But in between, Anning had just demanded a “final solution” to Muslim immigration, using Adolf Hitler’s exact words to describe what is now known as the Holocaust.
“We should ... ban all immigrants receiving welfare for the first five years after they arrive. The final solution to the immigration problem is, of course, a popular vote,” Anning said.
Now, the member of the fringe Katter’s Australian Party is known across Australia — but for all the wrong reasons.
Anning refused to apologize for his remarks, saying that they were not meant to be understood in the Nazi context. But even as his party leadership stood by Anning, the vast majority of Australian politicians viewed his comments as deliberate and despicable.
Leaders of all major parties condemned the rhetoric, and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull described it as “appalling.”
“Two words would speak for the brutalization and murder of millions. Two words that evoke fear and grief and trauma and loss,” said Bill Shorten, leader of the Australian Labor Party.
The disgust voiced over Anning’s remarks might be real, but just as real are some of the other headlines that Australia’s conservative government has itself produced in recent years:
In Parliament, the Australian government’s rhetoric has largely remained conciliatory. Prime Minister Turnbull emphasized this week that “people from every corner of the earth, from every religion — or of none — and every race can connect, be inspired by, be part of [our] values. That is Australia.”
Some of the actions by Turnbull and his predecessors, however, have sent a very different message.
For five years, Australia has detained hundreds of refugees on a remote island that is part of Papua New Guinea. Deadly clashes, deteriorating conditions and pro-immigration protests in Australia kept their plight in the public debate. Some of the men have since been resettled in the United States, but human rights organizations recently raised renewed concerns over the health of those who remain.
Australia maintains that the criticism is unfair and that Papua New Guinea officials are to be blamed. “Addressing irregular migration through secure borders has been essential in creating the confidence that the government can manage migration in a way that mitigates risk and focuses humanitarian assistance on those who need it most,” Turnbull said in 2016.
But abroad, the dispute has made the country’s self-perception as a human rights defender less credible.
Australia’s Refugee Council accused Turnbull’s government last year of “fast becoming an international pariah in relation to its human rights record” and expressed concerns over “the lives and safety of many thousands of people suffering due to Australia’s cruel policy and practices.”
The U.N. Human Rights Committee’s then-vice chairman, Yuval Shany, lashed out at Australia’s “chronic noncompliance” with human rights laws last year. “The question is: How does the state justify treating migrants as criminals?” he asked.
A U.N. report issued later urged the Australian government to take more steps to combat racist hate speech and violence. The concern, experts warned, was that anti-immigrant rhetoric may eventually escalate.
At the time, the Australian government described the criticism as “bizarre.”