Many of us watched in shock the events that unfolded in the last few days after the federal elections when it became clear that Pauline Hanson, one of the most racist politicians (and proud of it) has been successful in her bid for a seat in the Australian Senate. All of a sudden I was reminded of the early years of my time when I first arrived in Australia a little over 17 yrs. ago and Pauline was in Parliament as an Independent for the seat of Oxley in Brisbane. Her anti-immigration and anti-multiculturalism rhetoric still echoes loudly and whereas it was predominantly targeted towards people of Asian backgrounds back then, it has now shifted to those of Muslim backgrounds as well as those others who do not fit her mould of what it is to be Australian.
You see Pauline Hanson represent a minority of Australians with far right views who feel legitimized to voice their bigotry and racist views hidden as nationalism or patriotism. Pauline Hanson, her One Nation party and the litany of her followers believe that whoever is deemed as non-Australian (whatever that means) is not welcomed here especially if you are from Muslim background or Asian background.
As an African Australian it may seem that somehow I have escaped her wrath but then again with this increasing focus of ‘everything non-white Australian is bad for Australia’, I cannot for one second feel comfortable nor exult in my seemingly narrow escape.
Pauline Hanson has form targeting anyone from a "non white, Christian Anglo-Saxon background" who has lived and thrived in this country - having arrived post the 1965 abolition of the White Australia policy. In effect, the One Nation party has decided that you are not worthy of Australia. By the way this is almost fifty percent of the Australian population born overseas or have 1 parent born overseas.
Clearly what appears to be Pauline Hanson's extreme views have big audience and following to the point that people found her worthy of a Senate seat in our highest office in the land, Parliament House of Australia in Canberra. As I sit down and scratch my afro braided hair, I wonder how did we get here? Almost a year ago I listened to an interview with Dr Tim Soutphommasane, Race Discrimination Commissioner as Australia commemorated the 40th anniversary of the Racial Discrimination Act, an occasion that celebrated and reflected on four decades of Australia’s first federal human rights and anti-discrimination legislation in combating racism and prejudice since 1975. Forward to now, as I read Pauline Hanson’s One Nations party’s policies, I am left wondering, confused and a sudden anxious feeling of ‘how did we get here’?
How come we have people in our communities, in suburbia who feel that people from migrants and refugee backgrounds are invading our suburbs and taking our jobs rather than contributing and advancing to our Australia? Are we so afraid of our cultural diversity that we have to blame "them" for everything that is not going right in this country?
Rather than chastise the seemingly hostile and negative policies of Pauline Hanson and her One Nation party, I would like to remind Pauline that Muslims have been here pre Federation. Even before the White Australia policy, people from Asian backgrounds were here working in the gold fields of the small town of Bendigo, Victoria and other places. Yes, Pauline those people who you deem to have invaded your beautiful suburban towns have lineage that probably predates your ancestry in Australia!
There is no denying that Pauline needs to be reminded that this is 2016 Australia not 1960s and we live in a global society as global citizens. In particular, for Australia we all are recent arrivals in an ancient continent be it more than 30,000 yrs of our first nations people or yesterday as our most recent arrivals, we all call Australia home. We have brought to this land immense prosperity, innovation, diverse cultures and all that contributes to the magical tapestry of our Australia. We all belong here just much as you do and now share these boundless plains we call Australia.
Finally, I would suggest that rather than the vitriol you continue spew about people from the Muslim faith, or those from Asian backgrounds or anyone else for that matter, reflect on your own journey to this land Australia. And while you are at it, I urge you to accept that halaal snack pack, and embrace it as enthusiastically as perhaps the other well-known imported cuisines namely McDonalds and KFC. I invite you to sit down and share a meal with someone at your local Chinese restaurant, am sure there is one, or come to African House in Brisbane and immerse yourself in the beats of traditional Djembe drums and Mbira as you share the simple colourful things that makes our multicultural Australia the envy of many nations around the world. The simple things that speak loudly and say we are Queenslanders, and we all belong here!
By Sharon Orapeleng
Sharon Orapeleng is a Director and Principal Consultant at Psyched Solutions. She is a social disruptive change maker, and advocate for social inclusion and social justice with passion for raising awareness on issues in relation to diversity, equality, domestic violence and mental health.