Extremism is becoming more evident in Australian politics, particularly on the conservative side.
Seduced by the populous appeal of casual racism, the opposition last week sought to amplify an alleged sexual assault case into a campaign to implicate all asylum seekers of wrongdoing.
As a result, we heard two senior members of the Liberal Party take aim at asylum seekers in a way that would make the fascist British National Party blush.
The comments – by opposition immigration spokesperson Scott Morrison and Tasmanian Senator Eric Abetz – followed the arrest of a man in Sydney last week.
The Sri Lankan man, Daxchan Selvarajah, was arrested and charged with assault with an act of indecency after an alleged incident at Macquarie University’s student accommodation. His lawyer says the accused man intends to defend the charges.
Mr Selvarajah is a 21-year-old asylum seeker on a bridging visa.
Mr Morrison called for an immediate suspension of asylum seekers being released into the community until protocols are introduced to notify and consult police before people are released into the community.
He also said neighbours should similarly be warned if there were asylum seekers on bridging visas living nearby.
In an interview with Sky News, he said people should be alerted “for the same reason that you would want to know any decision of a government that’s going to impact potentially on the status of your living conditions or your residential environment. I would’ve thought that is just a matter of simple courtesy”.
The clear implication – enthusiastically embraced by Australia’s seemingly ever-growing battalion of radio shock jocks and conservative newspaper columnists – is that having asylum seekers living near you puts you at some risk. There is cause to be afraid.
Mr Morrison’s comments prompted Senator Abetz to weigh in. He liked the idea that neighbours be told that there were asylum seekers or refugees moving into the neighbourhood.
“I would have thought that it would be a good idea to say that somebody’s moving next door to you, they might not be able to have all the English language skills you might have normally have expected or they come from a traumatised background,” Senator Abetz said.
When asked if a system should be put in place for asylum seekers that resembled the treatment of known sexual offenders, in particular paedophiles, he replied: “I wouldn’t put the two (paedophiles and asylum seekers) in the same category, necessarily.”
His staff later deleted the word “necessarily” from the online transcript of his comments.
These sorts of remarks would not be acceptable in mainstream politics in Ireland, Britain or the United States. They would fall into the category of extremism like the British National Party or The Tea Party.
In Ireland, meanwhile, the recently released European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) monitoring report identified ongoing problems with the treatment of both immigrants and Travellers.
According to the report, the human rights body said it was “aware of claims that many non-Irish nationals were subjected to police stops and required to produce identity documents, which in practice can result in racist incidents and the profiling of individuals on the basis of their colour”.
This sounds disturbingly close to what is being advocated in Australia – not by extreme anti-immigrant groups, but by senior members of the most popular mainstream political party, which, by the end of September, looks certain to take government.
Extremism should have no place in democratic government. But with a diminished and conservatively dominated mainstream Australian press unable or unwilling to confront extremist views, intolerance, fear and loathing against minorities is bound to flourish.