It’s 20 years since I produced a 60 Minutes story, wonderfully reported by Tracey Curro, on Pauline Hanson’s explosion onto the Australian political and leadership scene. Back then her messages of intolerance towards migrants and indigenous Australians were huge news, with journalists following us as we videoed in Ipswich, Melbourne, Tasmania, and Palm Island in far north Queensland.
That was the story that generated the following famous exchange
“Are you xenophobic?”
(have a look at 13:11 into the story)
Two observations on current leadership:
I think we Australians are less tolerant now than we were then. It’s not just the leadership of Tony Abbott that has created the change, there are many factors, but he did a lot to turn Hanson’s messaging into reality. With immigrants, “Turn back the boats”. With indigenous Australians, on closing 150 remote communities, “it’s not the job of the taxpayer to subsidise lifestyle choices”. Hanson couldn’t have said it better back then.
The world is less tolerant too. Donald Trump, the leading nominee in the US Republican race, on Mexicans and his plan to deport 11 million immigrants from the south back across the border, “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.”
And that sentiment was emerging in European leadership too, even before the Paris atrocities, with the deepening Syrian refugee crisis.
Twenty years ago, when we approached Malcolm Fraser to be interviewed for that story, he pleaded with us not to do it because of the potential consequences of giving Hanson such high-profile airtime. He was scared of the extreme thinking back then. Ultimately, when it was clear we were going ahead, he agreed to participate, to be a ‘voice of moderation’ (14:57).
Moderate thinkers need to speak up. As problems seem increasingly complex and scary, the extremists’ simple solutions are given a louder voice.
Pauline Hanson’s maiden speech, Sept 10th 1996: http://australianpolitics.com/1996/09/10/pauline-hanson-maiden-speech.html