On the 15th of October, the Government voted with One Nation in favour of Senator Pauline Hanson’s Senate motion claiming that there has been a rise in ‘anti-white racism’ in Australia, and that it is indeed ‘okay to be white’. Labor, the Greens and crossbenchers voted to reject the motion, narrowly winning 31:28.

After the motion was narrowly rejected, the government went into damage control. Prime Minister Scott Morrison called the incident “regrettable”. Mathias Cormann, the leader of the government in the Senate, explained that “the government should have opposed the motion”, and accidentally voted for the motion due to an ‘administration error’.

The uproar surrounding this motion lies in the wording ‘it’s okay to be white’. This is a phrase commonly used by white supremacists. By supporting a motion that used wording adopted by neo-Nazis and white supremacists, the government appeared to be supporting their ideals.

The question of how the government accidentally voted for something still remains. Does the government actually support the ideologies of white supremacists? Or are they just really bad at their jobs? What is the truth here? Because let’s be real, an ‘administration error’ sounds like a massive cop out.

Cormann explained how this ‘administration error’ occurred. “When the motion was first put forward in September, we made a decision to oppose that motion and to make a statement in our own words that as a Government we deplore racism of any kind, but not to actually support the motion.” Okay, seems legit. Then what happened? “As a result of an administrative process failure, the Government Senators in the Chamber ended up on advice voting in support of the motion.” Ummm… That doesn’t make sense. Wouldn’t the senators actually read the motion for themselves, and realise it is something the Government would not support?

Prime Minister Scott Morrison called the administration error “regrettable”. Image Source: Alex Ellinghausen

The text of the motion was available for anyone to read since September. There are multiple steps in the voting process, including speeches from Hanson explaining her motion – and speeches from others who oppose it. For government senators to still vote for Hanson’s motion, after all this, is baffling. It indicates that they are either not doing their jobs – or supported the motion. Both of which are not a good look for the government.

“It’s our job to know exactly what we’re voting on, and I would have thought the Government would know exactly what they are voting on too”, said Rebekha Sharkie, Independent MP, after the incident.

There were 28 senators who voted to pass the motion. Let’s break down who they are, what they stand for, and how on earth they could have let this motion *almost* be passed. Yes, we are naming and shaming.

Eric Abetz, Liberal Senator for Tasmania, casually dropped a racist slur on radio while defending his opposition to gay marriage. He claims he has “always condemned racism across the board.” Stating after the “it’s okay to be white” incident that he was “comfortable” voting to “condemn racism against white people”, although he acknowledged that the wording of the motion “wasn’t as elegantly written as it could have been”.

Senator Eric Abetz was one of the members of Government who voted to pass Hanson’s motion. Image Source: Stefan Postles via Getty Images

Simon Birmingham, Liberal Senator for South Australia, Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, and Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate admitted that he did not properly read the motion presented by Hanson. “Clearly my failure not to have double checked that was a mistake and I’m sorry for the perceptions that has caused.” A reminder that the base salary for Senators is $199,040 a year. Birmingham is paid that much to double check documents – not to make excuses for not doing his job.

Concetta Fierravanti-Wells is a Liberal Senator for NSW, and child of Italian immigrants. She has condemned Hanson’s beliefs in the past, saying “contemporary Australia has changed from when Ms Hanson was first elected. Today diversity is contemporary mainstream Australia.” But on the 15th of October, she sided with Hanson’s motion. Strange.

“We had senior ministers tweeting in support of that motion and then pretending that they had voted for it by accident.” – Tanya Plibersek, Deputy Leader of Labor

Lucy Gichuhi, Liberal Senator for South Australia, is Kenyan born and the first person of African descent to serve in the Australian parliament. However, she voted in support of a motion that contained white supremacist speech. In a now deleted tweet, she stated “I say no to white supremacy. I say no to black supremacy. But I say yes to HUMAN supremacy.” Perhaps she did not, in fact, read the motion, or listen as it was read out in the Senate. If she had been paying attention, maybe she would have picked up the ‘it’s okay to be white’ phrase used by white supremacists. Her job is to pay attention. She is paid $200,000 to pay attention, and properly read documents. Although, according to her “it’s not a lot of money”.

Kenyan born Senator Lucy Gichuhi voted to pass Hanson’s motion, which used white supremacist language. Image Source: Standard Digital

Jane Hume, Liberal Senator for Victoria, has claimed in the past that “women and people of non-white background should ‘work harder’ if they want to get into Parliament”. After these comments, supporting Hanson’s bill is not a good look for her. Perhaps politicians like Hume should support people of colour in entering politics, rather than deploring anti-white racism.

