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date: 21 February 2018

The Radical Right in Australia

Abstract and Keywords

Compared to its European counterparts, Australia was for the most part spared the rise of powerful extreme right movements, and at times appeared immune to their appeal. However, rather than immunity, the absence of extreme right politics can be explained by the ability and willingness of mainstream politics to readily, openly, and officially absorb such values. This chapter discusses how, for most of the country’s history, Australian mainstream politicians suffocated the extreme right, not merely by borrowing some key ideas of the extreme right, but by negating entirely its ability to appear as an alternative to the power in place. It then turns to the 1990s and explores the rise of Hansonism and its impact on mainstream politics. The final part of the chapter is dedicated to the current state of radical right politics in Australia.

Keywords: Australia, radical right, nativist populism, right-wing movements, extreme right, Australian mainstream politics, Hansonism

The history of the radical right in Australia, while different from its European counterparts for obvious geographical and historical reasons, provides an insightful account in the way nativist populism can be mainstreamed. While the contemporary radical right remains marginal in its electoral form in the country despite a recent resurgence, it played a key role in legitimizing a negative, exclusivist, and emotionally charged discourse on issues such as immigration, asylum seekers, and nationalism. Despite the current lack of unity necessary to gain ground electorally, Australia found in Pauline Hanson in the 1990s an unlikely pioneer in the development of a prototype of modern radical right party, allying right-wing populism and nativism to appeal to an increasingly resentful electorate.

Compared to its European counterparts, Australia was for the most part spared the rise of powerful extreme right movements, and at times appeared immune to their appeal (Mondon 2012, 356). However, rather than immunity, the absence of extreme right politics can be explained by the ability and willingness of mainstream politics to readily, openly, and officially absorb such values. For most of the country’s history, Australian mainstream politicians suffocated the extreme right, not merely by borrowing some key ideas of the extreme right, but by negating entirely its ability to appear as an alternative to the power in place.

Therefore, to understand the role and place of the contemporary radical right in Australia, it is essential to first grasp its historical development. After understanding the exclusivist basis upon which Australian identity was built after its independence, this chapter provides a short contextual and historical analysis to explain why Australia was spared strong radical right movements and parties in the postwar era, up until the 1990s. The third part offers an account of the rise of Hansonism and its impact on mainstream politics, particularly on the Howard government. Finally, the last part of the chapter is dedicated to the current state of radical right politics. (p. 651)

The Historical Context: Immunization or Contamination?

From its inception, the fear of its surroundings was one of the cornerstones in the construction and development of the feeling of Australianness and was crucial in binding a population that by the end of the Gold Rush had become partly “native.” For Gwenda Tavan (2005, 30), the Australian community was “founded upon three distinct yet interrelated components: racial whiteness, ‘Britishness’ and ‘Australianness.’ ” As a consequence, all positive aspects of Australian identity were derived from a fear of invasion. For John Hirst (2000, 15–16), natural boundaries and social uniformity were key in the portrayal of the nation in the lead-up to federation; both elements deeply interconnected with the threat posed by immigration and invasion. For Tavan (2005, 18), the “White Australia” policy aimed to create unity amongst the Australian people with race as the cement, forging “a white and British-Australian as well as cohesive, conformist, liberal-democratic, and egalitarian” society. Race came first; the rest would follow.

Key to binding the Australian national identity to race and exclusion was the White Australia policy, officially enacted after federation in 1901. As Paul Kelly noted (1992, 2), this founding piece of legislation was a response to Australia’s “hostility to its geographical location, exhibited in fear of external domination and internal contamination from the people of Asia/Pacific.” At the time, the idea of a white Australia was hegemonic and accepted as the only way forward, even on the left (Irving 1999, 110).1 For many Australians, it became natural to believe that industrial competition from Asian workers would be unfair to the white population and would in turn impede the development of an “industrial democracy” (Markey 1978; Willard 1967, 197–198). This argument closely resembles that of the contemporary populist radical right: instead of an egalitarian universal solution to a system engendering growing inequalities and insecurities, the Australian labor movement preferred an exclusivist answer, portraying the Asian working class as its enemy.

Yet it would be wrong to assume that concern over conditions of work were the crux of the exclusionary policies that developed in Australia. As Gianni Zappalà and Stephen Castles (2000, 76) argued, this went beyond hostility: Australia had from its inception in 1901 a “racist definition of belonging” and the “constitutional vacuum with regards to citizenship rights was designed to legitimise racial discrimination.” Racial politics were embraced widely by Australian mainstream politicians (Lake and Reynolds 2008, 149), as well as the Labor movement (Curthoys and Markus 1978; Jupp 1998, 79–81, 114–117).

