The prime minister, Scott Morrison, has dodged the question of whether Pauline Hanson is racist, saying the right thing to do after Christchurch is to “reach out to the Muslim community and give them a big hug”.
Morrison said he did not believe people should apply a broad brush to the One Nation leader and pick on one issue, as she had something to contribute on other issues, such as family court reform – on which she has been criticised for promoting the views of men’s rights activists.
Asked directly on Melbourne radio 3AW by host Neil Mitchell whether he believed Hanson was racist, Morrison again demurred and said he had worked constructively with her.
“Look, Pauline has expressed extremely strong views on these issues over a long period of time. I must say, in more recent times, particularly in this term of parliament, we have worked closely with Pauline on a lot of important issues, issues like family court issues, which I know she feels passionately about,” he said.
“I think it is pretty easy to say … just go, ‘I have a view on this, so they have nothing to contribute on any other issue’, so I tend to deal with people on the issue they present to me, and Pauline has never raised or come to me on those issues. What she has been coming to me about is how welfare is spent and ensuring there is integrity on the welfare system, and she has very deep concerns about the way the family court system works.”
Hanson’s welfare complaints have also centred on Muslims, with the One Nation leader repeatedly accusing people of Islamic faith of having “multiple wives and having multiple children” in order to defraud Centrelink.
The Queensland senator also wore a burqa into the Senate, for which she was savaged by the then government Senate leader George Brandis. Morrison said he also disagreed with the stunt because it “disrespected the parliament”.
Morrison, however, said he did not find it helpful to label people, as Australia moved forward from its role in Friday’s Christchurch massacre.
“What I said last Monday, when I was here in Melbourne, is I don’t think it helps that we constantly go back to herding people into tribes and seeking to create further conflict around this stuff,” he said.
“I want us to all step back from all that. I want us to step back from all the name calling. I want us to step back and say, ‘let’s all just deal with the issues that are in front of us and stop treating politics like a sport where you have to pick sides and throw rocks’.”
But the Liberal party leader has been dogged over his position on accepting One Nation preferences, unable to answer whether he believes the the minor party should be placed below Labor or Green candidates.
Morrison – who intervened to save Craig Kelly’s preselection and parachuted his own candidate into the Gilmore electorate over the choice of the local branch – has repeatedly deflected the question by pointing to preference decisions on how-to-vote cards as the decision of individual Liberal state branches.
While ruling out an official preference deal with the far-right party, Morrison won’t say whether he believes the Liberal party should preference One Nation below the Labor party and the Greens.
Asked by Mitchell whether One Nation was “anti-Australian” in its party values, Morrison again declined to answer directly.
“I think there is a lack of knowledge or awareness or understanding, particularly when it comes to Islam in Australia and it can be sort of stereotyped,” he said.
“I think it is the job of leaders such as myself to improve that understanding, but the question is, ‘are all of their policies, all their policies inconsistent with Australian values?’ Well, many of their policies are not policies I would share.”
“When it comes to their views on immigration and the fact they believe that it is certain types of people in the immigration program which are the issue, no, I have never shared that.”
Morrison then attacked the Labor leader, Bill Shorten, for not having condemned the New South Wales state Labor leader, Michael Daley, for his comments about “Asians with PhDs” taking the place of Sydneysiders who had moved away due to affordability issues.
“Why has Bill Shorten not disassociated himself with Michael Daley, over the comments in New South Wales,” Morrison asked. “Why not?”