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Far-Right Parties Fan Ecosystem Of Hate, Ex-Australian Prime Minister Says


A massacre in New Zealand throws a harsh light on the country from which the accused gunman came. He's a white nationalist from Australia, which has its own history of racism. Kevin Rudd, a former Australian prime minister, is among those responding. What did he feel when he heard the news?

KEVIN RUDD: Shock, horror, shame. I think any person who's been a former head of government or a current head of government would feel that if one of their own nationals was responsible for an action like this.

INSKEEP: I understand the shock. But was there also some level on which it was believable that there would be such an element in Australia?

RUDD: Well, both here in the United States and Australia and other Western countries, you see the rise of the "alt-right." And you see this bubbling out all over the place, whether it's in Breitbart or in some of the other "alt-right," far-right, racist outlets around the world. And these things feed off each other.

Within Australia, of course, you have far-right-wing political forces. These folks also fan this sort of sentiment within Australia. And there is a far-right party called the One Nation party which is a bit like Alternative fur Deutschland. It's a bit like UKIP. It's a bit like these other far-right movements. So that, too, has helped, as it were, turbocharge this global ecosystem, social media ecosystem of hatred.

INSKEEP: Australia, of course, has elements of its history that Americans will find somewhat familiar because we have, in some ways, similar history - a history of a country founded by colonizing a country and pushing aside natives, a history of state-sponsored racism and a more modern debate over refugees and immigrants.

Can you make all of that particular to Australia, though? What is the debate like in Australia right now?

RUDD: The debate in Australia as we speak is divisive, it's ugly and becoming progressively partisan. We, too, have a big problem in terms of our treatment of Indigenous Australians. But that's also why, frankly, our side of the political divide in Australia - the Australian Labor Party - has been strong in its defense of multiculturalism and the Muslim minority in Australia.

But those on the right and far-right have often seen this as a big political opportunity, as they do in the United States and as they do, also, in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. So it's a hard debate. But it's not one, therefore, that you can walk away from. Defending the principles of a multicultural country within a stable and prosperous democracy, that's our future as I see it.

INSKEEP: Do you not have to worry about demographics - about how majority white a country is, for example?

RUDD: We are the classic melting pot. But on the numbers alone, in New Zealand, 1 percent of the country is Muslim; I think in Australia it might be 2 or 3 percent. And frankly, this entire argument being advanced by the white supremacists about so-called white genocide is absolute nonsense against any factual survey, but it does inculcate the politics of fear. And what we know about the politics of the right and the far-right in so many of our democracies is that because their policy program for the economy is usually so bad, that this gets masked by the fear of, as it were, racial hatred. And as a consequence, it becomes part and parcel of the political toolkit of the right and far-right around the world.

INSKEEP: Former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, it's a pleasure talking with you.

RUDD: It's good to be with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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