Dog whistles

There’s a bit of discussion around the traps to do with dog whistling. The idea is that Tony Abbott is dog whistling to the electorate on the issue of refugees by talking about “being tough on boat people” (one of his 12 point plan is “Enforce strict border security and control”). Similarly, Abbott’s ad showing the “threat” of Australia being swamped by asylum seekers, showing big red arrows attacking Australia has been presented as masterful dog whistle politics.

However, in my view, this is just an example of the Liberals and Tony Abbott sharpening their racist framing openly.

Dog whistle politics is about saying something that is interpreted by a certain section of the population differently to the rest of it. Howard’s statement that “we will decide who comes to Australia and the circumstances in which they come” is a dog whistle because for Australians who are anti-immigration and anti-foreigner, Howard is telling them “we’ll keep the foreigners out”. For the rest of Australia, it sounds like a simple border security issue without overt anti-foreigner overtones.

The red arrows and anti-boat people rhetoric from Tony Abbott and his immigration spokesperson Scott Morrison in comparison are just out and out courting the substrata of racist voters. There’s no dog whistle. It’s just a plain whistle that everyone can hear.

The Liberals have decided to try to legitimise anti-refugee, anti-boat people rhetoric in the public domain – much as Pauline Hanson did. While Howard was never out and out racist, because he courted the centre of Australian politics, Tony Abbott is all about agitating and exciting his ultra-conservative “base”. Because Rudd and Gillard have captured the centre, Abbott is adopting US-style Tea Party tactics.