SYDNEY (AFP) – An Australian senator faced criticism from across the political spectrum and possible censure yesterday, after it emerged that he used taxpayer cash to fly business class to a far-right rally.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison and opposition leader Bill Shorten both condemned Senator Fraser Anning’s participation in the rally in the southern city of Melbourne last Saturday, a rare show of political unity.
Morrison accused the independent politician – who often votes with the Prime Minister’s Liberal coalition government – of “associating himself with extreme and offensive racist views”.
“He is a repeat offender on these issues,” Morrison said.
Anning once called for a “final solution” to Australian immigration.
An anti-immigration rally at St Kilda Beach in Melbourne drew hundreds of demonstrators – some of whom made Nazi salutes – and counter-demonstrators.
Anning initially defended the rally as the “start of something bigger”, but was forced to later defend his attendance.
Claiming he was 100 metres away from the neo-Nazi elements, Anning said he attended the rally – on the other side of Australia – in the interests of his constituents.
He denied the rally was racist, telling the Nine Network that “there were decent Australian people who demonstrated their dislike for what the Australian government has done which has allowed these people to come into this country.”
Labour Deputy Leader Tanya Plibersek called on Anning to pay back the cash.
“I think the vast majority of Australians would be disgusted to think their taxes are paying for an Australian senator to attend an event which seeks to divide, not unite our country.”
Immigration is a hot button issue in Australia. Nearly half of the country’s 25-million population was either born overseas or has at least one parent born abroad.
Morrison’s government has taken a hard line on immigration policy, defending the use of controversial offshore detention centres.
He has come under pressure for not immediately denouncing Anning’s attendance at the rally.
“Genuine concerns held by fair minded Australians about immigration levels, border protection or law and order should not be used as a cover or be hijacked to push hateful and ugly racist agendas,” Morrison said.
“I’ll always be prepared to call out extremism in all its forms.”