Jim Molan, Liberal Senator for NSW, said that calling the incident an “administration error” was a “weak excuse”, and that “it’s not (the Government’s) best day, to say the least”. He acknowledges that he messed up and should have done better. So do better Molan!

Barry O’Sullivan, National Party Senator for Queensland, had perhaps the most telling response to the ‘it’s okay to be white’ incident. When asked by Greens Senator Rachel Siewert if he knew what motion he was voting on, he said, “I don’t know and I don’t care, because you’re over there, which means I’m over here. It’s all I need when I come in. I don’t look for the whip, I look for you people.” This indicates a lack of critical thinking, and clearly demonstrates that O’Sullivan did not read the motion, and did not care to read the motion. It is his job to represent the best interests of the Australian people – how on earth can he do that if he doesn’t read what he is voting on?

“I don’t know and I don’t care, because you’re over there, which means I’m over here. It’s all I need when I come in. I don’t look for the whip, I look for you people.” Barry O’Sullivan, Senator for Queensland, on whether he knew what he was voting on in Senate on October 15

Nigel Scullion, County Liberal Party Senator and Indigenous Affairs Minister, stated that he was “unaware when (he) entered the Senate to vote that it was on this particular motion.” Not only would Scullion have heard Hanson explain her motion, but he would have also heard the responses with opposing viewpoints from Derryn Hinch and Richard di Natale. To not know what he is voting on is inexcusable. It is his job to know.

Senator Nigel Scullion (left) for the County Liberal Party and Senator Pauline Hanson (right) for One Nation in the Senate Chamber. Image Source: NT News

Zed Seselja, Liberal Senator for Australian Capital Territory and Former Multicultural Affairs Minister, explained that he was “not familiar with the particular phrasing” of the motion and that he and the government “reject any association” with any white supremacist groups that use the phrase, ‘it’s okay to be white’. He also claims that the Government “(abhors) racism of any type”.

This leads us to look at the various bills and motions voted on by the Government, who supposedly “(deplores) racism of any kind”. After all, actions speak louder than words and excuses.

The government voted against ending immigration detention on Manus Island and Nauru, voted against removing children from immigration detention, voted against increasing scrutiny of asylum seeker management, voted against refugee family reunification, voted against putting a time limit on immigration detention, voted strongly for imprisoning detention workers who record or reveal information from their work, voted very strongly for turning back asylum boats when possible, voted against increasing Aboriginal land rights, voted against increasing protection of Aboriginal heritage sites.

The government has claimed that they do not support racism, however, have voted numerous times in support of keeping refugees detained on Manus Island and Nauru, including refugee children. Image Source: World Vision

Along with the Senators already discussed, the following Government Senators have also voted on these arguably racist bills: Slade Brockman, Liberal Senator for Western Australia, David Bushby, Liberal Senator for Tasmania, Matthew Canavan, LNP Senator for Queensland, Michaelia Cash, Liberal Senator for Western Australia and Small Business Minister, Richard Colbeck, Liberal Senator for Tasmania, Jonathon Duniam, Liberal Senator for Tasmania, Mitch Fifield, Liberal Senator for Victoria and Minister for Communications and the Arts, James McGrath, LNP Senator for Queensland, Bridget McKenzie, National Party Deputy Leader and National Party Senator for Victoria, Linda Reynolds, Liberal Senator for Western Australia, Anne Ruston, Liberal Senator for South Australia, Dean Smith, Liberal Senator for Western Australia, Amanda Stoker, Liberal Senator for Queensland, and John Williams, National Party Senator for New South Wales.

If these senators feel uncomfortable, offended, or even disturbed by the suggestion that they are racist, or even incompetent, perhaps they should look back on what they have supported in Parliament, and whether they have even read or understood the bills and motions they supported. Because the fact remains, the Government have supported racist bills and motions against Aboriginal people and against asylum seekers, time and time again. Pairing this information with the government’s ‘accidental’ support of Hanson’s ‘it’s okay to be white’ motion, suggests that the Government is either racist or incompetent. And they, in fact, have chosen incompetent.

“The government’s latest excuse is they’re not racist, they’re just incompetent” – Greens Senator, Adam Bandt

Government Senators need to do better. It is their job to read and re-read what they are voting on. If they don’t want to appear to be racist, maybe they shouldn’t vote for things that make them seem racist. They work for us, so it’s time they do their job properly. Because ‘administration errors’ are unacceptable.