We prefer one tribe
Where is Pauline Hanson when you need her?" I heard these words spoken above the noise of the crowd by a laconic male voice with a "dinkum" Australian accent as I left a working-class street market recently.
Two Asian women, dressed in such a fashion as to stand out as unusual at the market although a lot of Asians both sell goods at the market and go to it to buy, were standing in stunned silence as the man who had uttered the words walked on by.
A few people chuckled. It was an awkward, "politically incorrect" moment.
No doubt a sizeable portion of the Australian population has gleefully enjoyed the long running Hanson phenomenon and the consternation it has caused as a choice larrikin joke upon the elites - who have in recent years attempted to foist attitudes on the population from above.
But the cheeky election of the unknown takeaway shop proprietor to federal parliament by Oxley voters as an in your-face grassroots reaction to political correctness has gone beyond a joke, turned ugly and backfired.
Instant stars more often than not find themselves in over their heads. Transparently, Hanson has been carrying out a strategy of provocation provided her by others.
The signs are that she doesn't know how to handle her fame. Confusion is apparent. Her act has started to unravel.
Inflaming "us" - so-called mainstream Australians - against "them" - Aborigines, Asians - is an old and nasty trick.
Exactly who are the proper and authentic Australians Hanson "represents"? What is the "real" Australia? Hanson has raised these questions yet offered only a caricature of an answer.
But what are we to make of the extent to which her political "song" has captured the popular imagination? Are we to conclude, as so many have, that a sizeable portion of the Australian population is "racist"?
I am a migrant of Greek-Turk background and have spent many years living in regional Australia. I have never personally experienced native-born Australians to be racist, and believe that the problem represented by Hanson's soaring to the top of the political "charts" lies elsewhere.
An unfortunate result of our treating what Hanson has had to say as serious political activity is that, at a ripe moment for reassessment in the aftermath of the March federal election, we are wasting an opportunity for an important cultural debate.
By ousting the Labor government, a significant number of voters sent a strong electoral message to Canberra which market researchers have translated as: "Why can't they be treated like us?"
In other words, there is a strong feeling abroad against pluralism; against identity groups standing out as starkly distinct and separate against the mainstream Australian background. The question needs to be asked: is opposition to pluralism racist?
The great divide in this country is not Pauline Hanson's simplistic nonsense: “real Aussies” and “others”. There is, however, a large and growing gulf between the mass of ordinary Australians who wish their country to be one cultural entity, changing and full of new influences as may be, and those elites who have sought, and still seek, to impose the idea that nations can have multiple cultures.
As a migrant, I consider the notion that, as a naturalized citizen of Australia, I can actively seek to keep my cultural differences to be a false and unrealistic promise.
A sad aspect of the Hanson affair is that the Aussie battlers who spoke up at the ballot box in defense of their commonsense attitude towards this nation's identity are being vilified as racist. Pauline Hanson has much to answer for in inflaming racial abuse.
So, too, does our political class for not giving a better voice to the popular feeling that has given rise to Hanson.
This article appeared in the Melbourne Herald -Sun, December 5, 1996.