Australia's problem with racism

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Australia has a racism problem, says former MP Denise Allen, and it is being played out by our inhumane treatment of boat refugees, most of whom are genuine legal asylum seekers.
by Denise Allen.

Scratch many an Australian and you will find a racist. Whether anyone likes to admit it or not, Australia has always had an underlying – and sometimes blatant – racism problem.

From the moment the British invaded these shores and took over Terra Australis, white man set about systematically, and literally, massacring a race of people who had survived in this wild and wonderful land for well over 40,000 years. White man was determined to exterminate a race of people who – although they did not speak the Kings English, nor wear the silken top hat and tails, hand made shoes and leather gloves of the so-called highly educated aristocrats of the British Isles – had their own highly developed society, system of family, art, politics, law and order, environment and, particularly, their dreamtime spirituality and connection to country that may not have been acceptable to the landed gentry, but had certainly preserved a very proud people with the longest known surviving culture on the planet.

Had those invaders not been so murderous and been far more peaceful, they could have learnt a lot from the Indigenous people of this nation particularly in regard to dealing with the environment and also family relationships. Today, many Australians still ridicule and look down upon the Indigenous cultures that, if they actually bothered to study and understand them, they would find truly were truly sustainable in this land.

During the gold rush, there were violent anti-Chinese riots in the Buckland Valley of Victoria and at Lambing Flat (Young) NSW. And, after WW2, we feared the Italians, Greeks and others who came to this land to work on the Snowy River scheme and find a better way of life after their countries had been decimated by war.

The underlying fear continued throughout the 1960’s and ’70’s. White Australians still held a deep-seated suspicion and were derogatory toward the Vietnamese after the Vietnam War — a war in which Australia should never have been involved.

The White Australia Policy – that had its origins at Federation in 1901 under the first Barton Government, supported by a minority Labor Government and was legislated under the Immigration Restriction Act (1901) – was systematically dismantled from 1947, firstly under the Chifley Labor Government and then by the Menzies and Holt Governments. In 1975, the Whitlam Government introduced the Racial Discrimination Act and the Fraser Government in 1978 removed race from all official policy.

Mandatory detention with a 273 day (9 month) limit was introduced by the Keating Labor Government in 1992, with Opposition support, and was amended in 1994 to remove the imposed limit — again with Opposition support. This put in place the foundation for indefinite detention. But they were never meant to be the degrading and dehumanising prisons the Howard Government turned them into.

But, as time rolled on, people of other lands assimilated into this country and the fear subsided.

The deep seated hatred of those different to white people has certainly abated over the last 200+ years, but there is still an underlying racist in many an Australian.

For all intents and purposes, this country was at peace with itself.

Or so it seemed.

Now, in the 21st century, we have people from the Middle East to hate and fear and be suspicious of.

Prior to 2001, the issue of asylum seekers (and it is not illegal to seek asylum in Australia) was relatively bipartisan. The racism in people had the lid kept on it and was only quietly spoken about within the walls of ones home.

Then September 11, 2001, happened. An atrocity that no country should endure.

Howard, along with George W Bush, took us into an illegal war with Iraq. A war he and his fellow Coalition MP’s knew was illegal and based upon lies.

After refusing the Tampa entry to Australian waters, Howard then proudly stood at his pulpit of fear and shame and said: “We will decide who comes into this country and under what circumstances”.

He may as well have said: “We will re-introduce the White Australia Policy.”

In doing so, he gave permission to every Australian with that simmering, underlying racist streak to come out of the closet and put their hand up. And they put them up in droves.

Howard had unleashed the ugly monster of racism — giving people permission to wear their racism as a badge of honour.

The hideous genie was well and truly out of its bottle.

A flat-footed Labor Party stood like rabbits in a spotlight while Howard was cheered on by frenzied mobs of rabid racists — the frightened and the apathetic. Unfortunately, many of these people were die-hard working class Labor voters — some even from my own family. Proof, you can choose your friends but not your relations; because I would never knowingly choose a rabid racist to be my friend but, unfortunately, I am stuck with my relations.

Viewing this ugly turn of events through the prism of votes, Labor capitulated to Howard’s regressive new immigration policies.

And so set in place the new era of racism that has been allowed to flourish unabated into the welcoming arms of Tony Abbott, who has driven the fear and hate campaign to a whole new level.

Abbott’s “Stop the Boats” slogan, I believe, was never about stopping refugees getting on dangerous boats — it was always about ‘stopping people from Middle Eastern ethnicity” coming to Australia.