From a racial standpoint, the policy was very successful until the Second World War. In 1947, the population was more homogeneous than it had been at the beginning of the twentieth century. Anglo-Celtics represented 90 percent of the population, while another 6 percent were of Northern European origin. Southern Europeans accounted for 2.4 percent. Finally, the Aboriginal and Asian population represented just over 1 percent (Markus 1994, 152; Tavan 2005, 26). While such figures must be taken with caution, (p. 652) as the categorization is subject to debate, the feat remains nonetheless impressive at a time when globalization encouraged the mix of populations and wars led to thousands being displaced the world over. For Raymond Evans (Evans 2004, 114), this homogenization was the “quintessence of racism.”

Despite the mainstreaming of many issues key to fascist movements in Europe, Australia was not entirely immune from a rise in extreme right politics in the interwar period. This was largely due to the paranoid fear of a communist uprising, despite the constant weakness of the movement (Moore 1995, 18–31). Organizations such as the Australia First Movement and its magazine The Publicist grew increasingly close to the European fascist and Nazi movements, in their anti-Semitism in particular (Winter 2005). However, while they had a certain impact in intellectual circles, such groups remained marginal, and “secret armies” which were the closest Australia got to a proto-fascist uprising.

Contrary to the fascist movements in Europe, which attracted predominantly the lower middle class, Australian organizations derived their membership from the upper classes. According to Andrew Moore, most were “solicitors, dentists, doctors, engineers, accountants, businessmen and graziers.” Their reach was impressive, and these groups assembled as many as 130,000 men in the early 1930s (Moore 1995, 40). Of the flourishing secret paramilitary organizations present in Australia, the short-lived New Guard can be argued to have been the closest to fascism. As they were in Europe, the times were auspicious for Australian would-be fascists. The election in 1930 of Jack Lang as premier of New South Wales, following that of the Scullin federal Labor government a year before, was the spark necessary for the creation of the New Guard and many other similar organizations. The recession, working-class unrest and a series of moderate left-wing reforms had already installed a climate of suspicion in the ranks of the right. In reaction, the New Guard was founded on February 18, 1931, by eight men; less than a year later, the organization comprised 87,000 members and hundreds of thousands of supporters (Amos 1976). Despite Campbell’s claims that the constitution of the organization was a model of “practical democracy,” the New Guard ran along typically fascist lines, and recruits were divided into classes and organized in a military style. By September 1931, the New Guard had the capacity to take over the state and was ready to move. Yet the organization eventually fizzled out under the increased pressure and scrutiny of the police, with its only claim to fame being the opening of the Sydney Harbor Bridge by one of the guardsmen disguised as a soldier (Moore 2005a). With the dismissal of Lang and the Labor defeat in 1932, the scope for such movements to thrive became narrower and their support dwindled as conservative forces were back in power.

The Second World War was a turning point in the fate of White Australia. The fear of invasion, coupled with the demands of industrialization, provided incentives for the Chifley Labor government to loosen its immigration policy. From the 1950s onward, conditions of entry were relaxed for “Europeanised minorities and the highly qualified,” and the infamous dictation test was removed in 1958. For Ien Ang (Ang 2003, 61; see also Ang 1999), however, this change in policy was not a positive step toward a more (p. 653) inclusive society and future; instead “post-war immigration was primarily negatively motivated, inspired by fear and an urgent sense of necessity.”

With racial theories being discredited after the end of the Second World War, it became ever more difficult for any country to openly base its policies along such lines. Australia had little choice but to slowly liberalize the White Australia policy so as not to suffer the brunt of international reprisal. Therefore, to appease the international community, gradual changes were made throughout the 1960s (Brawley 1995). Economic ties with Asia had become increasingly central to Australia’s future prosperity; at the end of 1970, Japan was the country’s largest trading partner. This growing economic involvement with Asia made the stakes too high for Australia to pursue its discriminatory policies. Tolerance was further encouraged by the combination of postwar economic prosperity, full employment, and industrialization, which allowed large intakes of immigrants to be seen neither as competition nor as threatening, but rather as a necessity for Australia’s continuing prosperity (Lopez 2000).

