In the wake of the horrible mass shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand, that targeted two mosques and left 49 worshippers dead, Australian Sen. Fraser Anning of Queensland released a totally abhorrent statement in which he blamed the attack on Muslim immigration.
"Whilst this kind of violent vigilantism can never be justified, what it highlights is the growing fear within our community, both in Australia and New Zealand, of the increasing Muslim presence," said Anning in a statement. "The real cause of the bloodshed on New Zealand streets today is the immigration program which allowed Muslim fanatics to migrate to New Zealand in the first place."
Needless to say, the timing of this statement is totally reprehensible, and its substance is unambiguously racist. Blaming a mass shooting on the mere presence of its victims, who were doing absolutely nothing wrong, is the height of callousness.
Given that Anning is indeed a sitting senator in Australia's parliament, his remarks are getting a lot of attention and a lot of well-deserved scorn. However, Anning's statement is also being treated like it is representative of the views of a large number of Australians. More specifically it's being deployed to attack New York Times' columnist Bari Weiss, a favorite target of very online left-wing journalists, and who wrote a January 2019 column in which she praised Australia for its centrism and lack of toxic culture war politics.
That Bari Weiss NYT op-ed about how Australia is "mercifully, not in the midst of a raging culture war" not holding up too well. https://t.co/sKCmoqiZqP
— Matthew Gertz (@MattGertz) March 15, 2019
This sitting Australian Senator is going for the *Pauline Hanson isn't anti-Muslim enough* market. That market is larger than some commentators — who gush over Australia's allegedly charming centrism — like to admit. https://t.co/7Lb9F721SC
— Jonathan Swan (@jonathanvswan) March 15, 2019
remembering how bari weiss said australian politics was all chill and mates etc https://t.co/EQnpfUtzpt
— libby watson (@libbycwatson) March 15, 2019
The problem with this analysis (apart from the fact that it's naked political point-scoring in the aftermath of a horrible tragedy) is that Anning is a total gadfly and disgrace in Australian politics with no popular constituency. His election was an absolute fluke in which he got only 19 votes.
Understanding how this racist clown got elected with such a small number of voters requires understanding how Senate elections work Down Under, which is incredibly confusing.
In Australia's Senate elections, parties draw up ranked lists of candidates to stand for election. Voters are then given the option of voting for parties or for these individual candidates. Seats are won not by securing a majority of votes but by getting over a pre-established quota of votes. In the most recent election, a party or candidate needed only to get 7 percent of the vote to get a seat.
Votes that go to a party are then distributed down their list of candidates. So if a party wins two seats, the first two candidates on their list get a Senate seat.
Matters are complicated further by the fact that Australian Senate elections also incorporate alternative preference voting, meaning that voters get to rank candidates as their first, second, third choice and so on.
If you're first preference doesn't win after all the first preference votes are calculated, your vote is then transferred to your second choice; or if they don't win, to your third. In Senate elections, Australians are required to express a minimum of six preferences if they're voting for parties, or a minimum of 12 preferences if they choose to vote for individual candidates.
The confusing nature of this system, and the low vote threshold to actually earn a Senate seat, all but guarantees that obscure or fringe candidates will manage to sneak their way into parliament. Which is exactly what happened in Anning's case.
In the 2016 Australian federal elections, Anning—a nearly bankrupt hotelier—was placed third on the list of candidates for the right-wing, anti-immigrant party One Nation, founded by Pauline Hanson, which has long been controversial in Australian politics.
In the 2016 election, One Nation grabbed 9 percent of the vote in the state of Queensland (which is kind of like Iowa but with more desert and better beaches) largely on the basis of Hanson's individual popularity.
After all the preference votes were sorted out, Hanson's One Nation party ended up with two seats, one going to Hanson, the other initially going to Malcolm Roberts, who was second on the party's list. Ironically for an anti-immigrant party, Roberts was soon booted out of parliament for being a British citizen.
That meant that One Nation's second senate seat got passed down to Anning, a man who'd never held elected office before and who only 19 voters actually gave an individual first-preference vote.
That Anning entered office with such little popular support should already disqualify him as serving as a bellwether of Australian attitudes on pretty much anything. His subsequent marginalization after entering parliament should indicate what a total pariah he really is.
After referencing the need for a "final solution" to immigration in a maiden speech that also saw him endorse the return of racial and religious preferences when admitting immigrants, Anning found himself condemned and disowned by Hanson and her party (which, for Americans, is like being called out by Steve King for anti-immigrant attitudes).
He briefly joined another, even smaller populist, anti-immigrant party but was then expelled by them too, for his continued racist remarks.
He's discredited himself further in recent months by sharing racist memes on social media and by using taxpayer dollars to pay for his travel to a tiny, anti-immigrant rally outside of his home state. Despised both inside and outside of parliament, Anning will almost certainly be out of a job after the next election.
His horrible remarks in the wake of this past shooting are being condemned by the entire political spectrum.
Fraser Anning's comments today are contemptible. He is a disgrace to the Senate and what is worse by spreading hatred and turning Australians against each other he is doing exactly what the terrorists want.
— Malcolm Turnbull (@TurnbullMalcolm) March 15, 2019
While families in Christchurch mourn for loved ones they've lost, an obscure Australian Senator saw this act of terrorism and tragedy as an opportunity to blame the murder victims.
— Bill Shorten (@billshortenmp) March 15, 2019
To be clear, Anning deserves no one's sympathy. His remarks are being rightfully condemned. What we shouldn't do is use Anning's statement as evidence of widespread attitudes held by Australians, or as ammunition against a New York Times columnist everyone loves to hate.