How do you solve a problem like Pauline?
Part of me wants to give no further oxygen to her comments in the Senate yesterday.
“You can’t blame the whites when it’s your own negligence,” she said of Aboriginal Australians, that uncomfortably familiar malevolent look in her green eyes, hungry for another scapegoat.
She blamed poor school attendance of Aboriginal students on “lazy parents” and made the sweeping generalisation that “the biggest problem facing Aboriginal Australians today is their own lack of commitment and responsibility to helping themselves”.
But we won’t reduce racism by simply ignoring it, especially in our Senate. From her burqa stunt to these comments, Senator Hanson has little shame and no problem lowering standards further into the gutter.
She didn’t stop there, either.
She said it’s “it’s up to the Aboriginals to stay off the grog and the drugs” and that they should “stop playing the victim”.
Where to start?
Let’s begin with some context.
Pauline Hanson has form with punching down. The more power and platform she’s given, the more she’ll abuse those privileges to attack people who she outranks in every area: race, class, economic status, education, disability. In short: she’s a bully. And she enjoys the bullying. Call her one, though, and it’s her who’ll play the victim.
First, she came for Asian Australians. Then she switched to Muslim Australians. Now she’s targeting First Nations People. She rarely attacks anyone white.
Her lack of empathy in yesterday’s comments are matched only by her failure to grasp the complexities of this situation.
How might baby Pauline have fared if she was classed as fauna in the census? Stolen from her mother before she’d finished breastfeeding? Placed into the family of a completely different race, who treated her as inferior? Sexually abused in a children’s home?
You can bet your last deep fried calamari ring she wouldn’t be stood here, in the Australian Senate. She’d more likely be incarcerated (again), but this time with little hope of ever truly being free.
These are all things that happened to Aboriginal Australians I’ve had the privilege to interview as a journalist. I did something Hanson refuses to do: listen.
I listened to actor Uncle Jack Charles, his deliciously sonorous voice juxtaposing sharply with what it was expressing to me: a life of abuse, neglect, rape and addiction to block out the pain inflicted by the Australian Government’s nefarious “White Australia” policies.
I sat in the Redfern Aboriginal Medical Centre as the original members of the Sapphires sung to me, an enchanting, private concert for an audience of one, their sweet melodious harmonising contrasting with what they’d just told me: a lifetime of discrimination and oppression.
“We’ve provided the jobs but it’s up to you to turn up when you’re rostered on, not when it suits” Senator Hanson said yesterday.
This ugly characterisation of laziness is particularly jarring.
Sapphire member Laurel Robinson told me: “I couldn’t get work in Shepparton. I’d tried everywhere. I put it down to racism. They took one look at you and said ‘no’. But I knew there were jobs around – you’d see them advertised.”
Bandmate Beverly Briggs told me: “It was so difficult to get a job. We got so many knock-backs from people. Now them people flock to see the movie and I sometimes think, you weren’t very nice to us back then.”
These people wanted to work, but the systematic racism in the system – the kind that takes generations to dismantle – prevented them from doing so. That’s why positive action schemes encouraging First Nations People to apply exist today. To redress this horribly tilted balance.
And who did the oppressing? The whites, as Senator Hanson calls them. You can’t blame them? You absolutely can. Those who signed those bills into law and who stole those babies from the arms of their mothers.
Two words Senator Hanson needs to get her head around are intergenerational trauma; how the pain and suffering inflicted by the Australian Government’s actions is inherited by children in the next generations. They need the help provided by the Closing the Gap initiative – not attacks on their families like Hanson’s dummy-spit yesterday.
Just two of the seven Closing the Gap targets, which focus on education, employment and life expectancy, are being met. Hanson called it “complete rubbish” and “a joke”.
She, of course, claimed she was speaking on behalf of the “quiet Australians,” that insidious phrase coined by Prime Minister Scott Morrison that ironically overlooks the unending privilege meaning you have little about which to legitimately complain.
She also claimed her comments were echoed by many indigenous people that meet with her, which could mean she had one conversation with Jacinta Price.
What’s particularly inaccurate is Hanson’s premise that Aboriginal people aren’t helping themselves.
One Aboriginal woman who tries to help herself and her entire community is Cheree Toka, who I regularly interview. Her 140,000-strong Change.org campaign to have the Aboriginal flag flown atop the Sydney Harbour Bridge permanently is the result of blood, sweat and tears.
The tears come as a result of white politicians like Senator Hanson, or the white NSW Aboriginal Affairs Minister Don Harwin, who refuses to support her campaign. Hard work is not rewarded when those in power like Harwin are too busy enjoying their white privilege to care about the very constituents their ministerial portfolio supposedly represents.
Ms Toka described Senator Hanson’s speech as “disgusting behaviour”, calling for a parliamentary code of conduct in response to such “denigrating comments”.
Labor and Greens senators slammed the racism of Senator Hanson’s comments, but where are the Liberals on this? Federal Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt didn’t respond before deadline.
The real quiet Australian are the Government’s own ministers, too dependent on Hanson’s votes and stealing away her support base to shore up their own positions of power to roundly condemn this.
What’s actually “complete rubbish and a joke” is Senator Hanson’s oversimplification of a complicated issue using lazy racism.
Her satirical drag queen alter ego Pauline Pantsdown gave the speech all the credibility it deserves.
“Hardworking Indigenous Australians have spent decades trying to close the gap between Mrs Hanson’s ears, with experts now questioning the value of this as a measure,” Ms Pantsdown told news.com.au. “Ears may be good for holding up wigs, but if they can’t hear anything, why build a bridge between them?”
In short: Please don’t explain, Pauline Hanson. You’re rubbish at it.
Gary Nunn is a freelance journalist. Twitter: @garynunn1
Originally published as What Pauline Hanson doesn’t get
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