Is the Abbott Government just pandering to the views and values of the mob in order to retain power? Arrin Chapman believes many of Reclaim Australia's arguments resonate with the government's line.
SINCE COLONISATION, Australia has had a poor record with regard to race relations.
Academics and critics, such as Victorian QC and vocal opponent to the White Australia policy Howard Nathan, claim that this is slowly but steadily improving.
In many respects, it has been — the White Australia policy is history (in legislative terms at least), Kevin Rudd apologised to the Stolen Generation on behalf of the Australian parliament and multiculturalism is generally celebrated as a pillar of Australian identity.
Nevertheless, there is still quite a way to go, as highlighted by the recent anti-Islamic marches held across the country. The question is, are these racist rumblings the death throes of an increasingly shrinking minority seeking relevance or something larger and more sinister?
If a democratic government is seen to reflect the society that it governs, then what do the policies and rhetoric of the current Australian government reflect about its people?
The most recent and most publicised example is the Western Australian Government’s attempts to shut down Indigenous Communities and relocate the people living in them. Aside from the obvious – and heinous – parallels with the White Australia Policy and other policy decisions of the time, which viewed government as the paternalistic guardian of Indigenous peoples, the most striking thing in this situation has been our Prime Minister’s reaction.
Even for a politician known for his lack of articulation, the implications behind his "lifestyle choice" comment are astounding. It demonstrates a complete disregard for the culture of people already disenfranchised from wider Australian society, a people who still remember the last time they were removed from their country.
The idea that the only way for society to function is in an Anglo-centric capitalist model founded on colonial ideals is a worrying step backwards.
Couple this with the government’s fear-mongering campaign against people seeking asylum in Australia and one begins to wonder who the audience for this heavily racial rhetoric is. The assumption, logically, would be that the Abbott Government is pandering to the views and values of the majority in order to retain power.
The recent Reclaim Australia rallies would appear to support this hypothesis by sheer force of numbers. Thousands marched across the country in support of a return to a “traditional White Australian” identity and the Government’s rhetoric, though wielded with a great deal more political tact, also seems to validate this idea that White Australia’s fathers built this country and as such have ownership over the Australian national identity.
Indeed, many of the arguments put forth by Reclaim Australia have an uncomfortable resonance with the Government’s line. Having said this, anecdotal evidence suggests Reclaim Australia does not represent broader public opinion, with Reclaim Australia protesters being well out-numbered by counter protesters in many cases. This begs the question of why the Government would pander to such a small minority.
It is evident from even the briefest analysis of Reclaim Australia’s rhetoric that their core ideology is founded on racist assumptions and paranoid Islamaphobia. This is demonstrated in the choice of key speakers for the rallies. Sherman Burgess, one of the key organiser of the rallies, summed this up perfectly in an interview just before the rallies. His fear that Australia is being taken over by stealth contextualises perfectly Reclaim Australia’s core precepts.
The nine points that make up the foundation principles of Reclaim Australia smack of Judeo-Christian dogma and colonial ownership. Points such as ‘Keep our traditional values (Christmas, etc)’ completely ignore the millennia-old traditions of Indigenous peoples. It also flies in the face of the idea of multiculturalism — a precept that Burgess claims to have no problem with. Amongst their other demands are banning the teaching of, specifically, Islam in public schools. This comes with the implication that they have no qualms with any other religions being taught and that Islam, as a whole, is to be feared, not just the extreme elements — a point that Burgess repeatedly denies.
This is the manifesto of a racist, paranoid group afraid of losing an identity they believe is sacred because their ancestors fought to create it, without acknowledging that this identity was forged at the expense of the nation’s First Peoples.
This is the core of the similarities between this group, groups similar to it and the Government: fear of losing the narrative of the “a few tinnies around the barbie” Aussie battler; that new ideas from new lands may necessitate a change in the way things are and that they may lose who they are in the process; fear that they may, first hand, learn what it is like to become displaced, losing all ties to the comfort of their culturally hegemony in the process. This was the crux of the White Australia Policy and can be clearly seen in the language currently used by both the Government and these groups.
This, however, isn’t sufficient to explain why the Government would continue to dog-whistle racist ideas if the numbers in yesterday’s rallies are indicative of the general consensus of the Australian public. What might shed some light on this is a story from the ABC about a Sikh taxi driver who was racially abused on multiple occasions in his cab.
The reason that this is important is that it uncovers a darker part of modern Australia that is not addressed enough.
In polite society, one can make sweeping generalisations and discriminatory remarks based on race or ethnic background, as long as one is not seen to be racist or uses the inane disclaimer of “I’m not racist, but…”. There is an implication that ordinary “patriotic Australians” (as they are termed on Reclaim Australia’s website) are entitled to make judgements about people who happen to share the same ethnic background because of a collective fault — the fault of not “fitting in”.
Thus, the Abbott Government is simply reflecting in its rhetoric what Reclaim Australia so hamfistedly represents: the belief that those outside the Judeo-Christian, Anglo-centric capitalist paradigm have an obligation to conform to it and that White Australia is entitled to decide who is or isn’t part of the exclusive club of “Australians”.
Racism is still very much ingrained in many psyches in Australia — so much so that many people are not even aware how white entitlement creeps into their everyday assumptions and conversations. If one can, however, take something away from Saturday’s rallies, it is that at least the loudest voices are those on the side of change and tolerance.