced and sensible policy – there is no real common ground where Malcolm Turnbull, if he remains Prime Minister, can negotiate. Can Australia ban Muslim immigrants or downgrade Islam’s religious status? Of course not. Can Pauline Hanson start a divisive and painful campaign to split Australia down racial and religious lines? Based on the strength of her support, the answer is sadly yes. The hope must be that these outside-edge opinions remain just that.