Politics

Cancelling Paul Parker For Liking Pauline Hanson Proves The Internet Can’t Handle Nuance

Parker revealed himself to be a Pauline Hanson supporter. That changes some things, but not others.

scott morrison Paul Parker Nelligen Firefighter

Paul Parker, the firefighter who has alleged that he was let go from the RFS after memorably telling Scott Morrison to get fucked, recently revealed himself as a Pauline Hanson supporter.

In an interview, Parker describes Hanson, who has built a career off xenophobia and hard-right migration policies, as the one politician who cares about Australia. “Come and see us in Nelligan, Pauline,” Parker says, throwing the camera thumbs up. “You’re unreal. You care about the country.”

Parker was already a political lightning rod before the revelation. His sledging of the Prime Minister ignited another tiresome debate about civility, and whether or not we have an obligation to be polite to politicians (spoiler: we don’t.)

For those on the left, particularly across Twitter, Parker became a symbol of a general frustration with our climate change-denying leaders. And for those on the right, he was another boorish, left-wing lout.

Although, of course, the new evidence suggests that conclusions about Parker’s political affiliations were premature — much to the delight of conservatives. It was Nine News’s Chris Uhlmann who broke the news of the firefighter’s Hanson support, and he did so with a barely contained glee.

“For all of those who are taking up the memorable catch cry of RFS volunteer Paul Parker … there is only one politician in Australia he doesn’t think should ‘get f-ed’,” Uhlmann wrote. “Guess who?”

Quickly, right-wing pundits began predicting that those on the left would abandon their new hero. Caleb Bond, a young right-winger who has made his name off the digital culture wars, suggested that the “#IStandWithPaul crowd” would drop Parker “like a sack of potatoes.”

And some did. But only some. Although there was a general outcry about Parker’s affiliations, only very few commentators turned that into specific personal sledges. It was all just noise; chatter. More volleys in the culture war.

This is the way it always goes. Think of Ken Bone, the American with a funny name who asked a question at a Town Hall meeting and was heralded as a hero, until he revealed that he might vote for Donald Trump. Or the case of Duncan Storrar, the Q+A audience member who found his personal life picked over and his criminal record splashed across the media after he lambasted Australia’s broken taxation system.

Conservatives need these talking points. People like Storrar, Bone and Parker become these new battlegrounds in an exhausting and un-ending culture war, where everything is always a symptom of something else, and where only absolutes exist.

In actual fact, the case of Parker is very simple. Pauline Hanson pushes some of the most hard-right policies in the Australian landscape. She stokes fear and hatred of non-white Australians, and any true leftist should resist and decry her influence whenever possible. That Parker thinks she’s “great” is symptomatic of the way that Hanson has managed to style herself as a woman of the people, a PR makeover that must be addressed and deconstructed immediately.

Does that mean that Parker should have gotten ousted from the RFS for his comments to the media, if that is indeed what happened? No. Does that mean that Scott Morrison shouldn’t get absolutely fucked? Also no.

No single human being can handle the scrutiny that the digital eye is capable of. We all get milkshake ducked in the end. That’s not to say that every single person is a Pauline Hanson supporter, or that we all have a comparable skeleton in our closet. It’s that politics and the digital discourse should be bigger than any single person and their mistakes.

Ultimately, the point is this: people who are wrong about some things can be right about other things. That seems blindingly obvious when written down. But so many of our cycles of digital discourse are designed to make us forget that. We’re constantly trying to score points off our political opponents. The easiest way to do that is to turn heroes into villains.

Easiest, but least convincing, or admirable.

Parker’s support of Hanson makes him a cog in a bigger machine. It is totally reasonable to not want to financially support that bigger machine, and to argue that Parker should stop getting the donations that he has thus far received from the public. It is not reasonable to turn on Parker, and to change one’s opinion about how ethical it was for him to face repercussions for telling a very wealthy politician to fuck off.

Of course, it’s not entirely surprising that we reduce talking points to people, and then attack people instead of talking points. 21st century politics has essentially been a popularity game, a bizarro version of the reality TV so many of us pore over. Some of us “like” politicians while only having the most vague understanding of what they actually push as policy. Particularly in Australia, we’re encouraged to view elections as competitions to see who can be the better bloke. Who’s better at eating a sausage sandwich: Shorten or Morrison? Who’s faster at kissing babies? Who’s got a nicer wife?

It’s an impulse to see politics as a game, with goodies on one side, and baddies on the other. And it’s an impulse that disguises questions about ethical policy behind the rights and wrongs of individuals.

The story of Parker is the same. You don’t have to “like” him to think he has expressed one correct opinion. You don’t have to want to sit down with a beer with someone to agree with their position on immigration. We are all of us composed of multitudes. That doesn’t make certain things more or less true.

Politics is of people, but not entirely reducible to people. We would do well to remember that — particularly when so many conservatives are trying to ensure we don’t.


Joseph Earp is a staff writer at Junkee. He tweets @Joseph_O_Earp.