It is in this context that the League of Rights, the longest-lasting extreme right organization in Australia, was born under the leadership of Eric D. Butler. A report on racist violence in Australia declared that the League was “undoubtedly the most influential and effective, as well as the best organised and most substantially financed, racist organisation in Australia” (Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission 1991). During the 1960s, the League opposed communism, supported the Vietnam War, was loyal to the monarchy and empire, and opposed “liberalism” and moral permissiveness. It mainly targeted rural areas, since they were the most touched by economic problems (Campbell 1978). Even though its website is still live and updated (alor.org), the League of Rights has only had minimal impact on the country’s policy and politics, finding no original space to occupy in the postwar context.

Pauline Hanson’s One Nation: Radical Right Experimentation Down Under

In 1972, Australia became multicultural when Gough Whitlam officially abolished the White Australia policy and a consensus was created between the mainstream left and right to abandon the “race card” on both sides. Just as the consensus over race had played a major part in stifling the extreme right in the first part of the century, the bipartisanship around multiculturalism created a gap for the radical right to fill. It only took a decade for the first cracks to appear. While the early attempts to bring ethno-exclusivist politics back to the fore were uncoordinated, isolated, and seemingly unsuccessful (Mondon 2013, 92–98), they paved the way for the return of exclusionary policies to the center stage of Australian political life. In 1985, John Howard, in his first stint in the Liberal leadership, was vilified, even within the ranks of his own party, for uttering what was considered neo-racist comments about Asian immigration (Markus 2001, 89–90). (p. 654) By 1996, on his return to the leadership, he was merely speaking “common sense.” In the meantime, “a fish and chip shop lady” claimed to have given their voice back to downtrodden white Australians in a right-wing populist manner that would become commonplace across the Western world.

It is no surprise that the rise of Pauline Hanson and her One Nation Party took place in Queensland. The state had already proven to be fertile soil for right-wing populist politics during the reign of “hillbilly dictator” Johannes Bjelke-Peterson from 1968 to 1987 (Whitton and Australian Broadcasting 1989; Wells 1979; Moore 1995, 89–94), who became infamous for his curtailing of civil liberties to allow the Springboks, the South African national rugby team, to tour the state amidst anti-apartheid demonstrations in 1971. Between 1996 and 2001, Hanson and her party became major actors in Australian politics. One Nation’s rise to popularity and prominence was as brisk as its downfall, and within five years, the party went from being potentially decisive in the country’s fate to complete oblivion. While One Nation never approached the strength of prominent European radical right parties in terms of organization, support, or longevity, its role in shaping contemporary Australian politics cannot be ignored. Hanson became the unlikely “hero” of the 1996 federal election when she was elected in the then safe Labor seat of Oxley with 48.61 percent of the first preference vote and 54.66 percent after the full distribution of preferences. Her campaign had been marked by the publication of an inflammatory letter in the Queensland Times (Hanson 1996a) and her late and clumsy disendorsement from the Liberal Party. The letter contained all the elements usually found in radical right propaganda, the most obvious being the stigmatization of an already stigmatized minority (indigenous people in this case) and the supposed victimization of the well-off majority (white Anglo-Saxon Australians). Hanson believed that the targeted minority was not alone in its dark deeds. It was with the help of politicians and the elite—the loathed intelligentsia—that indigenous people were conspiring against hardworking Australians. Hanson’s rhetoric was based on typically neo-racist assumptions (Balibar 1997; Barker 1982): to deflect accusations of crude racism, she first admitted that minorities might have suffered in the past, but then she swiftly demonized the minority into a possibly unwilling enemy of her “people” manipulated by the multiculturalist elite. Her claims were supported by “common sense,” and all she asked for was equal treatment for everyone. Hanson operated a reversal of the situation whereby those discriminated against and asking—often unsuccessfully—for recognition and reparation were deemed to be privileged and demanding of discriminatory actions for their own benefit. Conveniently ignoring systemic discrimination and the historical legacy of exploitation, segregation, and vilification, Hanson asked for nothing more than “equality”:

The indigenous people of this country are as much responsible for their actions as any other colour or race in this country. . . . I would be the first to admit that, not many years ago, the Aborigines were treated wrongly, but in trying to correct this they have gone too far. . . . Until the governments wake up to themselves and start looking at equality not colour then we might start to work together as one. (Hanson 1996a)

(p. 655)

