Anyone who is a public figure can expect a bit of hate mail. Recently I received about half a dozen colourful phone messages after WA One Nation parliamentarian Charles Smith published a Facebook meme attacking the City of Fremantle for having "the most Un-Australian [sic] council in the Nation". Included were my contact details and those of the Mayor, with outraged right-wingers encouraged to communicate their rage at us for "destroying Australia Day".
Unusually, one of the abusive callers did not use a private number. I don't usually waste my breath responding, but this time I did. The conversation began this way: "G'day, I'm Sam and I got a message from you saying that you think I deserve to be bashed ... Yeah that's right ... Do you think everyone you disagree with should be bashed or just me? ... Just people who are un-Australian and love Muslims."
I explained that it wasn't a matter of loving or hating Muslims, but that no one should be discriminated against because of their religion. The conversation then drifted to whether the cause of Australia's many problems were due to the United Nations and the "One World Government" or corporate greed.
When I pointed out that Pauline Hanson had voted with the Coalition to attack workers rights and the welfare system, the chap at the other end of the line conceded that he didn't agree with everything she says or does. He signed off with an embarrassed "Well cheerio then. Bye Bye."
Well, that was an improvement on "You need to be bashed real good", but it was still strangely depressing. It would be easier to hate One Nation voters in the belief that they are all hardened neo-Nazis. But like the chap I'd just spoken to, many are ordinary working people who are angry and frustrated with Australian politics.
Some are hurting like all of us under the pressure of the housing affordability crisis, the constant erosion of the welfare state and increasingly insecure work conditions.
Instead of focusing their fire on the corporate elite, they've been sucked in to blaming their fellow working Australians, whether they are immigrants, LGBTI people, refugees, single parents, Muslims or Indigenous people.
It's certainly very frustrating the way some people get so easily sucked in to the blindingly obvious divide-and-rule trap that's been laid for them.
I have reflected on this a lot having run for state and federal parliament for the Socialist Alliance more times than some people have run for a bus. Each time I think we've done a pretty good job at presenting a credible alternative vision for Australia based on human solidarity and ecological sustainability, but without yet having come close to scoring a comfy leather seat.
So how is it that One Nation, an outfit that has supported every single attack on the rights and conditions of working people by the Malcolm Turnbull government, can retain some sort of aura as being a protest against "the system". And how do they do it when every single one of their MPs has turned out to be an egotistical, self-serving clown?
Unlike a socialist election campaign that challenges all of the prejudices and ill-informed "common sense" spread by the capitalist opinion makers, One Nation's fake image as the voice of the forgotten battler appeals to and reinforces all those prejudices. It encourages people in a hole to keep on digging.
For Australian big business and their servants in the media, this sort of self-defeating "protest vote" serves a useful purpose.
One Nation draws oxygen from the fact that its central theme — fear-mongering about Muslims and refugees — has been entirely legitimised by the bi-partisan Coalition/Labor policy of detaining and forcibly returning asylum seekers, which is in breach of international law. Turnbacks physically repelling people seeking protection is the Australian version of US President Donald Trump's wall.
In fact it's worse than Trump.
In the case of people fleeing persecution in Sri Lanka, the Australian navy now intercepts their boats and takes the passengers prisoner in international waters — itself an illegal act of piracy — before handing them over to the very people they are trying to escape.
One Nation simply expresses in words what Labor and the Coalition do in deed: "Dark-skinned people from developing countries fleeing persecution are not our problem. They should just fuck off and die somewhere else." Turnbacks are the contemporary reincarnation of the White Australia Policy, a racist heritage that never completely went away.
There is no possibility of working people moving forward and comprehensively challenging corporate rule as long as they remain trapped by this kind of politics.
With no sign that Labor will deviate from the anti-asylum policy, a progressive-minded person can be excused for thinking the policy will never change.
However, it's useful to look at the example of Labour in Britain under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, who, far from running away from the issue, has directly confronted it. Corbyn always had the courage and conviction to tell the truth about the refugee crisis.
He doesn't treat traditional Labour voters as scared, ignorant racists. He is optimistic. They are good people who will make the right call when told the truth. He goes to the heart of the real things causing grief in people's lives: privatisation, insecure work and the destruction of the welfare state — unlike the Conservatives (and the Coalition and Labor here) who seek to use fear of refugees to distract attention from these very problems.
Consequently, Corbyn has the confidence and moral authority to take up the refugee issue with his support base. Of course, Labor leader Bill Shorten cannot do this here because federal Labor has paved the path to hell for all of us, whether knowingly or not, by capitulating to anti-refugee policies every step of the way.
There's no point waiting or hoping that Shorten will become our Corbyn. The Australian version of the politics of hope will have to be built from the ground up and it will push to the fore the leaders we need.
How can we best help make such a thing come about?
The Socialist Alliance is a contribution to that process and we encourage anti-capitalist activists to join us so we can enrich the discussion and reinforce our efforts. We don't pretend to have all the answers, but we know we desperately need a 100% pro-worker, pro-environment and anti-capitalist alternative in Australian politics.
It will draw on the best of the workers, environmental and community movements; socialists who can shed their dogmatism, anti-capitalist Greens and unionists that reject racism; and above all thousands of people that none of us have met yet.
We are in a race against time. If and when recession hits Australia and more people are plunged into poverty and desperation, we can expect a more serious version of far-right politics to emerge. Not just the bumbling attempts of One Nation, but a more violent and well-organised expression as we've seen take hold in Europe. The time to get active is now.
[Sam Wainwright is a member of the Socialist Alliance and a councillor in the City of Fremantle]