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Is One Nation the site of Australia's Alt-Right?

By Rob Cover - posted Wednesday, 24 October 2018


Pauline Hanson's recent disruptive attempt in the Australian Parliament to gain support for her motion that "It's okay to be white" has been labelled as a call for a return to a conservative racism.

The motion put forward in October 2018 proposed that Parliament acknowledge "the deplorable rise of anti-white racism and attacks on Western civilisation" and that it recognise that "it is okay to be white".

Many commentators have labelled this evidence of an increased return to an ultra-conservative entrenchment of racism and white superiority in Australia. In many ways, of course, it is right to say that Australia has maintained culturally an anglo-white superiority despite the forms of multiculturalism brought in by the Whitlam government in the 1970s. By the era of John Howard, multiculturalism remained official government policy, although there were clear moves to ensure that "white Australia" was retained as the social core and norm and Australian English firmly articulated as the only language, leaving multiculturalism from the mid-1990s onwards to be more about access to exotic foods and festivals than a genuine embrace of diversity in Australian policy.

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Claims, therefore, by parties such as One Nation and other ultra-right conservatives that white people are being marginalised by affirmative action and what they derisively label "special rights" are merely acts of dog-whistling that portray a falsehood about the true social make-up and cultural practices of Australian politics and Australian everyday life.

Where these commentators, however, have been wrong is in suggesting that Pauline Hanson's act is a return to something old-a call for a return to the white Australia policy.


Rather, this is part of a new model of public engagement for One Nation which has shifted from being a party built on a right-wing populist-racism to one which is quickly adopting the models, language and behaviours of the United States' alt-right.

Every aspect of this shameful act in parliament bears the hallmarks not of racist conservatism but of the absurd and disruptive theatrics of the North American alt-right. In some ways, this is more dangerous: while attempts through reasoned (albeit wholly unreasonable) argument to return the White Australia policy can only fail in the twenty-first century, the disruption to legitimate political processes (however unreasonable themselves) risks the introduction of extremist or problematic goverance as has been seen in populist elections in the United States and elsewhere.

The changing One Nation Party

Pauline Hanson's One Nation party began in 1997 as a populist party, built on the back of the unexpected popularity of Ms Hanson after her election as a candidate disendorsed from the Liberal Party for the revelation of her anti-Indigenous views.

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Although Hanson's language, demeanour and difficulty answering media questions positioned her as a political outsider, her support base was broadly a conservative nationalist one, drawing primarily on the conservatism among northern Queenslanders.

Over the past two years, however, we are seeing a significant tactical turn towards a different kind of populism, that of the alt-right.

The tactics of wearing a burqa into parliament to make a point in August 2017 was resoundingly condemned by conservative politicians. Although many conservative politicians supported her "it's okay to be white" motion inititially-apparently as a result of an administrative error-this support was quickly withdrawn as unacceptable and inappropriate for an Australian parliament.

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About the Author

Dr Rob Cover is Associate Professor in the School of Social and Cultural Studies at The University of Western Australia where he researches and publishes on digital media theory, youth suicide and cultural studies. His recent book is Queer Youth Suicide, Culture and Identity (Ashgate 2012) and his work on GLBTIQ youth suicide and self-harm has appeared in a number of scholarly journals, including Reconstruction.

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