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Andrew Markus on resistance to racism

Andrew Markus.

Historian Andrew Markus examines the political dynamics that underpin resistance to racism



Date Added:

02 March 2009


source not available


mov (Quicktime);

File size:

9.7 MB






Pauline Hanson, one might describe as like an accident in Australian politics. An accident because the circumstances in which she was elected to parliament, given her background, it was very unusual. And in fact she’s tried many times to get re-elected to parliament and hasn’t succeeded and is not likely to succeed. But what she marked was – the Americans had a movement called, “The Know Nothings.” Know Nothings, late in the 19th Century, the people who actually took pride in ignorance.


And in a way that’s what she did. She did not understand the fundamentals even of terms like, “what does xenophobia mean?” And yet, she was able to gain sort of much popularity by parading her ignorance. She had very little understanding of the Asian context, very little understanding where immigrants came from, very little understanding of what they had contributed to this nation. But she was able to capitalise and win much media notoriety, not just in Australia but internationally, by basically saying what you might hear down the pub of people who’ve got – really don’t know much better.


Now that had an impact on national politics, it wasn’t just her own constituency and her own popularity in Queensland. Which actually got to the point where her party managed to get like, almost 23% of the vote in a Queensland election and that was the high point of this movement. But if we look at a place like Victoria, you had very little impact in Victoria in politics. These parties of the ignorant, wherever we want to locate them, whether left or right or centre whatever they are, the people who paraded on bigotry and anti-immigration policies and so on, got nowhere in Victoria where people are better informed, in terms of the development of multicultural policies and community dialogue in Victoria.


The groups that understood the folly of such policies, were very much in the ascendant. And there really wasn’t the basis for that movement to gain any traction in a Victorian context. Whereas in a place like Queensland, where at that point there’d been much less diversity of populations, there were these pockets which – of you know, stable population that hadn’t changed very much, facing a whole range of challenges, challenges of change, for a brief period that movement was able to gain some traction.


And then I guess, the inevitable happened: the inevitable happen sooner or later and in the Queensland case it happened sooner. That when these people were elected to parliament, it might not be an exaggeration to say that they had actually trouble finding their way around parliament house. They could not actually function effectively within the Queensland political system. They couldn’t actually articulate policies which made any sense to practically anybody and that movement went from a movement which was a very significant political force, for a period of 12 months, to totally disintegrated and it’s now regarded I think as a footnote in Australian history but a very significant illustrative footnote of the power to whip up tensions and bigotry.


End transcript