An inconvenient truth behind Australia’s immigration policy is that it is shaped by an anti-Muslim lobby.
The entire debate about controlling the intake of immigrants emerged in the wake of Muslim refugees arriving in boatloads after the American invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan to which Australia and Britain were the most active partners.
Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party was the direct result of anti-Muslim paranoia linked to the influx of refugees from war-torn Middle East. She was not mincing words when she said that Australia was in danger of being swamped by Muslims and Islam.
There were others like Pastor Nalliah and his church followers who joined her anti-Muslim bandwagon.
Later, when Tamil refugees started arriving from war-torn Sri Lanka Hanson’s anti-immigration tune changed from anti-Muslim to anti-Asian.
A series of noisy and at times violent protests by the United Patriots Front, another far-right group, against the building of mosques, added more to the voice of Islamophobia.
Of course, Australia is not unique in this 21st century phenomenon.
Europe and to a lesser extent the US also experienced even more vicious forms of Islamophobia. Donald Trump won his presidential election partly on an anti-Muslim platform. He translated policy into action by banning Muslims from a set of Muslim countries, which never posed a threat to the US.
What Islamophobia did in the UK, EU and Australia were to swing public opinion against Islam and Muslim immigration. Far-right political parties such as One Nation in Australia, National Front in France, UK’s Independence Party and Netherland’s Anti-Islam Party with their anti-Muslim manifestos were eroding into the traditional vote banks of centre-right and left parties.
With the end of the Cold War and collapse of the socialist economic dirigisme traditional right and left parties embraced open market capitalism and narrowed their differences in economic policy.
In Australia, like in the UK and US, there is no fundamental difference between the economic agenda of the government and opposition. However, both of them face the danger of losing votes to the far right parties whose major policy platform is anti-Muslim immigration.
The worst scenario will be for the far right to hold the balance of power in the parliament. In Europe coalition governments with anti-Muslim parties are now becoming an unavoidable option.
In Australia, which is neighbouring the largest Muslim nation, Indonesia, it will be undiplomatic and internationally damaging if the Liberal-National and Labour parties were to openly pander to Islamophobia of the far right.
Yet, the need to recapture traditional vote banks compel them to seek a compromise with that group. Therefore, the terminology has to be changed and should sound innocuous and non-discriminatory.
Immigration control, border security and Australian values serve the purpose. These terminological twists have added respectability to Islamophobia.
Immigration statistics do not reveal the religious or ethnic background of immigrants. However, newspaper reports inform that the intake of Muslims has been cut down drastically since the time of the Howard Government.
No doubt, the trend will continue in the future irrespective of which party captures government. It is undeniable that behind immigration control and border security lurks Islamophobia.