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Australia - a racist backwater

By Greg Barns - posted Thursday, 22 December 2005

Australia is a backwater, a racist and inward-looking country that turns its back on adventure and the opportunity to do better; a country that has rejected leaders who provide the chance for a multiracial, multicultural and independent nation to prosper in the region where it is, Asia-Pacific.

It is a nation which periodically makes world headlines for its racist outbursts, whether it be the disgraceful campaign of the Howard Government in 2001 to demonise the wretched and the weak who sought sanctuary on our shores, or the media and political leaders who barracked for Pauline Hanson's inane and stupid rhetoric about Aboriginal Australians and Asians, or the racist thugs now taking it upon themselves to beat up anyone who looks as if they are from the Middle East.

Attacks that Prime Minister John Howard refuses to see as examples of Australia's racism, which is exactly what they are. Perhaps that's because he is partly to blame for last week's appalling events and for the persecution of Muslims and Arab Australians in the community. For 20 years Australia looked as though it might move from its Anglo-European racist conservatism towards becoming truly cosmopolitan and modern. Gough Whitlam, Malcolm Fraser, Bob Hawke and Paul Keating all believed in an Australia that was different from the one in which they had grown up.


Keating promised an exciting Australia that embraced Asian cultures, that saw itself as a bridge between European and Asian cultures and which finally rid itself of the British monarchy. The electorate, though - selfish and materialist, if not racist - felt scared and voted Keating out, replacing him with the most conservative Prime Minister this country has ever had. They replaced the positive confidence of Keating with the cringing, reactive conservatism of Howard. The conservatism that gives a wink and a nod to Pauline Hanson's racist attacks; the conservatism that attacks people on the basis of their religion and race; the conservatism that demonises people clinging desperately to leaky boats as they do what any of us being oppressed in our homeland would do - seek asylum in a free country; and the conservatism that allows the media and security agencies to talk up the links between Muslims and terrorism as though they are inextricable, despite not one charge being successfully pursued through the courts.

It's the conservatism that dismantles the policy of multiculturalism, a policy Malcolm Fraser championed and which refuses to allow Anglo-European traditions to suffocate other great cultures and value systems. It is also a conservatism that refuses to let Australia grow up, a conservatism that forelock tugs before an English Queen and a British monarchy that is rancid and corrupt. The racist thuggery of the past week is the inevitable consequence of the conservatism of people such as Howard and former New South Wales premier Bob Carr, a conservatism that never challenges and dismantles the antics of such media as The Daily Telegraph in Sydney and shock-jocks such as John Laws and Alan Jones, who perpetrate a myth about Arab Australians being different and somehow less Australian than the rest of us.

It's a media which shamefully subscribes to the view that the rape of European women in Sydney five years ago by a gang of young men, who happened to be Lebanese, was a battle between the values of Arab Australians and European Australians; a media which whips up fear and loathing by attacking the right of Muslim women to have their own time in a local swimming pool for religious and cultural reasons; a media which gives comfort to people such as Pauline Hanson by providing her with all the air time she needs and then, when she's on the political scrapheap, allows her to become a television celebrity.

Why can't Australia be more like Canada, a nation that embraces civil rights and tolerance, with political leaders who stand up to racism and nastiness; a nation that sees its role in the world as an independent nation and which is not frightened to stand up and be counted in the global fight for a fairer world.

Let's admit it. Australia has become a pigsty. The majority of voters have succumbed either to materialism or to the underbelly of their soul, an underbelly that gives free rein to fear, racism and xenophobia. This is the land of missed opportunity, the land where the alternative government is made up of populist conservatives such as Julia Gillard, sometimes touted as a leader, or Kevin Rudd whose capacity for imagination and vision seems severely limited.

Why not leave? Because to cut and run is cowardly. There are decent people who wish for more and surely they will win out one day - if not for themselves, then for their children and grandchildren.

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First published in The Mercury on December 19, 2005.

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About the Author

Greg Barns is National President of the Australian Lawyers Alliance.

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