IMMIGRATION: Mr Brexit’s Aussie bombshell
THE man dubbed "Mr Brexit" will meet with "senior Australian political figures" next month as he warns of a similar upheaval Down Under if mainstream politicians don't address concerns over immigration.
Nigel Farage said while Australia may not have the same "cause célèbre for fundamental change in direction" as Brexit, the record low primary vote for the major parties and rise of minor parties showed the populist revolution sweeping the western world was "already affecting your country".
The former leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party and Member of the European Parliament played a major role in the 2016 vote to leave the European Union and is a close friend of US President Donald Trump.
Speaking hours after Sudanese migrant Salih Khater allegedly drove a Ford Fiesta into cyclists and pedestrians on Westminster Bridge outside London's Houses of Parliament in a suspected terrorist attack, Mr Farage said people "want to feel safer".
"What we do know is there are nearly 700 active investigations into potential terrorist groups (in the UK)," he said. "Europe has got a problem. The truth of it is you wouldn't want to start from here."
He said through European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and German Chancellor Angela Merkel's policy in 2015 of "saying anyone that wants to come can come", Europe had "imported an awful lot of people who wish that civilisation harm".
"We're in a very tough place," he said. "Where do we go from here? Well number one is a massively increased security bill, a change in many ways to how we live. Look at London, we've now built walls on our bridges to protect people walking over them."
But he said it was important to engage with the broader Muslim community. "There are some people who want to sort of go to war with the entire religion of Islam, and I've always argued strongly against that," he said.
"I'm all for us defending our way of life, the only warning I give is that if we appear to be embarking on a religious war, that would be a mistake."
Former UK Foreign Secretary and leadership hopeful Boris Johnson sparked controversy last week by saying Muslim women wearing the full face veil looked like "bank robbers" and "letter boxes".
Mr Farage, who defended the comments, said it was encouraging that "a lot of Muslim scholars and commentators have now put their heads up and said, this is not in Koranic law, it's not doing us any good".
He said Australia had been "slightly insulated by geography" from the global political shift reflected in the election of Mr Trump and the rise of populist governments like Italy's Five Star-Northern League coalition.
"But you're still very much part of the western world," he said.
"Your political class are tempted by the new global order, just as the Americans, British and the Europeans have been. I think the message really is number one, understand what's happened.
"Understand that Brexit, Trump and (Italian deputy leader Matteo) Salvini are not one-off flashes in the pan, they're actually part of a big, fundamental societal change that is taking place, and understand that those changes could happen in Australia, too.
"The internet has given people terrific empowerment to make change if they feel the established order is not representing them. So I would say to Australia, don't think this can't happen to you, because it can."
Mr Farage said it was about whether people felt the political class in the capital cities were representing their "thoughts, hopes and aspirations".
"What the change in the Australian voting pattern is suggesting is that there are people in Australia feeling the same thing too," he said. "The mainstream can of course stop the rise of smaller parties, if they're more in tune and more connected with ordinary folks."
The Brexit vote "would not have happened without the immigration issue" and there was a "very similar disconnect" between the political class and the public in Australia on the topic, he said.
Successive polls have revealed a growing unease with Australia's record high immigration intake. A survey last year by the Australian Population Research Institute found 74 per cent of voters said the country does not need more people.
A Newspoll earlier this year revealed 56 per cent of voters believe the existing immigration cap of 190,000 a year is too high, and an Essential Media poll found 64 per cent believe the level of immigration over the past 10 years has been too high.
In 2016-17, net overseas migration to the country came in at 262,500 people, 27.3 per cent higher than the previous year. Australia's population surged past the 25 million milestone at 11:01pm on August 7, sparking fresh calls to ease the strain on Sydney and Melbourne.
"I find it fascinating that even in a country like yours, which many of us up here hold in high regard because its points-based system and all the rest of it, that even there it's this disconnect," he said.
"You've had your terrorist attacks, you've had your problems that have occurred down there. People want to feel safer, they want to feel that the people coming into the country are going to pretty much absorb themselves within the existing culture."
He partly blamed the media for the growing discontent.
"People's faith in the mainstream media is collapsing - take CNN, since their non-stop, 18-month battle to get rid of President Trump, their ratings have fallen off a cliff," he said.
"People are voting with their feet when it comes to newspapers, radio and TV, and I think there is this perception that big business, big media, big politics, they're all in it together."
Asked whether he had an opinion on Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Mr Farage said he didn't "want to get drawn into individuals within Australian politics".
"All I would say is that I was very disappointed during the referendum that so many Australian political figures seemed to argue that the UK should stay part of the European Union when clearly the freeing of the UK from the EU should be a very good thing for Australian and UK relations," he said.
In the lead-up to the June 23, 2016 referendum, both Mr Turnbull and opposition leader Bill Shorten said they would prefer the UK to stay part of the EU. After the Brexit vote, Mr Turnbull "consoled" outgoing UK leader David Cameron.
Former PM Tony Abbott bucked the conservative trend and supported the Remain side, but after the poll appeared to backflip, telling a London audience he was "quietly thrilled that the British people have resolved to claim back their country".
"I found it extraordinary how all the global politicians, Australia included, got behind this, 'Let's keep the EU, let's keep the global order'," Mr Farage said.
"But it's happened, and whilst Mrs May is not doing the job very well, the prospects for our two nations with Brexit are much better than they've been for decades."
It's generally thought the chances of a free-trade deal between Australia and the UK after March 29, 2019 would be better under a so-called "hard Brexit" as opposed to a "soft Brexit", in which the UK effectively remains a member of the EU in all but name.
"An independent UK is able to choose its own friends," Mr Farage said.
"We're able to strike our own trade deals, we're able to form our own relationships. I think for many of us who are big Commonwealth supporters, which I very much am, the last few decades have been very frustrating.
"We've watched the UK getting ever closer to the European political project to the detriment of our global relationships. I'm optimistic, I think we can do trade deals together, there can be a new kind of renaissance, if you like, of the English-speaking peoples of the world."
Mr Farage would not reveal which politicians he planned to meet on his tour of Australia next month, where he will speak at a series of events billed as an "entertaining evening with Nigel Farage". He said we wanted to meet fisherman Rex Hunt and cricketer Dennis Lillee.
"They're my great Australian heroes," he said.
"All I can say at this stage is there are some quite senior Australian political figures that I will be meeting on my trip, but I can't disclose those names right at the moment," he said.
"But clearly there are figures in Australian politics I do look up to from previous times. I thought John Howard was a remarkable man who I've had the privilege to meet, but in terms of current day-to-day politics I want to be slightly careful."
Details of Nigel Farage's Australian tour can be found at nigellive.com.au