The anti-Islamic Australian Liberty Alliance insists it is not a racist party. But First Nations Peoples might have their doubts after hearing the musings of candidate Ron Pike. Max Chalmers reports.
A candidate for the Australian Liberty Alliance (ALA) has told New Matilda that Aboriginal people were better off before the 1960s and that the Stolen Generations are “basically a myth”, after being quoted in a local paper as observing that treating Aboriginal people differently was “reverse apartheid” and that “Aboriginal culture has got no future for the Aboriginal people”.
Ron Pike, a candidate for the populist anti-Islamic ALA in the regional NSW Seat of Farrer, told New Matilda that Indigenous people were better off before the late 1960s and that there was no future for those “living in the past, following cultural practices they employed 200, 300, or 1,000 years ago”.
Aboriginal people were only granted universal suffrage in 1962, and Queensland continued to prevent voting until 1965. They were not counted in the census until after the 1967 referendum, and Native Title was not acknowledged legally until 1992.
Asked whether children removed as part of the Stolen Generations had been better off, Pike said that Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal children had been treated the same and that the Stolen Generation is “basically a myth”. He said Australia now spent “exorbitant amounts” on Aboriginal communities and that they would have to realise “very, very quickly” that taxpayers would not agree to keep funding “unproductive lives”.
“What we’ve done is created a generation of Aboriginal activists, if I can call it that, who have got this victim mentality. Any Aboriginal or part-Aboriginal person that’s come up in Australia today who said they’ve got a victim mentality is just stupid,” he said.
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Veronica Collins, a Wiradjuri woman who lives in the electorate, was appalled after she saw some of Pike’s comments reported in a local paper, and pointed to the numerous members of her family working in the region and elsewhere as a counterpoint. Collins had her own maternal grandfather removed and placed in a boys home, which is where her family adopted their last name.
“[Mr Pike] is an ignorant, foolish little man, and needs to take the veils off his eyes and see this is 2016,” she said.
She said his comments were marked by hatred and stereotyping. “Who is this person? What gives him the right to talk about my culture, to have my identity taken away from me,” she asked.
Collins said that she usually declines to vote and pays a fine instead, but that seeing the comments had driven her to get involved in the election. She is now volunteering for the Greens.
The ALA has not previously been associated with anti-Indigenous policies or sentiments, and has worked hard to argue that it is not against Muslims but instead the “ideology” of Islam. At a recent forum in Tweed Heads, ALA Senate candidate Kirralie Smith sat next to Pauline Hanson and said that Islam was not a religion.
Pike – who has joined his party in advocating a 10-year ban on Muslim immigration, and whose fellow ALA candidate Bernard Gaynor once said he would not want his children taught by “gays” – insisted that people should not be differentiated based on “race or religion or anything else”.
The Australian Liberty Alliance has grown its presence markedly over the course of the current campaign, bringing Dutch Islamophobic politician Geert Wilders to Australia to help launch the party. The ALA is running 21 candidates on Saturday, mostly in NSW and Queensland.
On top of Pike’s comments, ALA candidate Alan Biggs appeared to mock the idea of an acknowledgement of country at the party’s Queensland launch last week. The Senate candidate decried political correctness and the “nanny state” and then thanked the venue owners rather than traditional custodians of the local area.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I think we should, would like to recognise the traditional owners of this particular venue and thank them for hiring it to us,” he said.
At another recent ALA event, candidate and former musician Angry Anderson joked that he was Indigenous, as he was born in Australia, BuzzFeed news reported.
While Pike is keenly interested in the issue of water distribution in his electorate of Farrer, a safe Liberal seat held by Health Minister Sussan Ley, the party has become prominent more broadly thanks to its anti-Islamic posturing, and ties to the Reclaim Australia movement. A number of Reclaim rallies saw Aboriginal flags used as props among a sea of gold, green, and blue.
The ALA’s policy and core principles guide makes only one direct reference to Aboriginal or Indigenous people, calling for a strengthening of remote and Aboriginal health services.
This appears to conflict with Pike’s views, with the candidate telling New Matilda that services such as dwellings should not be built for Aboriginal people living in remote areas where jobs could not be found. Asked what should happen to white regional communities suffering low levels of employment, he pointed back to his water policies which, he argues will increase regional opportunities, and blamed the Turnbull government for failing to deliver.
Other key ALA candidates including Debbie Robinson and Bernard Gaynor – the former Katter staffer now making a play for the Queensland Senate – did not return calls asking for comment.
But Steve Roddick, the party’s candidate for Lindsay, said he didn’t know what Pike’s comments about the future of Aboriginal culture meant.
“Aboriginal culture is specific to Aboriginals and I think it’s important part of their makeup, the same as any other individual in the country, they’ve got their own culture,” he said.
Asked about his views on the Stolen Generations, Roddick declined to give a specific answer, pointing back to his general view that there should be “one law for all Australians, no matter what ethnic background they have”.
Despite the fact incumbent Liberal Sussan Ley won Farrer with ease in 2013, taking home just under 58 per cent of the primary vote, Pike is determined.
“Because the parties have all got their heads together and put me last on the ticket I’ve really got to get 50 per cent to get there. Is that possible? It’s incredibly difficult but I’ll tell you what, we’ll give it our best shot.”
In 2013, minor right wing and centre right parties took home less than 13 per cent of the primary vote in Farrer. Aboriginal people make up 4.1 per cent of the electorate, according to the Bureau of Statistics’ 2011 Census data.
In the lead up to the election, some News Corp outlets declined to run ALA advertisements.
“We can’t have hateful people representing us,” Collins said. “Why would I want [Mr Pike] representing me when he hates me and my culture, and is judging my kids for not working when they do.”
Collins noted that one of her sons works constructing silos, used by local farmers.
“I’d love to see [Mr Pike’s] face when I tell him what my sons do. We’re doing our part for Australia.”