The Labor Party, still flat-footed and still looking at the issue through the prism of votes, struggles with its long held philosophy of compassion and its need to design a policy that will stop desperate people risking their lives.

The Coalition will tell those who are only too willing to listen that Nauru worked. No it didn’t.

In March 2006, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) António Guterres issued a press release stating that, in 2005, the total number of asylum seekers arriving in the 38 industrialized countries for which comparable historical statistics are available was the lowest since 1988 – at 331,600 – and had fallen each year since 2001.

Excerpt from press release from UN Refugee Agency, 17 March, 2006.

This was not because of Australia’s Pacific Solution. To say or presume it was is laughable. It is a proven fact that seekers of asylum moving around the world dropped dramatically as a result of 9/11 and, due to the removal of the Taliban, thousands of Afghanis returned to their homeland.

In the press release, Guterres stated that given the low numbers of asylum seekers in the past year, politicians, the media and the public who advocate making the asylum system more and more restrictive should no longer have a reason to claim that that there is a huge asylum crisis and should focus on improving the quality of their asylum systems with a view to protecting refugees, rather than focusing on just cutting numbers.

"These figures show that talk in the industrialized countries of a growing asylum problem does not reflect the reality…. Indeed, industrialized countries should be asking themselves whether by imposing ever tighter restrictions on asylum seekers they are not closing their doors to men, women and children fleeing persecution."

"With the numbers of asylum seekers at a record low, industrialized countries are now in a position to devote more attention to improving the quality of their asylum systems, from the point of view of protecting refugees, rather than cutting numbers …. Despite public perceptions, the majority of refugees in the world are still hosted by developing countries such as Tanzania, Iran and Pakistan."

The SeivX happened after the introduction of the Pacific Solution, regardless of what George Brandis tells you on Q&A.

People languished on Nauru for up to seven long years on temporary protection visas, suffering immense self-harm and mental health issues. Up to 70 per cent of refugees were eventually granted asylum in Australia, New Zealand or other countries and 30 per cent were sent home.

The majority of what could appropriately be titled “illegal immigrants” are those who fly into this country on valid visas and then overstay. These numbers are five times more than those who risk their lives on dangerous leaky boats.

Of all refugees seeking asylum around the world, Australia’s “problem” is miniscule —less than 1 per cent.

Worldwide, the issue of asylum seekers is a vexing and complex one because no one seems to be able to come up with an answer to solve it. But, whilst countries wage war and persecution internally and externally, we will always have refugees.

How we stop people risking their lives to do so is the question.

The answer, of course, is to stop the wars. Stop the persecution. Stop the greed and corruption. But that would mean a complete and enduring mind shift for all mankind – especially politicians – and I doubt very much that this is about to happen.

Being an idealist, I suggest we could start by being a more peaceful, accepting, caring and sharing world — and that applies to all countries and religions. But, while men and women of all races and religions continue to distrust, dislike and have a need and greed to dominate others for resources and the almighty dollar – and, well, just because they can – desperate people seeking a better life for their families, and particularly their children, will continue to seek refuge in a safe, wealthy, haven.

I believe the United Nations hold initial responsibility for refugees around the world. But unfortunately, it is not compulsory for signatory countries to pay their fees. The whole ‘who owes who’ issue surrounding which countries owe their UN dues is a quagmire, and diving into that quagmire would be like diving without a scuba outfit and getting the bends. Therefore, the UN has become a relatively weak and ineffective body with the USA, in particular, not wanting the UN to have power enough to – as the Americans see it – interfere with US Foreign Policy.

So on and on the debate goes and where it will end no one knows.

What a screwed up violent world we live in where politicians use the suffering of those less fortunate than themselves to play their sick political games.

In 1788, white man invaded Terra Australis and over a generation systematically massacred a 40,000 year old culture because they didn’t fit the white man’s mould. Today, white man may have advanced technologically, but they certainly haven’t advanced much in terms of politics, compassion or tolerance.

And also today, unfortunately, ugly, cruel and discriminatory racism is still openly vented at our Indigenous people. The Indigenous people of this land still continue to suffer greatly from the original and continued inhumanity and discrimination perpetrated upon them and from having their culture all but decimated.

(For more information see http://www.ajustaustralia.com/info/mythsfacts.php or read more on Independent Australia under the Indigenous Australia or New Australians categories.)

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