On September 10, 1996, Pauline Hanson’s maiden speech in Parliament was for Andrew Markus (Markus 2001, 155) “one of the most memorable of [Australia’s] parliamentary speeches, its opening words almost immediately elevated to legendary status.” It was also a masterpiece of right-wing populism. The speech was written by Hanson’s advisor John Pasquarelli, who later admitted to being one of her so-called “sinister puppeteer[s]” (Pasquarelli 1998, 228). For Markus (2001, 154), the advisor was key in transforming the Oxley event into a more durable political adventure, as he “maximised Hanson’s appeal as anti-politician and was able to broaden her concerns while keeping her firmly within the New Right’s form of racial nationalism.” Reminiscent of the contemporary radical right, parts of the speech were dedicated to simplistic and imprecise economic propositions, while the bulk targeted minorities such as indigenous people and Asian migrants. However, it is the elite who occupied a central position in the conspiracy against the Australian people and their dream for a just and equal society.

Hanson’s speech was strikingly similar to that of other contemporary radical right populists. She stood in opposition to the political class born and bred to lead, and she came to Parliament not as “a polished politician but as a woman who has had her fair share of life’s knocks.” In the post-democratic context, Hanson portrayed her election as a break from the technocratic leadership of both major parties and claimed to represent the voice of the people: she was the ultra-democratic champion (Hanson 1996b). Common sense was central to her rhetoric—her program was drawn from what “we” all knew deep down was the right thing. In a neo-racist manner, Hanson constantly affirmed she was not racist. She did “not consider those people from ethnic backgrounds currently living in Australia anything but first-class citizens, provided of course that they give this country their full, undivided loyalty.” What she demanded from immigrants and minorities was undefined, and yet it was assumed that these minorities would not be able to achieve these goals unless they became “us.” Yet this apparently reassuring and inclusive narrative implies that the “other” is ultimately one and different, and that this original difference will be held against them no matter what. Their potential attempts at becoming “us” would be doomed to fail, as our “us,” our “imagined community,” is constructed in opposition to them, and they are therefore necessary for “our” existence.

With this speech, Hanson became one of the five most cited personalities in the Australian media in 1996.2 In line with the media’s reaction to the early rise of the radical right in Europe, most articles that referred to Hanson were critical and yet offered her the coverage and hype necessary to grow. While her election might have been a short hostile reaction to the establishment, constant and disproportionate coverage allowed her to reach an audience far beyond her practical power in the Parliament. Therefore, the media played a crucial role in the subsequent rise of One Nation, as they provided not only free advertising for Hanson’s ideas but also, and more important, a form of legitimacy in confirming her solitary battle against the elite. By being derided and ridiculed by the loathed “political class,” Hanson was made part of “the people.” She was the defender of “ordinary Australians [who] were kept out of the debate on so-called sensitive issues like immigration and multiculturalism.” She would be the slayer of the “political correctness” monster and “its ugly head” (speech quoted in Pasquarelli 1998, 170). (p. 656)

In December 1996, David Oldfield, former advisor to Tony Abbott, replaced Pasquarelli. This shift was crucial in the creation of One Nation in April 1997 and possibly hastened its demise. For Markus (2001, 162–163), Oldfield’s influence created a “narrowly focused, . . . more abrasive” form of politics and led Hanson to “openly embrace the politics of paranoia.” Hanson, Oldfield, and David Ettridge formed a troika that made every decision. The power was placed in the hands of the “two Davids”; Hanson’s role became limited to her appeal as a leader. On the back of the party’s launch came the publication of Pauline Hanson: The Truth (Hanson and Merritt 1997). The conspiratorial tone of the book often bordered on the ridiculous in its extremist claims, and Hanson admitted later that the book, which she herself launched and copyrighted, was “written by some other people who actually put [her] name to it,” highlighting further the amateurism of the party (Hanson 2004). Despite displaying disturbing behavior, One Nation continued to receive a semblance of support from the Liberal and National Parties for the 1998 Queensland state election. Contrary to the strategy put in place in some European countries, there was no cordon sanitaire placed around One Nation. Instead, the coalition reinforced the party’s legitimacy by positioning it higher than the Australian Labor Party (ALP) on its preference list in every seat but one.

