Australia was built on the genocide of Aboriginal people. The ideology to justify this removed any trace of humanity from Aboriginal people and spawned a whole industry of racism, a racism that enabled the theft of Aboriginal land and the murder of the people. As capitalism developed in Australia this racism tied working class Australians to their white bosses.
There were various other targets of the ruling class, including Catholics, the Irish, Jews, the Chinese, the Japanese, the Russians, the Germans, Kanaks, Greeks, Italians, the Reds … On and on it goes. The enemy is everywhere. Huddle together against them.
The ‘enemy’ changes from time to time. Aboriginal people remain the eternal other. The failure of the Australian ruling class to recognise the genocide, to negotiate a treaty and sovereignty continue that eternal othering.
The uneasy settlement between labour and capital that was the dream of reformists became a reality of sorts on Federation in 1901. The White Australia policy and Conciliation and Arbitration were two of the glues the bosses hoped would bind Australian workers to the ruling class. Certainly the crimson thread of racism ran through significant sections of the white working class and almost all its leadership.
The increasing integration of Australian capitalism into the global economy after the second world war saw our ruling class step back from the formalism of the White Australia policy in the 1960s and 1970s. However it retained racism, xenophobia and othering in its armoury as a means to create a false us and them and distract from the real us and them – bosses and workers.
The end of the long boom in the late 1960s and early 1970s globally and in Australia saw the rise of neoliberalism in the UK in 1979 and the US in 1980. In Australia the election of the Hawke Labor Government in 1983 saw our first neoliberal government come to power.
Capitalist globalisation and neoliberalism saw an increased freedom for capital to flow into and out of Australia, no matter what its colour, and for skilled labor, again, within reason and under strict control, and with the inherent de facto colour bias associated with skilled workers.
While the Australian ruling class paid lip service to non-racial policies, the racist undercurrent remained. Thus in the same year Labor Prime Minister Paul Keating was making his famous Redfern speech he also began imprisoning asylum seekers, setting in train the great scare campaign of Australian capitalism over the last 24 years against refugees. Huddle together against the invading hordes.
The Redfern speech was itself part of the grand fakery. Keating’s words did not improve the situation of Aborigines one iota. It did not address, nor lead to actions that addressed, the genocide, the dispossession, the poverty, the early death rates.
Growing inequality in Australia and increased precarity at work, together with increasing often unpaid work hours, and increasing debt, saw the rise of the specifically racist One Nation in the period 1996-1998. It built on the insecurities of the middle class and sections of the working class, (especially blue collar workers in rural and regional areas), winning 11 seats in the Queensland Parliament of 89 seats in 1998.
In 1996 Hanson’s ‘enemies’ were Asians and Aborigines. Today they are Muslims. The point is not who the enemy is but the fact of enemies and playing on the fears of Australian workers and others.
In part Prime Minister John Howard undermined One Nation by adapting to it and dog whistling racism. This became a loud hailer during the 2004 election with the Tampa and Howard’s catch cry ‘we will decide who comes to our country and the circumstances in which they do.’ Labor fell into line. The bipartisan racism and othering of refugees set in train a sequence of events that leads to the concentration camps on Manus Island and Nauru and has garnered support among large sections of voters, including working class voters.
The other aspect to this is the failure of the left (both social democratic and revolutionary) to build and grow in these conditions. While inequality has been growing, the mining boom in Australia provided the ability of the ruling class to give some increase in living standards for many workers, and a low level of unemployment.
That mining boom has now ended and the ongoing attacks on living standards and public services will only accelerate as the Australian economy worsens. Without a strong left as an alternative, this will make the siren song of racism and othering more attractive to more.
Pauline Hanson is one expression of the 30 years of state Islamophobia, racism, locking up refugees, the Northern Territory intervention etc etc. We need to fight Hanson AND the Labor and Liberal policies that create the cesspit in which she and all the others like her can and do live. We need to build a mass movement.