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Australia really ISN’T racist, but…

Incredible, isn’t it, how fast our political parties forgot about their commitment to saving refugees’ lives?

No, now we are preventing them from taking our jobs and raping our daughters. We must deny the country skilled workers (whom we presently lack) in order to…I’m not certain what.

Happy to have some editorial bias in image selection hereWe need to create special ‘behavioural protocols’ (known to the rest of us as ‘laws’) for those seeking asylum. We have potential leaders conflating foreigners seeking refuge with paedophiles as the only other group whose whereabouts is required to be made public. Despite clear evidence that they are objectively LESS dangerous than the norm.

Our PM would stop “foreign workers being put at the front of the queue with Australian workers at the back. We will support your job and put Aussie workers first,” as one of her top five priorities for western Sydney.

Her top five. Presumably ahead of tax, superannuation, energy, the environment, industrial relations, trade cadetships, you name it. Stopping those nasty foreigners figured ahead of the lot.

At this point, we are quite literally one step short of calling for refugees to start pinning yellow felt badges to their clothes.

The one thing we’re damn sure not worried about any more is these poor people dying at sea. No siree.

I’m not going to write about the ins and outs of migration, other than to say that 457 visas are, much like refugees, a small number of people. We took in a net 11,630 457 visa holders in 2009-10 according to the ABS, an increase of less than 2,000 since 2004-05. This isn’t masses of people. What I’d like to talk about, rather, is something closer to my heart, which is the way we TALK about migrants.

At issue is the way in which we have chosen to frame the issue of refugees in Australia, our relation to it, our obligations to them, and our ability to deal with long-held challenges posed by our white history and geographical location.

The ‘debate’ (if furious agreement cloaked in posturing argument can be called such) over asylum seekers has seen several incarnations since it really hit the headlines in 2001. Under Howard, it was very much about ‘protecting our borders’ (particularly after September 11), as well as deciding who will come and how. These ideas are rooted in the appeal to our sense of safety and security.

But who is it that we feel so threatened by?

This was followed closely by the notion of ‘queue jumpers’, appealing to the sense of fairness that Australians all proclaim to hold more closely than those other nations.

But where was the queue?

The eventual election of a Rudd government saw ‘tough but humane’ and ‘break the people smugglers’ business model’ emerge as the new framing for dealing with the ‘problem’ of asylum seekers.

It's not black or white(Incidentally, the word ‘problem’ itself is an excellent framing device. Problems require solutions, after all. In this case, the problem is easily interpreted simply as ‘brown people in boats’ by those who wish to.)

The notion of fairness was now flipped, and we saw in the mirror Australia as the virtuous parent, handing out tough love for the benefit of others.

Then, there was the Christmas Island tragedy. Forty-eight people died on the rocky coastline of a tiny island which is unfortunately famous for all the wrong reasons. Suddenly, in the light of this, tough and humane didn’t seem such natural partners anymore.

At that point we reached what was perhaps the nadir of what is becoming a deep national scar. Days upon days of crocodile tears in parliament, with no party willing to take sufficient steps to actually save all of these lives they proclaimed to care so much about (although it must be said that the Coalition were first among equals in this regard).

Then, as the deaths at sea slowed up (or the coverage dried up, who really knows?), we’ve reverted to status quo australis. Protect our borders, jobs, women, whatever. It’s not actually relevant, because we know that Australia has NEVER wanted immigration from countries ‘unlike’ us. All of the different framing devices have been used by politicians seeking ways to appeal to a deep, lasting bigotry, while not appearing outwardly racist.

(At this point the usual disclaimer is probably due – Australia is not a ‘racist’ country, any more than America, with its history of slavery and dispossession of Indigenous people, is. Or France with its persecution of Algerians is. Or even racism towards Afghan Hazaras within the country itself. Racism is a global problem.)

In George Megalogenis’ excellent Quarterly Essay, he relayed a story of one of Australia’s earliest opinion polls.

A Gallup poll taken in 1951 asked voters “whether or not Australia should get immigrants” from a list of seven countries.

The Netherlands (80.6 per cent), Sweden (76.8 per cent) and France (59.4 per cent) recorded strong yes votes. At the other end of the scale, the public said “not wanted” to people from Greece (only 42.7 per cent of voters wanted them), Yugoslavia (33.5 per cent) and Italy (27.3 per cent).

The reason for the discrepancy can be seen in the response to Germany. Unlike the Greeks, who were our allies in World War II, the Germans had the advantage of white skin. The German approval rating was 55.4 per cent.

In short, Australians, only six years after completing the most hideous episode in human history battling the Germans, wanted them here more than the Greeks. He added one thing, however, which I don’t agree with so much.

Australia has always felt like it was one intake away from having too many people chasing too few jobs, properties, seats on public transport and car parking spots in the city.

This is not simply about car parks and jobs. If it were, we would be up in arms about the number of Kiwis or Poms landing in our airports.

Incidentally, we have seen a drop in Net Overseas Migration under the ALP

Incidentally, we have seen a drop in Net Overseas Migration under the ALP. Source: ABS 3101.0

Right now, there is a clear split along party lines (excuse me if I exclude the Greens from this, it’s an entirely different post). The ALP ‘oppose’ 457 visas because of this type of prejudice against foreigners that Megalogenis refers to – they’ll take our jobs.

