Not content with spearheading a concerted racist campaign against the Indigenous Voice to Parliament and his repeated vile attacks on Aboriginal youth in Alice Springs, Peter Dutton has now turned his fire on migrants.
Some liberal commentators have criticised Dutton for “racist dog whistling”, but there was nothing at all subtle about the message of the opposition leader’s budget reply speech that migrant numbers were out of control. It was a blatant appeal to the basest reactionary sentiments in Australian society.
You didn’t need to be some genius to work out what was going on. The racist far right, hardly renowned for their intellectual sophistication, rapidly picked up which way the wind was blowing with the neo-Nazi National Socialist Network immediately organising a rally in Melbourne to back up Dutton’s anti-immigrant message.
Dutton is hoping to exploit anger over the cost-of-living crisis, housing shortages, falling real wages and skyrocketing rents by focusing on a convenient scapegoat (migrants) rather than the real culprits: the banks and the fossil fuel companies that are raking in record profits, the price gouging landlords and Australia’s rapidly expanding cohort of billionaires.
The reality is that wages were already falling sharply, prices escalating and infrastructure totally inadequate at the height of the COVID crisis when migration to Australia had collapsed. Migrants aren’t responsible for the ongoing assault on living standards that is driven by the bosses’ relentless drive for profits.
Dutton turning his fire on migrants should come as no great surprise—he has impeccable racist credentials.
As Immigration Minister, Dutton specialised in vilifying refugees. He walked out on the apology to the Aboriginal Stolen Generations. He notoriously claimed that Melbournians were too frightened to go out to restaurants because of the supposed threat of African gangs and declared that the Fraser government should never have let in Lebanese Muslims.
But it is not simply a question of Dutton as a racist individual. The Liberal party has long sought to stir up racial hatred both for their immediate electoral advantage and to safeguard the wealth and power of their big business backers.
Former Prime Minister John Howard was notorious for his attacks on Asian migrants, on Aboriginal people, on Muslims and above all on refugees. Howard gave the green light to Pauline Hanson’s far right racist crusade.
The business establishment and the corporate media have for decades strongly supported high levels of migration. However, it is notable that they have not come out stridently denouncing Dutton nor in an earlier period did they determinedly take on Howard’s anti-migrant rhetoric.
This reflects the fact that the capitalist class are in no sense anti-racist. They see racism as a vital cog in the armoury of capitalist rule used to justify imperialist wars, to stir up divisions amongst workers and deflect attention from the real problems confronting people.
Yes the capitalists are for high levels of migration, but that is not out of some humanitarian concern for migrants and refugees. The bosses simply see migrants as “good for the economy”, i.e., as fodder to be exploited at the lowest cost possible.
And the bosses know that while the Liberals cynically use racist rhetoric to stir up divisions and help win elections, once in office they have not actually slashed the migrant intake.
Labor’s track record when it comes to taking on racism is also appalling. Labor is all for the occasional gesture like the Indigenous Voice to Parliament, but on issue after issue—whether it has been locking up refuges, Muslim bashing, Aboriginal deaths in custody or racist law and order campaigns—it has always been on the side of the oppressors against the oppressed.
Moreover, Labor’s latest budget did nothing to relieve the ongoing cost of living pressures faced by most workers, despite a few gestures towards those at the very bottom of society. Labor increased taxes on workers while refusing to tax the super profits of the energy companies and the banks, and continues to back tax cuts for high income earners.
This opens space for Dutton and the far right to exploit workers’ genuine grievances by scapegoating migrants. If the economy falters over the coming year and unemployment begins to rise, the far right can become a serious threat.
That poses a dual task for the socialist left. We have to expose the racist lies of the likes of Dutton and protest the far right whenever they raise their heads. Counter mobilisations like that by the Campaign Against Racism and Fascism against the National Socialist Network are vital.
However, the left also needs to put forward a militant program to counter attacks on workers’ living standards with calls for rent freezes and increased taxes on big business to pay for a massive expansion of public housing and infrastructure and champion strikes for higher wages.