As a result, in June 1998, Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party received 22.7 percent of the first preference vote and sent eleven candidates to the state parliament, becoming the second-largest party in Queensland, behind the Australian Labor Party. While only one of its candidates was elected in the federal election of October 1998, the party managed a substantial national average of 8.43 percent of the first preference vote for the House of Representatives and 8.99 percent in the Senate. Yet the amateurism of the party was already proving insurmountable and made it impossible for Hanson to sustain increased scrutiny. By December 1999, the party had lost all its representatives in the Queensland Parliament, many over disagreements on how the party was run or after demanding the party’s democratization (Markus 2001, 184). In 2000, Ettridge resigned and Oldfield was sacked for attempting a leadership takeover, leaving of the three leaders only Hanson. By the 2001 Queensland state election, One Nation had lost its momentum and received “only” 8.7 percent of the vote, losing eight of its eleven seats. That same year, the federal election confirmed the trend when the party received 4.3 percent in the House of Representatives and 5.5 percent in the Senate, losing its sole senator in the process. Three years later, the party barely managed to remain above the 1 percent mark in the federal election, failing to reach any meaningful result ever since despite changes of leadership.

From early on, it was clear that One Nation and the Hanson phenomenon would not last. However, just as its brisk fall could be predicted, the rise of such a movement also appeared inevitable in the Australian context in the 1990s, a time that Kelly termed “the end of certainties” (Kelly 1992). It is no coincidence that One Nation’s breakthrough took place once it had become clear that neoliberalism was consensual in both government and opposition, and with Labor responsible for implementing most of the deregulatory reforms during its thirteen years in power. Hanson’s populism directly touched those within the electorate who had once been privileged and were now increasingly resentful of their abandonment by politicians, having witnessed a growing gap between their own (p. 657) day-to-day priorities and the elite’s central concern with the supranational. This was accentuated by the ALP’s change of priorities and its new focus on the middle class and what soon came to known as “special interests.” This shift in priorities translated into the perception of the governing elite no longer representing the people, and ultimately no longer caring. By speaking the way she did, Hanson provided the illusion of bridging the gap between politics and a particular section of the people. In Margaret Canovan’s words (1999), it was the redemptive side of democracy resurfacing.

While Hanson’s political project and offer were superficial and often impracticable, they proved enough to reach part of those who felt excluded and give them a semblance of representation. This revolt against the increasingly technocratic running of liberal democracy was exemplified in the choice of candidates who ran for the party. As Judith Brett noted (1998, 30), all but two of the One Nation candidates in the 1998 Queensland election were from the lower classes of society; the other two were veterinarians, in constant contact with farmers. Hanson was the antithesis of the political class and of “the cosmopolitan elites symbolised most clearly by Keating and who stood to gain most from Australia’s new internationalised economy” (Brett 1997, 17). The fantasized vision promoted by One Nation was a return to better days, a nostalgia for simpler and fairer times when every “bloke” could have “a fair go”—something that John Howard was quick to capitalize upon.

While the popularity of One Nation was short-lived, the impact of the return of ethno-exclusivist politics in the 1990s continues to be felt today in Australian politics. Yet more than Hanson, it was John Howard’s long leadership that played a key part in normalizing and entrenching a type of discourse based on right-wing populism and nativism.

John Howard and the Mainstreaming of Right-Wing Populist Politics

Adding to the neoliberal economic “revolution” of the 1980s was a cultural one: change was dramatically accelerated under the Keating government and the “big picture” vision he had for Australia. Paul Keating’s relative progressivism on cultural matters provided the right with the perfect scapegoat to divert the attention of the discontented away from economics, and allowed them to appeal to all those who considered themselves worse off by the mid-1990s. In the face of an increasingly elitist Labor government, Howard appeared as the man of the people. He was able to manipulate Keating’s “big picture” and portray it in opposition to the well-being of the silent majority, who felt “utterly powerless” to compete with “the noisy, self-interested clamour of powerful vested interests with scant regard for the national interest” (Howard 1995).

Borrowing from the radical right, Howard’s attacks were concentrated against the elite and the “progressives.” In opposition to them, Howard portrayed himself as the “common bloke,” the politician in touch with his mainstream. This stand was crucial in (p. 658) providing his radical economic policies with a veneer of social conservatism. As Paul Kelly (2009, 331) argued, Howard “defined what he was against rather than what he was for—against the Aboriginal apology, the republic, gay marriage, Kyoto, boat arrivals, multiculturalism.” However, while Kelly saw this as “one of Howard’s blunders,” it allowed Howard to fill a void created by the abandonment of ideological battles and the so-called end of history. Instead of class struggle as a response to the economic situation, the right-wing populist channeled attention into resentment and exclusion, into what became more akin to a race struggle.

