The political fortunes of one of Australia’s most controversial politicians, Pauline Hanson, were revived in the 2016 federal election. Marianne Dickie goes behind the spin to look at what’s really happening in migration policy.
It seems possible that the Pauline Hanson of 1996 would find a home in Australia’s ruling Liberal Party of today. Many blame her for the dramatic shift to the right on immigration policy and law that began in 1997 and today there seems very little room for her party to differentiate itself from the Coalition on these issues.
In 1998 Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party officially released its policy statements on migration. Like the current policies of One Nation, many of the changes the policy documents called for were already in place. These included tighter controls over family migration and restrictions to migrants’ access to benefits. Other changes were remarkably prescient, such as the prediction that the role of the Immigration Department in the 21st Century would be ‘…to keep people out, rather than encourage them in’.
Other policies were enacted by the Coalition between 1998 and 2007, such as the introduction of temporary protection visas that allowed the return of refugees to their place of origin. Originally dismissed by the Minister for Immigration Philip Ruddock, the policy was put into practice with the introduction of Safe Haven visas and the repatriation of Kosovar refugees.
One Nation went on to win 11 seats in the 1998 Queensland state election. In February 2001 they lost eight of those seats. Their state election policies for 2001 presented somewhat less radical proposals for migration, acknowledging the benefits of immigration to Australia, and recognising that ‘all Australians can be enriched when other languages continue to be spoken through choice’.
However, despite the end of significant public support for One Nation at the 2001 election, changes to the migration legislation continued at a rapid pace.
In the lead up to the 2001 federal election in November, a range of migration bills passed through the Parliament implementing the framework for the Pacific Solution.
In 1996 Prime Minister John Howard had declared that Pauline Hanson’s maiden speech “verges on the deranged”. However he was to eventually take one of her key claims “… if I can invite whom I want into my home, then I should have the right to have a say in who comes into my country” and turn it into a rallying cry for the 2001 federal election, “…we will decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come.”
The family reunion component of the Migration Program continued to shrink from close to 60 per cent in 1998 to 30 per cent by 2013. The call to discontinue parent visas (unless applicants brought their own pension) was answered in 2003 with the creation of Contributory Parent visas carrying exorbitant application fees. Additional Temporary Protection visas were introduced and family reunion for refugees restricted.
A new Citizenship Act introduced in 2007 saw the legislation of many of the aspects One Nation had campaigned on, such as an increase in residency requirements, and the introduction of English language and Australian Citizenship tests.
During the 2016 federal election, One Nation released a range of new policies. While there are some points of difference, they broadly reflect the same basic underlying premise which has underpinned all iterations of the One Nation Party over the years, that Australia’s migration policy should be one of assimilation. Curiously, however, the most recent One Nation policy platform seems, in many respects, to have been written by someone who has paid no attention to developments in migration policy, law or public debates over the past decade.
Particularly odd is the proposal that the Department of Immigration ‘become the Department of Customs and Immigration’. It reads that this department would be: “responsible for protection of our coastline from illegal boat people, invaders, goods (drugs, firearms) and terrorists. Also, control and monitoring of entry and leaving of people and goods, issue of passports, visas and other documents.”
This is a strange policy considering the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service and the Department of Immigration and Citizenship amalgamated into the Australian Border Force in 2013.
Many other One Nation policies either quote unsubstantiated statistics or call for reforms that are already in place. For example, the party is calling for minimum jail terms for people smuggling, which already exist, as do Temporary Protection visas for refugees.
Similarly, One Nation’s call for tighter restrictions on family reunions for refugees might be hard to achieve, as priority processing of family visas has made it almost impossible for refugees, who arrived by boat, to successfully sponsor the entry of family members into Australia until they are granted citizenship. Likewise, all permanent migrants already have to undertake health checks, and punitive character cancellation provisions were legislated in 2014.
The party’s proposal to send anyone who arrives seeking asylum without their documents home, or back to the port they last fled, is reflected in s91W and S91WA of the Migration Act 1958 (Cth). And while these provisions don’t allow the Minister to randomly return an asylum seeker to the ‘port they left’, they do prevent the Minister granting a protection visa to anyone who refuses or fails to comply with a request to present documentary evidence of their identity, including those who were told to destroy their documents by people smugglers.
It would be easy to dismiss the impact such a poorly written grab bag of policies and claims could have on migration law and policy in the future. However, it is important not to trivialise the political environment that enabled Hanson’s election success.
One Nation’s policies over the years, including in this most recent election campaign, have focused on the weakness and vulnerabilities of Australians. In doing so, Pauline Hanson gives people permission to lay the blame for economic and social problems on those who are the most vulnerable. In 1996 it was Asians and Aboriginals: in 2016 it is Muslims and refugees.
And this is where the remaining policies One Nation espouses are dangerous. Like the policies aired in 1998, they adopt a position that many on the far right side of politics have already campaigned for, but have not implemented.
Of particular concern is the dangerous but enticing call to withdraw from various United Nations treaties on migration, refugees, and human rights, because they ‘conflict with our sovereign rights and laws’.
Furthermore, the policy statements advocate a commitment to Australia and Australian Nationalism for all migrants. They call for the abolition of ‘multiculturalism and the Racial Discrimination Act of 1975 based on the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination as it is unconstitutional,’ on the premise that this will allow the government to deal with ‘current terrorism problems.’
In so doing, Pauline Hanson and her party seek to scapegoat the United Nations and international law, along with refugees, migrants, and minorities, a position many on the right would like to adopt.
While the Coalition may be too sophisticated to overtly respond to the call for a formal commitment to Australian nationalism, the revival of One Nation’s political fortunes could see renewed pressure applied for Australia to withdraw from the Refugee Convention, along with changes to anti-discrimination legislation, to allow the targeting of current and future Muslim migrants and asylum seekers on the premise of national security.
The delay in finalising election results for the Senate makes it hard to predict the final outcome for the government. In the past, the makeup of the Senate allowed the Greens and Australian Democrats to block legislation and as a result, the majority of migration legislation implemented since 1999 was only passed with the support of the Australian Labor Party. However if the government ends up in a position where it can negotiate with the minor parties, bypassing the Greens and Labor, the potential to garnish support from One Nation and like-minded independents that share her distrust of Muslims and refugees, such as Jacqui Lambie, may provide an opportunity too good to ignore.