It 'slipped through': How the Coalition is trying to explain its votes for a Senate motion saying 'It's OK to be white'

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  • The Coalition is scrambling after its senators voted in favour of a motion declaring “It’s OK to be white”, a phrase with connections to white supremacists.
  • Attorney-general Christian Porter said it was due to an email that was sent from his office without his knowledge which indicated his support for the motion, and that the “associations of the language were not picked up”.
  • Prime Minister Scott Morrison and the government’s Senate leader Mathias Cormann have described it as “regrettable” and an error.

Senior Coalition figures have been trying to explain how government senators ended up voting for a motion One Nation leader Pauline Hanson which stated “It’s OK to be white”, blaming an email with misguided advice from the office of Attorney-general Christian Porter.

Porter issued a statement which said “an early email advising an approach on the motion went out from my office on this matter without my knowledge”.

Porter explained:

It appears that, of the very large number of motions on which my office’s views are routinely sought, this one was not escalated to me because it was interpreted in my office as a motion opposing racism. The associations of the language were not picked up. Had it been raised directly with me those issues would have been identified.

The “associations of the language” in the phrase “It’s OK to be white” involve rather well-established connections to white supremacists.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said it was “regrettable” Liberal senators supported Hanson’s motion, which claimed that “anti-white” racism was on the rise in Australia.

Senate Opposition leader Penny Wong said the administration error explanation was a “craven and pathetic attempt to try and clean up your mess.”

“The reality is yesterday’s decision by Government Senators to vote in favour of a phrase created and disseminated by white supremacist groups around the world is a shameful episode.

“There is nothing innocent, nothing unknown, nothing hidden about this phrase. Frankly, the claim that somehow the government didn’t understand it or didn’t understand this or didn’t know about it is not believable.

“As to government senators who walked in here like sheep yesterday to stand up behind One Nation and Ms Hanson, frankly, do you really deserve to be here? Who is running the government?” she said.

Hanson said that Morrison and Cormann are feeling “white guilt” in their backtracking of the support for the motions.

“If I said that ‘it’s ok to be black’, every senator would have voted for it.”

The motion was defeated 31-28. Those 28 senators who supported the bill include Small Business Minister Michaelia Cash and Trade Minister Simon Birmingham.

Government leader in the Senate Mathias Cormann echoed Porter in a statement, saying that the support for the motion was down to the email which caused senators to act on incorrect advice.

“It is a matter of administrative error. There is a process involved. There are 50 or 60 motions that get moved this way every week. There is a process involved in determining the position of the Government in relation to 50 or 60 motions a week,” Cormann said.

“As I indicated when this motion first came up, we made a very clear decision to oppose that motion.

“It wasn’t voted on in September. It came back up yesterday and it slipped through. It shouldn’t have, and I take responsibility for that,” he said.

Cormann said the plan had been for the government to “deplore racism of any kind but not to actually support the motion”.

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