Australia is once again debating the nation’s attitudes toward immigrants amid an outcry over comments made by a little-known senator who used his maiden speech in the country’s Parliament to call for a “final solution” to immigration.
Fraser Anning, the sole senator representing Katter’s Australian Party, called for an overhaul of Australia’s immigration system during his speech to the Senate Tuesday, proposing a ban on Muslim migrants and those “from the third world.”
As condemnation poured in from all political sides, the party’s leader Bob Katter inflamed matters further by describing the speech as “magnificent.”
“Absolutely, 1000%, I support everything he said,” Katter told reporters during a news conference in the northern city of Cairns Wednesday. “It was solid gold… It is everything that this country should be doing.”
In his speech, Anning referred to the infamous White Australia policy, which effectively banned non-European migrants in the mid-20th century, and invoked the term “the final solution,” which the Nazis used to describe their genocide of Jews in Europe.
Condemnation across the spectrum
Anning’s speech was immediately condemned by MPs of all political stripes. In a statement on Wednesday, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull denounced Anning’s “racist remarks,” and praised the country’s multiculturalism.
“The reference in Senator Anning’s speech to the ‘final solution’ is a shocking, shocking insult to the memory of over 6 million Jews who died in the Holocaust,” said Turnbull, adding that it was important “to call out racism.”
Even One Nation Party leader Pauline Hanson, who called for a ban on immigration in her maiden Senate speech in 2016, called Anning’s comments “straight from Goebbels’ handbook from Nazi Germany.”
Anning’s comments had “nothing to do with me,” Hanson said, distancing herself from the senator, who is a former member of the One Nation Party.
Other political leaders spoke out, including Anne Aly, Australia’s first Muslim MP.
“I’m tired of fighting,” she said, breaking down in tears as she addressed the chamber Wednesday. “I’m tired of having to stand up against hate, against vilification, time and time and time again.”
“(Parliament) is united today in condemnation of those terrible words that were spoken in the other place yesterday.”
The Australia Israel & Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC) also released a statement on Wednesday, calling Anning’s language “beyond deplorable” and demanding a “full and unreserved apology.”
Anning has remained defiant and unapologetic, and claims his words were taken out of context.
“Claims that the words meant anything other than the ‘ultimate solution’ to any political question is always a popular vote are simply ridiculous,” he said in a statement.
“Some in the media and leftwing politicians are simply afraid of the Australian people having a say on who comes here. As I called for a plebiscite on the immigration mix, this baseless and ridiculous criticism is simply an effort to play the man and not the ball,” Anning said.
Katter said he believed Anning hadn’t intended to evoke Nazi sentiment when crafting his speech, as the former farmer had spent his life “building pipelines” and “didn’t go to university.”
“The thrust is that the Jewish people in this country are to be protected,” Katter said. “Don’t you, with your hypocrisy, say you’re protecting them – you’re bringing people into this country dedicated to their destruction and their annihilation,” he told reporters.
The outrage over Anning’s comments follows fury earlier this month after broadcaster Sky News aired an interview with far-right agitator Blair Cottrell, who once called for a portrait of Adolf Hitler to be hung “in every (Australian) classroom and every school.”
Sky News later conceded it was “wrong” to give Cottrell air time and pulled recordings of the 10-minute interview from its website.
In a speech to the Whitlam Institute in Sydney the day after the interview aired, Australia’s outgoing Race Discrimination Commissioner Tim Soutphommasane said, “I take no pleasure in saying this, but, right now, it feels like there has never been a more exciting time to be a dog-whistling politician or race-baiting commentator in Australia.”
He later told CNN that Australia was generally a “highly cohesive and harmonious society,” but added “that doesn’t deny for a moment that racism continues to be a significant social problem.”