By Thomas Mowbray
In the past two weeks, two foreign political activists have made headlines around the country. Both were from allied nations. Both were to appear at political events. Both advocate conservative right-wing ideas. Why then, was one granted entry, while the other had his visa cancelled at the last minute?
The two political activists in question are Troy Newman and Geert Wilders. Mr. Newman is a controversial US anti-abortion advocate, who argues that abortion should be criminalised, and doctors who perform them should be tried and executed for murder. Mr Wilders is a Dutch politician who openly spreads anti-Islamic sentiment, comparing the Qu’ran to Hitler’s Mein Kampf, referring to Muhammad as ‘the devil’, and advocating a €1000 ($1558 AUD) tax on women who choose to wear Islamic face and head garments.
Last week, Mr Newman’s visa was cancelled on grounds that his views would harm the community. This week however, Mr Wilders’ visa has been approved, and his visit welcomed by members of the Liberal Government.
Several agencies have noted this inconsistency, though none have attempted to explain it. Based on the current political landscape, I would suggest it is more to do with votes than sound immigration policy.
One week after announcing a $100 million initiative to combat domestic violence, and positioning himself as a PM who will stand up for women’s rights, Mr Turnbull’s government cancelled Mr Newman’s visa due to his extreme anti-abortion views. Earlier that same week, the government also cancelled the visa of entertainer Chris Brown, due to his 2009 assault on then-partner and fellow entertainer Rihanna.
While possible, it’s hard to believe that these cancellations were coincidental. More likely, they were designed to cement the PM’s credibility as one who takes women’s issues seriously.
While polling is not available for the cancellation of Mr Newman’s and Mr Brown’s visas, the public response to social and mainstream media shows widespread support for the cancellations, and even wider support for the PM’s stand for women’s rights. This is an issue that transcends the left-right, young-old, and rich-poor divide: almost everyone agrees that domestic violence needs combatting. While the anti-abortion message may not be as widely acceptable, even those that sympathise with pro-life campaigning would be hard-pressed to defend Mr Newman’s idea that abortions should be criminalised as murder.
In addition, this stand helps Mr Turnbull achieve what former PM Abbott never could: gain the women’s vote. Mr Abbott was notorious for failing to capture the female vote. With this strong stance on women’s rights, strengthened by the two visa cancellations, Mr Turnbull makes strides in bringing the women’s vote back to the Liberal Party.
This shows Mr Turnbull had strong political motivation to cancel Mr Newman’s visa. The same cannot be said however, about Mr Wilders.
The approval of Mr Wilders’ visa comes in the wake of the Parramatta shooting, which appears to have been motivated by extremist Islam. Since the shooting, there has been a revival of anti-Islamic sentiment in Australia.
This has seen various small, but vocal, anti-Islam rallies across the country. The increase in anti-Islamic rhetoric is displayed by the resurgence of anti-multiculturalist politician/activist Pauline Hanson.
On the 6th October, Ms Hanson posted an image to her Facebook page announcing her bid for a Queensland Senate seat at the next Federal Election, running on the back of policies opposing ‘Mosques, Sharia Law, Halal Certification & Muslim Refugees’. Since posting the image, it has been shared 28,000 times, and her Facebook page has received a 26% increase in total likes in just six days.
While Ms Hanson represents a minority view, her growth in popularity demonstrates growing anti-Islamic sentiment in Australia. Further, her target audience is often the core of the LNP voter base: the often older, social conservatives.
While Mr Turnbull certainly does not have to appeal to this conservative, anti-Islamic base, he needs to ensure he does not alienate it. Today’s Newspoll shows that while 56% of Coaltion voters supported Mr Turnbull’s takeover as PM, 36% of Coalition voters opposed it, presumably those on the right wing of the Party. This is a large percentage of the party faithful that are in opposition to Mr Turnbull’s Prime Ministership.
Mr Turnbull has already witnessed first-hand this discontent from the right wing of his party, as he was heckled and booed at a Liberal Party State Council in Sydney over the weekend. Paired with his axing of the conservative Abbott and his well-known ‘leftist’ attitudes, Mr Turnbull needs to be wary of straying too far from the right wing of the LNP.
All this combines to create a situation where Mr Turnbull needs to win back the centre and centre-left swing voters Mr Abbott lost, without alienating his right wing party base.
This is why Mr Wilders’ visa was granted, while Mr Newman’s was not. In the current political climate, a step too far to the left could leave Mr Turnbull red-faced as the right wing of his party base put their votes in more conservative parties.
I believe that Mr Turnbull saw stopping Mr Wilders’ visit was that step too far. Speaking out against intolerance is one thing: banning it is another.
This informs the government’s inconsistency in their treatment of Mr Newman and Mr Wilders. It is based on garnering support for the new PM, without losing support from his voter base. It is not based on immigration policy. It is based on votes.
Photo Credits: Reuters / Bart Size