In his cultural struggle, Howard was assisted by the rise of radical right politics in Australia. It was not until Hanson had made her breakthrough in the 1996 federal election that Howard was able to benefit fully from a right-wing populist agenda. The swings in favor of such divisive personalities were for Howard a sign that Australia was ready for a more radical style of politics. Hanson’s political adventure, while certain not to last, allowed Howard to make important headway in his cultural “counterrevolution.” After One Nation’s rise, not only was it harder for Howard to be portrayed in a radical manner, as he appeared far less extreme than Hanson, but it was also far more difficult to deny the potency of ethno-exclusivism or to stereotypically restrict such ideas to marginal groups. In a strategic move, instead of denouncing the elected member from Oxley, the new prime minister showed his satisfaction that the “pall of censorship” of the Keating years was finally being lifted (Howard 1996). He “welcome[d] the fact that people can now talk about certain things without living in fear of being branded as a bigot or a racist.” This strategy was highly effective, as it portrayed Howard as the defender of the “silent majority” whose voice had been stifled by years of a “political correctness” dictatorship. Indeed, Howard’s own voice would no longer be censored by the “politically correct” elite.3

By 2001 Howard had succeeded in shifting the political sphere rightward. As his vision gained incredible “popularity” and quasi hegemony, the Labor Party increasingly toed the line. As One Nation quickly disappeared from the political radar and the radical right collapsed in Australia, Howard continued to reshape Australian politics along right-wing populist and ethno-exclusivist lines, as exemplified by the heated and often racialized debate about refugees and asylum seekers that began in 2001 (Brennan 2003; Clyne 2005; Manne and Corlett 2004; Marr and Wilkinson 2004). Fifteen years later, the extremely harsh treatment of asylum seekers and their indefinite detention has become normalized in Australian politics, where the Labor Party has long stopped opposing Howard’s vision of fortress Australia (Mondon 2013).

The Radical Right, the Far Right, and the Ghost of Hansonism

In this context, the contemporary Australian far right was shaped until the 2016 elections by three significant domestic political factors: the effective collapse of the One (p. 659) Nation Party as an electoral alternative, bipartisan political and widespread popular support for an increasingly punitive system of mandatory detention of asylum seekers, and the emergence of Islamophobia as a framework for the articulation of xenophobic sentiment.

The collapse of One Nation in the early 2000s left the radical right with few electoral alternatives. One important, albeit minor, exception is the Australia First Party (AFP). Founded in 1996 by Labor MP for Kalgoorlie Graeme Campbell, following his expulsion from the party “for persistent attacks upon Labor policy,” Campbell was elected in 1996 as an independent but lost office when standing under the AFP banner in 1998 (Jupp 2002, 136–137). He later blamed his loss on One Nation splitting the vote. Campbell left AFP in 2001 and ran, unsuccessfully, as a One Nation candidate for the Senate in the same year (Weber 2001). Of Hanson herself, Campbell has stated: “Pauline Hanson’s speech made her. But in fact that speech came from my office, it was written by John Pasquarelli of my staff—I lent him to Pauline Hanson, then she took him full-time” (Destiny 2009).

Campbell and Pasquarelli were two especially prominent figures among the many hundreds of right-wing activists to be attracted to One Nation. As Danny Ben-Moshe (2001, 24) noted, “Almost every racist group endorsed One Nation and their members joined the party and sought to exert influence over it, both at a leadership and grassroots level,” although these ties were largely informal. After Campbell’s departure, effective leadership of AFP was and continues to be assumed by Dr. Jim Saleam, a veteran far right activist. Formerly associated with the group National Action (NA)—which was, along with Jack van Tongeren’s Australian Nationalists Movement (ANM), one of the two principal far right groupings of the 1980s and early 1990s—Saleam is one of very few intellectuals that the movement has produced, having completed a doctorate on the far right in Australia and produced many writings for the party on Australian nationalism (Moore 2005b). Like contemporary neo-Nazi and fascist groupuscules, the membership of both NA and the ANM was tiny, but “the propensity of the various groups to engage in violent crime has given them a prominence beyond their mere numbers” (James 2005m 105). A white supremacist organization, the AFP’s “major platform is that white Australian ‘heritage, identity, independence, and freedom’ are under attack and must be preserved, protected and defended” (Mason 2007, 49). So far, the AFP has achieved desultory results in federal and state elections and marginal success in local council elections. Saleam’s own trajectory, which has included imprisonment for organizing a shotgun assault in 1989 upon the home of an African National Congress representative, reflects the precarious position of far right activists in Australia (cf. Greason 1994; Bradbury 1993; Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission 1991).

