Politics of hate cast a pall over state election campaign

The state election campaign has been a civilised affair. Then,on Tuesday,a crowd of hundreds,predominantly men,set upon a small group of protesters outside a Catholic Church hall where the NSW leader of Pauline Hanson’s One Nation,Mark Latham,spoke on “protecting schools from alphabet activism and lawfare”. Out of nowhere,the politics of hate has cast a pall over the election.

Two people have been charged by police after the out-of-control confrontation between some 250 people and about 10 LGBTQ protesters outside the Church of St Michael the Archangel at Belfield in south-west Sydney. Riot police were called and surrounded the group Community Action for Rainbow Rights for their protection.

Members of the Community Action for Rainbow Rights group were surrounded by counter-protesters outside St Michael’s Church in Belfield where One Nation leader Mark Latham was giving a speech.

Latham denounced what he called “the equivalent of a riot”,saying “some parishioners took exception to the fact that access to their church was going to be blocked by these transgender protesters”. He also criticised the protest group for blocking the road,forcing him to make a back door entry to the hall. “People like myself,a politician running for elected office,should be allowed to make his speech without that kind of action,” he said.

Latham conveniently overlooks the anomaly between proclaiming his right of free speech and the protesters’ right to protest. But,with publicity surrounding the confrontation attracting wide condemnation,it will certainly have little impact on Latham’s supporters. In a campaign where the media has concentrated on leaders and policies of the main parties,coverage of the rumble has probably given One Nation much-needed publicity. But then,Latham has always had an eye for the main chance. From his days as Gough Whitlam’s clever local schoolboy,to Liverpool mayor and onto the federal Labor leadership,he was an astute self-promoter,until Australian voters rejected him in the 2004 federal election. Thirteen years later,he joined Pauline Hanson’s One Nation and snared a NSW upper house seat in the 2019 state election.

One Nation may have evolved into a parliamentary superannuation plan for high-profile personalities and though always delivering less than promised,it has an ability to discombobulate seasoned political players. Both parties privately express some concern about the impact One Nation could have in determining the election results as opinion polls show the Coalition and Labor are running neck and neck on primary votes. The Liberals are the most vulnerable. One Nation is fielding candidates in 17 of the state’s 93 lower house seats,including a clutch of ultra-marginal seats in western Sydney such as Leppington,Holsworthy,Penrith and Parramatta and regional seats on the NSW South Coast where the Liberals have suffered turnover in MPs and candidates.

But those seats will be decided by voters using the freedoms that abound in Australia.

An example of those freedoms occurred less than a day after the Belfield confrontation:protesters campaigning against logging in native forests and wearing koala onesies and masks surrounded Environment Minister James Griffin at Manly,a stark counterpoint to the intimidation on display at Belfield as a way of influencing or crushing political debate.

Violence has no place in NSW politics. Rather,a sense of respect,tolerance and acceptance of diversity are required as society becomes increasingly complicated and disconnected. To this end,the behaviour of both the Liberal leader Dominic Perrottet and the Labor leader Chris Minns this election has been exemplary in illustrating how people of different political views can and should behave. Both politicians have gone out of their way to be polite to each other and campaigned on policy rather than personality or private bias,and should be congratulated.

Bevan Shields sends a newsletter to subscribers each week.Sign up to receive his Note from the Editor.

Since the Herald was first published in 1831,the editorial team has believed it important to express a considered view on the issues of the day for readers,always putting the public interest first.

Most Viewed in Politics