F.Anning Discontent: Far-Right politicians like Fraser Anning (above right) are highly-skilled at exploiting racially charged narratives, such as Melbourne's "African Gangs" controversy, to broaden the appeal of Conservative Australia’s anti-immigrant crusade.
FRASER ANNING is one of those political figures who populate the periphery of politics in liberal-democratic states. Opportunistic, scornful of political norms, hard to frighten or shame, the Fraser Annings of this world are frighteningly well-adapted to the politics of cultural resentment and fear. Had the Independent Senator for Queensland been born in late-Nineteenth Century Italy or Germany – instead of mid-Twentieth Century Australia – he would, almost certainly, have been drawn to Benito Mussolini’s Fascisti or Adolf Hitler’s Nazis.
As it is, he has won notoriety as the sometime ally of leading right-wing Australian politicians Pauline Hanson and Bob Katter. It says something about the man that his current status as an “independent” is largely attributable to even these far-from-moderate parliamentarians finding Anning’s views too extreme – even for them. (Hardly surprising when, in his maiden speech to the Australian Senate, Anning talked about a “final solution” to Australia’s “immigration problem”!)
Anning’s latest provocation was to attend (at the Australian taxpayers’ expense) a United Patriots Front (UPF) rally held in the Melbourne seaside suburb of St Kilda. The UPF is at the extreme end of an ongoing campaign by Australian conservatives (up to and including the ruling Liberal Party) to secure more rigorous policing of the so-called “African Gangs” said to be terrorising Melbourne citizens. The African “gangsters” singled out for particular condemnation by the Right are almost all refugees and/or the children of refugees from war-torn South Sudan.
United Patriots Front leader, Blair Cottrell, addresses anti-immigrant rally at St Kilda Beach, Melbourne, 5 January 2019.
The Right’s fixation on Victoria’s tiny Sudanese community is largely explicable in terms of the extraordinary lengths to which the state’s left-leaning government has gone to minimise the impact (or even the existence) of the “African Gang” problem.
Just how strongly the Left felt about the issue was demonstrated by the noisy protest which took place outside the offices and studios of Channel 7 Melbourne in July 2018. The protesters were incensed by Channel 7’s current affairs show, Sunday Night’s, alleged “race-baiting” coverage of the issue.
The item’s promo was certainly provocative:
“Barely a week goes by when they’re not in the news. African gangs running riot, terrorising, wreaking havoc. Police are hesitant to admit there’s even a problem. The latest attack was just days ago, so what can be done?”
The Left’s response played directly into the Australian Right’s deeply embedded narrative of a culturally-deracinated cosmopolitan elite hellbent on dissolving Australia’s European heritage in a multicultural melting-pot. So powerful is this “progressive” elite said to be that it has the power to suppress coverage of anything which runs counter to the multicultural ideal – even when this activity involves “African gangs running riot, terrorising, wreaking havoc”.
Far-Right politicians like Anning are highly-skilled at exploiting this narrative to broaden the appeal of Conservative Australia’s anti-immigrant crusade. Their job is made easier when even the Right’s bette noir, the publicly-owned (and allegedly left-wing) Australian Broadcasting Corporation, acknowledges that “the Sudanese offender rate is six times higher than their population share”.
Last weekend’s UPF St Kilda rally – itself inspired by the Victorian Police’s decision to prevent UPF leader, Blair Cottrell, from recording the activity of Sudanese youths on the beach – provided Anning with a brown-shirted opportunity to promote his anti-immigrant message by doing little more than simply turning-up.
Cottrell and Anning would have known that, from the moment it was announced on social media, the rally would attract large numbers of left-wing “anti-fascists”, journalists and police. Inevitably, the news media would make a bee-line for the right-wing Queensland Senator and, equally inevitably, he would be ready with a sound-bite:
“There was no racist rally,” Anning informed the news media. “There were decent Australian people who demonstrated their dislike for what the Australian government has done which has allowed these people to come into this country and then bash people at random on the beaches, in their homes.”
Inner-city Melburnians were suitably shocked at this eruption of right-wing extremism on their favourite beach. But, in small-town Australia, in the Bush, Anning’s words would have struck a very different note.
In this setting, Anning, scion of a Queensland farming family notorious for its bloody appropriations of Aboriginal land, could be confident of loud choruses of approval. It’s what the Left knows, but cannot understand. That racism is as Australian as Cricket at the MCG. As welcome as a cold tinny on an incendiary afternoon at St Kilda Beach.
This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 11 January 2019.