Politics

The reasons behind Australia's racism

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An "enthusiastic" "gentleman" participating in the Cronulla riots, not one of Australia's proudest moments (Image YouTube screenshot)

No matter how much we deny it, Australia can be a racist nation, but there are several factors causing this, writes Peter Wicks.

WE MAY LIKE TO tell ourselves we are not a racist country in Australia, but let’s face it, a lot of Australians are racist. They may not all be neo-Nazis, but they are racist nonetheless.

In New Zealand, our nearest neighbour, they celebrate Maori culture with the haka at major events, such as the football. In Australia, we have inquiries into Black deaths in custody, while booing and racially vilifying footballers who celebrate their Indigenous culture from the sideline.

On one hand, we celebrate cultures like the Italian and Greek with food festivals, and celebrate Chinese culture here with colourful festivals involving dragons and traditional dancing. But on the other hand, we celebrate Lebanese culture here with the Cronulla riots.

Of course, we now look back on the Cronulla riots as a dark day in our history and we’ve come a long way since right?

Yeah, right…

Katter Party Senator Fraser Anning’s maiden speech was no doubt disgusting and whether he meant to use the words “Final Solution”, or even understood their meaning, really is not the major part of the equation for me. It was the underlying themes of bigotry, hatred and ignorance in Anning’s speech that should have sparked the most outrage – not just two words – but, unfortunately, they didn’t. That is the new norm in politics, it would seem. Talking about Muslim Bans and a return to the White Australia policy is now a legitimate debate in some circles.

The Anning speech has been met with bipartisan condemnation, with over an hour of speeches from both sides in the House of Representatives on Wednesday. Many have been cynical about this bipartisan approach, despite PM Turnbull and other Coalition MPs’ speeches condemning Anning for his words.

And you know what? I don’t blame them.

The true opinion of the Coalition is revealed in their immediate reaction to the speech, which Turnbull and co would have you believe caused them so much offence.

Immediately after Anning’s speech, the Deputy Leader of the National Party, Bridget McKenzie, leapt up to her feet to give Anning a kiss, a hug and big congratulations. She probably would have only jumped up quicker if he’d also advocated putting firearms in the hands of more people. But it wasn’t just McKenzie, she was followed by Senators Canavan, Martin, Bernardi, O'Sullivan, Leyonhjelm, Stoker, McGrath, Duniam, Paterson, Scullion, Georgiou, Cormann, Fierravanti-Wells, Williams, Smith, Bushby, Storer, Hinch, Rushton, Griff and Patrick.

I do note, however, that Hinch has given a sincere apology since, actually breaking down in the process.

Yes, congratulating a Senator after their maiden speech may be a tradition, but it is a tradition adhered to by all parties.

Not a single member of the Labor Party, or the Greens, shook Anning's hand or congratulated him after the speech, despite his vote being crucial in a hung Senate. Not one. I guess principles are more important to some.

Turnbull did finally react to the controversy, but only after witnessing the public outrage and only after his Senate team had lined up to congratulate Anning.

The Coalition's former Attorney-General, George Brandis, explained to us all back in 2014 that everyone has a right to be a bigot. Now, in 2018, the Coalition are left scratching their heads and wondering how we arrived at this point?

The answer is simple. We arrived here because the Coalition and some in the media allowed us to get here.

The very same people who sought to protect the silence of religious leaders when it came to the rape and sexual assault of infants wanted to protect the rights of racists and neo-Nazis to scream hate speech from the highest mountain. Perhaps this is indicative of where their bread is buttered.

George Brandis’s interest in protecting the right of the bigots was brought on by a promise Tony Abbott allegedly made to Andrew Bolt to have section 18C of the Discrimination Act changed after Bolt was found guilty of breaching it. It seems that in spite of all of the putrid, vile and hate-fuelled nastiness that we hear today, for some this is not enough and there is more bile they would like to spew out but can’t because 18C holds them back. Although, no matter how many times those who want it changed are asked, none of them has been able to shed any light on exactly what it is they can’t say.

Since then there have been countless scares and unhinged debate around all kinds of issues. Sharia Law, for one, while our closest ally continues to execute felons and is legally fine with waterboarding prisoners. A misguided conversation around Halal certification is another, while our Christian churches ferried paedophiles around from parish to parish. And, of course, the “debate” continues around those seeking asylum, fuelled by the fear of Islamic extremism being pushed by extremists of Christian background, which has seen Australia’s reputation on human rights plummet to new, unchartered depths.

Debate around off-shore processing is one thing, as we did a horrific job of on-shore processing, but the indefinite detention of families whose only crime was to flee persecution is utterly abhorrent. The only thing worse than their indefinite detention is watching them suffer physical and mental trauma continuously while they are under our care, and our Government's negligence in watching some die from a treatable infection, while denying medical treatment is, in my humble view, a new low.

Now the attitude in some sectors of the media seems to be “cross the line and apologise for it later”. Each time it happens, the line becomes a little more blurred, until eventually there will be no line. Whether it be columnists like Bolt talking about Australia losing its identity, the News Ltd press drumming up Islamophobia or the fear of black African gangs, or Sky News giving a platform to a neo-Nazi to express his views unchallenged, the level of racist rhetoric appears to be on the rise for public consumption.

We make too many excuses in this country. One of my favourites is the “bloody Queenslanders” excuse — you know, the old “us and them” mentality. With Pauline Hanson and Blair Cottrell coming from Queensland, it’s an easy excuse to make, but an ignorant one.

The chief peddlers of these views don’t stem from Queensland. In Victoria, the State some label as progressive, we have the likes of Andrew Bolt and house the headquarters of the IPA, while NSW is blessed with Miranda Devine and Paul Murray. These two states also house the head offices and flagship publications and broadcasts for News Ltd as well as Sky News and the shock jocks of Macquarie Radio.

The other excuse is that this bigotry stems from economic hardship. This excuse does hold some water, as there is no doubt that an increase in one is followed by an increase in the other. However, I don’t believe this happens on its own. Bigotry takes hold and spreads when the flames are being fanned. Make no mistake, these fans are being flamed by many in the media, however it is not the media alone.

The Coalition, whose Senators were quick to embrace Fraser Anning after his speech, have for too long sought to gain political leverage off the back of this bigotry and encouraged the Right-wing media.

The standard you walk past is the standard you accept and the Coalition embraced this standard long before their Senators embraced Fraser Anning. Whether it’s 18C, debate about a Burqua ban, Halal certification, or an entire State election campaign based around the fear of African gangs, these were all acceptable to the Coalition. While the Coalition was happy to endorse this standard of debate, they were also doing preference deals with One Nation and telling us that the party of bigotry were “more sophisticated” than they used to be. As Tony Burke stated in parliament this week, there is nothing sophisticated about bigotry.

Until the Coalition can agree amongst themselves that this has gone too far and make a concerted effort to change course, I fear that things will only continue to worsen, despite the best intentions of others.

Wednesday’s words by Turnbull and his Ministers in parliament mean absolutely nothing without follow-up actions.

Nothing at all.

Peter Wicks is a Federal Labor Party staffer. You can follow Peter on Twitter @madwixxy.

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