Pauline Hanson, founder of Australia’s far-right One Nation party, used her first speech in parliament in almost two decades on Wednesday to denounce Chinese ownership of assets and warn that the country is in danger of “being swamped by Muslims”.
Hanson is one of four One Nation senators elected in a July 2 general election, creating an important voting bloc when the two main parties – the governing centre-right coalition and opposition Labour party – disagree on legislation.
“Any foreign ownership is regrettable, but why are we allowing the Chinese government, an oppressive communist regime ,to own our assets?” Hanson said in the Senate.
“Why are we allowing our ports, utilities, services, agricultural land and industries to be acquired by foreigners of any nationality? Our land and assets are not for sale.”
Australia’s relations with its biggest trading partner are already on edge after Treasurer Scott Morrison blocked Chinese and Hong Kong bids for major energy grid Stategrid on unspecified security grounds soon after stopping the sale of cattle company Kidman & Co to a China-led consortium.
In response, China accused Australia of being protectionist.
Helen Sawczak, chief executive of the Australia China Business Council, told Reuters after the speech that there had been a “few speed bumps” in relations with China and the focus needed to shift to the opportunities Asia provided Australian business.
Hanson’s speech was delivered 20 years after she first entered parliament and gained international notoriety by warning that Australia was being “swamped by Asians”.
Her political fortunes soured within a couple of years of that 1996 speech.
But she won significant support in this year’s election with a high-profile campaign that included a call to ban new mosques and Muslim immigration and implement protectionist trade policies.
“Civil tension is on the rise across the country led by Australians feeling the impact of Islam in their lives and distaste for their beliefs,” she said on Wednesday.
Some lawmakers walked out during the speech in protest.
Hanson’s anti-Islam stance has gained some traction, and sparked tension in race relations.
Veteran political analyst David Black said the same protectionist sentiment that help unseat former British Prime Minister David Cameron and lift up Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump had come to Australia.
“She appeals to those who feel vulnerable and, in some cases, have lives that haven’t turned out to be tremendously successful,” Black said.
“It’s an extraordinary re-run of what happened 20 years ago.”