One key moment in the development of the post-Hanson far right was the “Cronulla riots” of December 2005. On December 11, an estimated crowd of five thousand people gathered at North Cronulla beach in order to “Take Our Beaches Back.” Men of “Middle Eastern appearance” were assaulted amid clashes with police, reprisal attacks were undertaken by youth from southwest Sydney over the ensuing days, and eventually more than a hundred people were charged with offenses. The “riots” were triggered (p. 660) by an altercation several days before December 11 between local lifeguards and a group of Middle Eastern men. Following the incident, a text message was widely circulated, appealing for others to attend in order to participate in a “Leb and wog bashing day,” something fueled further by Alan Jones, a popular local radio host (Daley 2013). While hardly uniform nor long-lasting in its effects, for some on the right the riots were a catalyst for a racial reawakening, a “white civil uprising”—with many historical precedents. For Angela Mitropoulous (2006), the riots should be linked to the political climate created in the 1990s:

The vulgar calls to reclaim ownership were merely the coarse, volunteerist expression of, most notably, [John Howard’s] civic declarations of sovereignty (“We will decide who comes here and the circumstances under which they come”), the more than decade-long policy of the internment of undocumented migrants by successive governments and, more recently, a war that is legitimated on racist grounds.

While not uncommon, violent incidents associated with the far right have been sporadic and rarely assumed a mass form, though elements did participate in the Cronulla riots of December 2005 (Ben-Moshe 2006). Some reportage has also documented the participation of Australian Defence League (ADL) members and supporters as guards in migration detention centers and in the military (cf. Stewart 2000; Hannan and Baker 2005; Anon. 2011; Hall 2014; Robertson 2015). In the 2010s, far right movements have also been responsible for a series of violent racially motivated attacks: in 2010, members of the neo-Nazi organization Combat 18 shot at a mosque in Perth; in 2012, a Vietnamese student in Melbourne was severely beaten by a gang of neo-Nazis calling themselves the Crazy White Boys; in 2014, members of the ADL were involved in a brawl with Muslims in Lakemba (ABC 2010; Petrie 2012; Levy 2014). However, most such incidents have been confined to lesser crimes, and typically racial violence is performed by non-aligned individuals. Nonetheless, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation’s (ASIO) Annual Reports for 2010–2011 and 2011–2012 took note of the possibility of more serious and extensive violence on the far right, as well as the possibility of Islamophobic networks giving rise to lone wolf terrorists (ASIO 2011, 7; ASIO 2012, 4; Zammit 2012).

A proliferation of micro-parties joined the AFP in the 2000s, including the Australian Protectionist Party (APP, a split from the AFP), the Party for Freedom (a split from the APP), and most recently the Australian Liberty Alliance (ALA), which has won the endorsement of and was officially launched by Dutch MP Geert Wilders in Perth in October 2015 (McLean 2012). The ALA evolved from the Q Society, which describes itself as “Australia’s leading Islam-critical movement” and understands Islam as a totalitarian ideology that aims at the “Islamification” of Australian society (Q Society 2011). The Q Society, formed in Melbourne in 2010, is closely linked to local conservative organizations and has strong links to similar bodies overseas (Byrne 2015). As well as producing propaganda and providing support and advice to the numerous community campaigns in opposition to the construction of mosques, the Q Society organized a conference in 2014 under the banner “Stop Islamisation of Our Nations” (SION). Speakers (p. 661) included both locals and prominent US activists Pamela Gellar and Robert Spencer (Fleming 2014a). The Q Society is averse to public demonstrations and much of its activity is Internet-based, forming part of a much wider network of online activists on the rise across the Western world. As Mattias Ekman (2015, 1986–1987) points out:

The idea that the Western world is “under attack,” “silently occupied” by, or even at “civil war” with Islam, is widespread among actors in the populist far right. The suggestion that an ongoing “jihad” is being fought at the heart of “European civilization” probably sounds like an implausible conspiracy to most people. However, the concept is just a click away as it has permeated into public discourse . . . the Internet has facilitated a space where xenophobic viewpoints and racist attitudes towards Muslims are easily disseminated into the public debate.

The social networks that have been created through the activities of the Q Society and related groups have until recently failed to find expression at the ballot box or on the streets. Formed within a year of its English counterpart, the Australian Defence League (Fleming 2014b) struggled to attract support, but it was quickly joined by a proliferation of other anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant and especially anti-refugee projects. The first real fruits of this online activity appeared in early 2015 with the emergence of a movement calling itself Reclaim Australia.

