Fear in an election year
The potency of words from the upper-echelons of politics to the classroom.
Fear is normal. Fear is unavoidable. But most importantly, fear is exploitable.
Fear in politics is nothing new. Communism, Tampa, refugees and immigrant violence have all been used in Australian politics to garner fear in exchange for votes. Psychologically, fear pushes its constituents towards tribalistic tendencies.
And during an election year, these attacks ramp up. Nothing mobilises the base like an ‘us’ vs ‘them’ mentality, whether it’s true or not. The reinforcement of negative attitudes and the marginalisation of minorities then trickles down from the broader political climate and into our universities and schools.
Our way of life is not safe, we are told. Asylum seekers are coming to attack you and your family, Africans gangs are stealing your dinner, there’s a war on Medicare. The problem is, fear is uninformed. Slogans work because the average voter doesn’t have time to debate the nuances of deeply complex issues.
After the controversial medevac bill passed parliament in February, it was open season for latent xenophobia. Painting a picture of refugees and asylum seekers as incompatible with Australian values is nothing new. Portraying immigrants as welfare cheats while simultaneously reprimanding them for taking local jobs is rife within our political discourse.
“Every [boat] arrival in Australia is on Bill Shorten’s head,” said Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
“We have people that can come to our country from Manus or Nauru, people that have been charged with child sex offences, people that have been charged [with] or have allegations around serious offences including murder”, said Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton, who repeatedly refused to disclose the numbers associated with his claim.
If the polls were anything to go buy, the Government’s border security scare worked. Christmas Island was re-opened. Australia was told to brace itself for an influx of criminals.
Only, according to senate estimates, this wasn’t true, as of the April 6th 2019, only one person had been transferred under the medevac legislation, and they bypassed Christmas Island.
This rhetoric has tangible effects. Racism on campus is not an uncommon experience for international students. Pakistani student Claire* knows this sentiment all too well, having been physically harassed and told to leave the country.
Another UNSW international student from Pakistan also endured comments pertaining to the restoration of “the glory of the British empire” and the conquering of colonies during a debate at the University of Sydney. Despite lodging a complaint with the ethics department, he received no feedback and no action was ever taken.
Racists, anti-immigration and anti-Asian slogans were also blasted across the University of Sydney last year.
And it appears that incidences like these are becoming less and less isolated.
“Just in Victoria over the last year where we saw a horrific campaign where politicians used deliberate racial scapegoating to try and win votes, our more than 50 centres in Victoria reported a 50 per cent increase in racist attacks,” Melanie Poole from the Federation of Community Legal Centres told Hack last year.
International university students are being demonized for taking Australian university positions and jobs. Michael Daley’s “Asians with PhDs” comments epitomized this. It is this fear towards immigration that fosters animosity towards minorities and forces voters to retreat into political tribalism.
Comments about an influx of immigration have become staples for conservative nationalist parties like One Nation and Fraser Anning’s newly registered party, often blaming immigrants to large scale crime trends, leading to further marginalisation.
Hear something enough times and you start to believe it. The illusory truth effect leads to a confirmation bias, leads to uninformed and incorrect assumptions. This becomes dangerous when you put it into the wider context of racism and immigration.
And it’s working.
Australians are feeling less safe, because we are being told that we are less safe by our politicians, despite homicide rates declining. The louder the fringe parties get, the more their rhetoric makes it into the public sphere, even if their messages are not based on facts.
One only needs to look at the comment section of a Fraser Anning post to know that true fear should be directed at the state of our education system.