When the former Minister for the Arts, Senator George Brandis hamfistedly tried to ‘reform’ the arts ‘industry’, many of the sector mounted an impressive campaign against his plans. The campaign was effective enough for Brandis to lose his arts portfolio and wind back some of the government’s policy.
It would have been interesting to see the arts sector attack Pauline Hanson and One Nation with as much gusto in the lead-up to the up to the recent Federal election —and especially after her maiden speech.
In 1996, as the head of Multicultural Arts Victoria (MAV), Hanson and the then Prime Minister John Howard’s muted response dismayed me. I was an unreconstructed Hawke-Keating and Kennett fan, a grand narrative multiculturalist and a supporter of the globalising economy, so I went to war against Hanson.
MAV built an alliance with the Ethnic Communities Council of Victoria and others to do what we had to do in the fight against her racism. We confronted her followers at bi-elections, developed programs attacking her policies, drafted media releases and gave media interviews.
As an Asialink Management Resident in Singapore in 1997, I was interviewed in The Straits Times attacking Hanson and Howard’s muted response as I promoted our cultural diversity. A Tourism Australia boss in Singapore admonished me for not ‘ignoring’ her and instead ‘putting the limelight on her’. I did point out to him that Hanson had occupied the front page of The Straits Times and most of South-East Asia’s media for months.
Many believe she should be ignored. I do not. Many have ignored her for 20 years and now she has made a comeback. She needs to be dealt with. Hanson is increasingly becoming mainstream due to an ever-polite media, a growing number of gutless and nervy politicians, and her fellow travellers.
Senior politics lecturer Dr. Nick Economou of Monash University says, “She would not have gained those seats if the Prime Minister did not call an election. “In 1996 she had greater share of the vote and only won one seat, the threshold in this election was lower at only 7%” he said.
“The arts (sector) reacted to the (arts) cuts from the view of sectional interest — the fight with Brandis was about their industry and their jobs and rightly so. The best thing to do with Hanson is ignore her.
“She’s the Coalition’s problem. They need to deal with her. The arts community should actively engage those that have been disaffected by mainstream politics through creative works that present the positive aspects of our diversity.”
While intellectually Economou may be right, my gut feeling is that Hanson is a serious problem and the arts – both small and big sectors – should act with as much ferocity as it did when it came to protecting their sectional interests. If not, are we in the arts only about funding?
Have we become so industrial that we no longer look at our core moral and ethical responsibilities outside of the arts? Sure, there are works, plays and installations on refugees and racism, but what about some straight-out attacks by the arts sector on Hanson’s policies?
Where are the board members of major organisations, the artistic directors and major artists? We should enlist the support of artists such as Jimmy Barnes and Magda Szubanski who made their antipathy to Hanson evident on Q&A on Monday night.
Or, Nazeem Hussain who said ‘we should listen to those sorts of ideas, [Hanson’s] but at the same time we should stamp them out and call them out for what they are: it’s racism, it’s bigotry, pure and simple.‘
The Islamic Council of Queensland is spot on in saying that Hanson and the softly, softly approach to her is “making racism mainstream”. The Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council head Colin Rubenstein said that One Nation’s “contemptible vilification and demonisation of Islam, Muslims, Asians and other minority groups had to be repudiated”.
The Lebanese Muslim Association said Hanson’s attacks on Muslims and other minority groups were “outrageous in their blatant prejudice”. Chinese Community leaders equally did not hold back on attacking Hanson and One Nation as divisive and racist. Of course Aboriginal leaders and groups also condemned Hanson and One Nation.
So where are the arts groups?
Hanson’s “second” maiden speech this month was a repeat of her first in 1996. It was simple racist bile blended with suburban Aussie patriotism; “My daughter describes it as a Johnny Farnham comeback”.
John Farnham and Jimmy Barnes insisted that Hanson and her fellow travellers, Reclaim Australia, stop using their suburban rock anthems at their rallies in 2015.
Hanson warned us in 1996 that were in danger of being swamped ‘Asians’ and now by ‘Muslims’.
Hanson salutes the flag and was always proud to see “…our athletes compete on the world stage, being raised to honour them as they took their place on podiums.”
The fact that some of our top athletes are Muslim has evaded her, like many other facts: AFL stars Bachar Houli and Adem Yze, cricketers Fawad Ahmed and Usman Khawaja, boxer Anthony Mundine, Olympian taekwondo expert Carmen Marton, NRL star Cory Paterson and more are Muslim.
Hanson has a right to free speech, but does she have the right to be treated with kid gloves given her divisive rhetoric? Hers is no different to the other racist and fascist parties in Europe.
Some in the Coalition and others in the media suggest we need to hear her, not attack her, respect her and so on, but why?
Penny Wong did not attend the chamber for Hanson’s speech and called for a resolute rejection of her racism; “Nobody needs to defend Ms Hanson’s right to speak,” she said. “She is in the Senate and she has got a voice. The people that need defending are the people she is attacking.”
Liberal frontbencher Craig Laundy condemned her, as did John Alexander the former tennis champion and now Liberal backbencher: “I subscribe to the Voltairean principle of respecting people’s right to say things that I disagree with. But when that speech uses broad-brush strokes to demonise an entire religion and all the observers of that religion it must be called out for what it is – it’s racism, it’s discrimination”.
The Greens walked out on her speech, but that’s expected from Greens. What we need are the major political parties condemning her. Utter condemnation of Hanson and her followers by an erudite Prime Minster as well as the Leader of the Opposition would be a far more effective response to her.
Instead we have a tilt towards polite rejection, a kind of ‘we understand you and your followers and we don’t agree with everything’ narrative. The Prime Minister had a go at Hanson on 3AW: “Tagging all Muslims with the crimes of a few is fundamentally wrong and it’s also counter-productive.” It was still too polite for me.
Politicians need take her on with the full weight of insults that they hurl at each other across the chamber. Is the new softly, softly approach to Hanson because the Coalition need her, and Labor fear that many in their constituency support her? Michaelia Cash hugged Pauline Hanson after her maiden speech, as an expression of ‘good will’.
If the Government and the Opposition think that Hanson needs to be ‘respected’ and that she ‘represents a large proportion of people’ then they are both feeble and deserve less respect. I have been and will always be an unapologetic hater of Pauline Hanson’s creed.
I wish I could have seen as coordinated and impressive campaign against Hanson and One Nation now as I saw against the gutting of the Australia Council by George Brandis.
And given the Australia Council is a statutory and independent authority, why do they not also act with some alacrity in developing a strong campaign against Hanson and One Nation? One Nation and its policies will do more damage to the arts, to cultural cohesion and to our place in the world than any internal sectoral brawl over funding.