Playing the race card was how John Howard politicked, David Marr recalled in a 2017 essay.
And as Howard took on the prime ministership in 1996, he didn’t seem too opposed to Pauline Hanson entering parliament at the same time, as her racist rhetoric made his bigotry seem subdued.
Hanson had been running on the Liberal ticket in Oxley that year, until Howard gave her the flick over a prejudicial tirade against First Nations people.
This led Hanson to run as an independent. She entered parliament warning that the nation could be “swamped by Asians” and then went on to establish One Nation.
The unholy alliance that existed between One Nation and the Coalition during the Howard Era, is currently being replicated between similar factions in this state – those being the NSW One Nation Party and Gladys Berejiklian’s Liberal Nationals government.
Pushing One Nation points across in legislative form in the NSW upper house is leader of Hanson’s party in this state Mark Latham. And while the former leader of federal Labor isn’t targeting race, he’s certainly pushing extreme agendas that have implications all the way to Canberra.
Uranium? Are you serious?
Latham tabled a private members bill in parliament in May last year, that hearkened back to a 1980s debate that one would have expected no one take seriously anymore. The legislation sought to lift the state ban on uranium mining, as well as the prohibition on establishing nuclear power facilities.
While one might have thought such a bill would simply fall by the wayside, it was subsequently sent for parliamentary review, with the committee going on to recommend backing Latham. And then NSW Nationals leader John Barilaro announced his party would be supporting the nuclear proposals.
But it didn’t stop there. The Berejiklian cabinet met in August to consider supporting the Latham bill. And while it baulked at throwing its weight behind a document marked One Nation, it did send off Barilaro to consider the feasibility of its own bill to permit uranium mining in NSW.
Australian Conservation Foundation nuclear free campaigner Dave Sweeney asserted last month that the Minerals Council of Australia was behind the inquiry into Latham’s nuclear bill, and the industry body is also the instigator of a similar inquiry into lifting the uranium ban in Victoria.
This uranium push is also on the federal Coalition agenda. An inquiry into nuclear was held last year, which was spearheaded by then Liberal MP Keith Pitt, who’s since been promoted to resources minister. And he’s now calling for more investment in coal, gas and uranium to lift living standards.
The right to be a bigot
Latham also has a new private members bill before parliament, which is framed around securing the rights of parents in relation to the education system, although it’s essentially about erasing the identities of transgender and gender diverse children at schools.
Introduced in early August, the Parental Rights Bill seeks to erase any mention of gender fluidity by any adult staff members at schools. And if a teacher, or even a counsellor, touches upon anything that could fall within this category, they’d face the sack.
These proposed laws would allow for scenarios where vulnerable transgender kids who have questions about their gender identity and approach a school counsellor for help would then find themselves shut down in the process.
Community Action for Rainbow Rights spokesperson April Holcombe warned Sydney Criminal Lawyers last week that while the bill may not pass, its purpose is so extreme that it could have implications in making the Liberal’s own religious freedoms agenda seem moderate in comparison.
Currently on the backburner due to COVID, prime minister Scott Morrison’s pet legislation is the federal religious freedoms bill, which basically rolls back discrimination protections to allow those of faith to discriminate against LGBTIQ people and other minorities if their religion permits it.
Indeed, Latham has also delivered his own religious freedoms bill into parliament. And as he introduced the bill that upholds the right of the religious to act in discriminatory ways, the MLC implied the legislation is to protect Christians and heterosexuals who are supposedly under attack.
So, it appears that in pushing his One Nation agenda, Mark Latham is also steering a somewhat calculated course that permits Liberal and National MPs at both the federal and state level to forge their own extreme agendas, whilst having the veneer of sitting closer to the centre.
And the decision that Pauline Hanson made to go it alone as she was driving home to Ipswich in early 1996, is still working to the benefit of Coalition governments, despite the current leader of NSW One Nation having formerly been on the other side of the political divide.
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Paul Gregoire is a Sydney-based journalist and writer. He has a focus on human rights issues, encroachments on civil liberties, drug law reform, gender diversity and First Nations rights. Prior to Sydney Criminal Lawyers®, he wrote for VICE and was the news editor at Sydney’s City Hub.