On April 4, 2015, more than a dozen rallies were held in capital cities and country towns under the Reclaim Australia banner. They attracted the participation of several thousand people; the most significant mobilization of the far right since the Hanson years. As it had been with Hanson’s rise, the attitude of the Australian government was equivocal, with one Queensland MP, George Christensen, addressing the rally in Mackay, stating: “I want to support people who seek to defend our Australian way of life, our culture and our freedoms from the threat of radical Islam” (Hunter 2015). Further rallies were held on July 18/19 and November 22, 2015. Writing about the November 22 rally in the Melbourne suburb of Melton (the site of a proposed Islamic school), Shakira Hussein notes: “It’s a measure of how deeply anti-Muslim hate speech has saturated Australian public discourse that the foaming-at-the-mouth rants of the Reclaim Australia rally did not sound particularly out of the ordinary” (Hussein 2015). This was confirmed by the 2014 Scanlon Foundation Report on social cohesion, which demonstrated that around one-quarter of Australians surveyed held “somewhat” or “very” negative attitudes toward Muslims, almost five times higher than negative attitudes toward Buddhists or Christians (Markus 2014, 4). Reclaim Australia was soon given a more straightforwardly radical, right-wing edge by the formation of the United Patriots Front, a coalition of neo-Nazis and Christian fundamentalists that undertook as its mission combating the spread of Islam and stopping the subversive effects of “cultural Marxism” on Australian society, of which “multiculturalism” is understood as being one symptom (Bachelard and McMahon 2015; McMahon 2015).

Confined to the fringes of popular debates and only occasionally entering popular consciousness at times of crisis, in the post-Hanson era, the radical right has continued (p. 662) to struggle to occupy a place in Australian politics. Subject to continual organizational and political fracturing, capable of mounting only sporadic, semi-popular mobilizations, its chief domain is now the Internet, with social media having almost completely eclipsed the role of the radical, and principally rural, right-wing press. The anti-Semitism that formed the ideological ballast of previous articulations of radical right-wing dissent has been largely replaced by anti-refugee and anti-immigrant rhetoric, coupled with an especially virulent anti-Muslim sentiment. Expressions of white nationalism almost invariably assume culturalist rather than racial forms, while multiculturalism continues to function as a political bête noire. For the most part, the partisans of radical right-wing politics in Australia occupy the role of enthusiastic but redundant forces defending fortress Australia.

Hanson’s Return and the Future of the Australian Radical Right

In May 2016, Pauline Hanson declared she would run in the upcoming election “because our voting system is corrupt and I have been cheated” (McKenzie-Murray 2016). Taking an anti-establishment approach not unlike that of their European counterparts and shifting its attacks toward the fear of Islam, One Nation received 4.3 percent of the vote in the Senate election (a 3.8 percent swing), which, while significant, remained much lower than most radical right parties in Europe. The election of four One Nation senators has since created some unease in the Australian media and on the political landscape, and allowed the party to gain disproportionate coverage through its inflammatory statements. Compared to the unanimous condemnation of Hanson’s first foray in politics two decades ago, the response has been mixed, and some have argued that rather than outright rejection of One Nation’s politics, a more conciliatory approach is required. Prominent commentators such as Margo Kingston, a staunch One Nation opponent in the 1990s, have declared that “this time we should listen not lampoon” (Kingston 2016). This line is strikingly similar to Howard’s in 1996 and demonstrates further his success in imposing his vision on those who once opposed him virulently. While it is unclear what the impact of the “new” version of One Nation will be on Australian politics, the reaction to Hanson’s return already demonstrates that outright denunciation of her politics is no longer the mainstream position.

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Notes:

(1.) Only two members of Parliament spoke out against the policy (Lake and Reynolds 2008).

(2.) Along with prime minister John Howard, U.S. president Bill Clinton, New South Wales premier Bob Carr, and former prime minister Paul Keating.

(3.) In reality, in a country where the media is owned predominantly by Rupert Murdoch (Knight 2007), Howard’s voice had not been stifled, nor had the New Right been prevented from spreading its ideas. Only the racist bias, which had been prevalent under White Australia and abandoned in a bipartisan effort at the end of the 1960s, had been dropped. As Markus (1997) highlighted, Howard willingly confused “censorship” with the “lack of respect accorded to certain ideas.”