Michael McCormick: The Bigot You Have When the Real PM Isn’t Around

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Michael McCormick

The image of a buffalo-horned and raccoon-skinned QAnon shaman, surrounded by “Make America Great Again”-capped, far-right insurrectionists, standing in the halls of the US Capitol building on 6 January stunned the globe.

Raised on a constant media diet of “America the Strong”, most of us have been led to believe it impossible for a bunch of bearded white supremacists to break in and take over the seat of US congress. Although, this group of insurgents had been greenlighted by the outgoing US president.

But for Australians not of the fascist persuasion, what’s perhaps more concerning is that the acting prime minister of our nation, Michael McCormick, dismissed the taking of the Capitol building as being simply “unfortunate”, and he also equated the insurrection to recent racial justice protests.

“It is unfortunate that we have seen the events at the Capitol Hill that we’ve seen in recent days, similar to those race riots that we saw around the country last year,” the Nationals leaders told ABC Radio National on Monday.

And these words went on to spark widespread condemnation.

“All lives matter”

The “race riots” McCormick referred to were the Black Lives Matter demonstrations sparked by the Minneapolis police killing of African American man George Floyd in May last year. This led to a wave of protests calling for an end to the racial injustice perpetrated by US law enforcement.

The acting PM then went on to describe Donald Trump’s banning from Twitter – over posts made that were seen to incite the riot – as censorship. McCormick added that others have “done a lot of things on Twitter previously that haven’t received that sort of condemnation”.

Mind you, he wasn’t alone. Federal treasurer Josh Frydenberg also questioned Trump’s banning from the social media platform, saying it made him feel “uncomfortable”.

For his comments on the US situation, McCormick was denounced by Labor and the Greens. So, like any expert provocateur, he then appeared before the cameras on Tuesday to declare “all lives matter”, which is a well-known slogan used by racist elements to dismiss the BLM movement.

Morrison’s deputy also took the opportunity to describe those who took offence to his comments on the day prior, as “being bleeding heart” about the matter and “confecting outrage”.

Coalition race-baiting

Sure, McCormick spends a lot of time in the Canberra Bubble, but this in no way puts him beyond the awareness of the racist sentiment behind the phrase “all lives matter”.

The acting PM would have known well that he was going to get a rise out of the public by using the phrase.

And the Nationals leader is hardly a lone wolf within the Coalition when it comes to harbouring these sorts of prejudices.

With the nod of approval from federal attorney general Christian Porter, all Liberal and Nationals senators voted in October 2018 to support a Pauline Hanson motion that asserted “It’s okay to be white”: another well-known catchphrase of white supremacists.

Following the fallout from that one, the Coalition backtracked on its support, claiming that it was unaware of the racial connotations. However, right before the vote then Greens leader Richard Di Natale and crossbencher Derryn Hinch had explained the implications to the chamber.

While, earlier that year, then PM Malcolm Turnbull, health minister Greg Hunt and home affairs minister Peter Dutton were all in the press spouting rumours about a so-called “African gang crisis” in Victoria.

Indeed, race-baiting is one of the favoured pastimes of the minister for home affairs.

And we can also look to McCormick’s boss as playing a role in all this. Back in 2011, then opposition immigration spokesperson Scott Morrison suggested to the shadow cabinet that the Coalition capitalise on perceived public anti-Muslim sentiment as part of its politicking agenda.

The rising right

McCormick’s dismissal of the Black Lives Matter movement as “race riots”, also has implications for the BLM demonstrations that swept our nation last year. These protests were calling out the long history of police brutality towards First Nations people and Aboriginal deaths in custody.

The fact that McCormick, other Coalition ministers, and even the prime minister, have refused to condemn US president Donald Trump for making statements and gestures that incited the taking of the Capitol building does not bode well for this country.

Trump exiting the oval office doesn’t necessitate an end to the rise in the far-right in the United States.

Next week, groups of extremists are organising armed multiple-day-long protests around the Biden inauguration in 50 state capitals, which shows that this is far from over.

Our country has a long tradition of following the moves of the US, dating back to the end of the Second World War.

There are well-established far-right elements in Australia. Not only do they remain uncondemned by those governing, but at times federal MPs have been stoking their flames. And while our ministers simply shrug off the rising right in the US, our homegrown “patriots” may feel emboldened.

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Paul Gregoire

Paul Gregoire is a Sydney-based journalist and writer. He's the winner of the 2021 NSW Council for Civil Liberties Award For Excellence In Civil Liberties Journalism. Prior to Sydney Criminal Lawyers®, Paul wrote for VICE and was the news editor at Sydney’s City Hub.

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