Even the PM calling out Scott Morrison for ‘dog whistling’ is, itself, a dog whistle. The phrase is not as widely known as many may believe. Calling Morrison out for dog whistling is intended to mollify those who are infuriated at his grubby racism, without actually appearing to want to allow more refugees into the country. Those who don’t want more migrants will not hear the PM call for more migrants, so everyone’s satisfied. We may act in a racist manner but would never acknowledge being racist.

The coalition, meanwhile, simply targets a migrant group that is overwhelmingly made up of Sri Lankans, Afghans, Pakistanis, Iraqis and Africans, and effectively accuses them of being a threat to the purity and safety of our daughters. This is not speaking to any kind of semi-rational fear about jobs.

This is racism, pure and simple. Knowingly playing on the racism of some in the community is not smart politics, it is racism, and we should unstintingly call it out as such.

And herein lies perhaps the number one concern in all this. We have, as a society, become so adept at taking umbrage, so masterful at being outraged and offended, either for ourselves or on behalf of others, that public calling out of racism has become too fraught an exercise.

Label someone, anyone, a racist, and the backlash will come thick and fast. Spluttering confounded outrage that anyone would even consider lightly tossing round such a heinous charge. Andrew Bolt went to court to deny racism after he actively compared and contrasted the skin colour of Indigenous Australians. As if next to a paint chart. His outrage, self-pity and martyr complex knew, and know, no bounds.

So we go on, refusing to call a spade a spade; a racist a racist. I don’t know Scott Morrison, but based on all the available evidence I have, that seems to be precisely what he is.

Ed Butler is a recovering economist and novelty blogger, of the never-lamented Things Bogans Like. On about step seven of the requisite 12, he now works in communications and environmental advocacy. He’s not racist, but he tweets from @fakeedbutler.

About Ed Butler

Once, I wrote things for money. Now, I do not. So I have thoughts, and think them here.

9 comments on “Australia really ISN’T racist, but…

  1. intuitivereason
    March 6, 2013

    This is silly. You’ve fallen for the lie that discrimination is something that is wrong, rather than something that any community practices as a matter of self presevation; that discrimination is something that should be practiced by the law and the government rather than by the community.
    Discrimination is simply the ability to make a decision based upon the available information. It can easily be argued that race is a daft basis for discrimination, but up until relatively recently has had a very good correlation with culture, which is what is actually and naturally being discriminated against.
    It is good for people to value their own culture. It is also good for that culture to be challenged. There are almost always reasons that cultural beliefs and standards exist; note the condition there – almost. Over time, circumstances change, the original rationale fades, leaving only the culture it engendered; beliefs and culture only change slowly. This resistance to sudden change, this inertia, is a good thing as it allows beliefs to neglect short term effects. Inertia gives time for discussions to be held and the tension that change engenders to be absorbed. Given time and space old beliefs give way, on occasion, to new ones, while on the whole the culture continues intact.
    It is good for people to have a degree of control over the rate at which new people and new attitudes stretch and change those beliefs. The community as a whole has a innate feel for just how much change it can sustain without developing lasting tensions. This is what people ask for in control over refugee intakes. Forcing rates higher than people can deal with is asking for trouble, some of which we have seen already. In addition, the current expectations that people have that the economy is going to deteriorate in the near future naturally drive community concerns about division higher. We know that when things get hard that any differences in culture will stand out more and provide focal points for tension to erupt.
    It is a terrible injustice for legislation to take the capacity for self judgement from the community and vest it in the government. It is even worse that government should then take that capacity and use it as a weapon against the community it was taken from by legislating in favour of change rather than in favour of the extant culture. It’s like screwing down the relief valve on a pressure vessel, or removing the governor from an engine. Everything moves along in the direction being forced for a while, but behind the scenes pressure is building up. Little outbreaks occur where there are weaknesses, which are dealt with by clamping down even tighter. Eventually all hell breaks loose. All because some people are not patient enough to allow culture to change in its own time, and so full of themselves that they believe they have the judgement required to direct an amorphous society as to which way it should go.

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    • Sandonista
      March 6, 2013

      Unfortunately, when you demonise a group of people who are trying to escape a deadly situation and make out like we are the victims just because they don’t want to die is wrong. Forget the fact that we’re not holding up our obligations under the UN Refugee Convention, to treat human beings in this way is wrong.

      Now that Labor is using the “dey terk er jerbs!” tactic, they’ve lost my vote. It’s slightly less odious than the LNP’s “they’re coming for our women!” shriek, but still disgusting enough for me to tick elsewhere on the ballot paper in September.

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  2. Team Oyeniyi
    March 6, 2013

    Intuitivereason, you forgot one point. There is only ONE race – the human race. Culture is certainly something that people use as a reason to discriminate against others, but if we value a free society, as you seem to do, then each member of the society has a responsibility to enhance their Cultural Intelligence and therefore mindfulness of difference.

    I agree the beliefs and culture change slowly and that the environmental conditions that gave rise to that culture often disappear – or the people move to a new environment.

    Certain countries have the luxury of a closed culture. I don’t believe Australia has that “luxury” as we haven’t been a closed culture for many years.

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  3. Noely (@YaThinkN)
    March 6, 2013

    Can’t agree on the 457 Visas, have a friend who has had issues with that out in a mine when they downsized, the couple of employees on the 457 were kept (who yes, were on a lower wage than the others), and she & a few others were made redundant. How the employer (massive mining company) could even get away with doing that I have no idea, thought there were checks & balances in place for that. Worse because mining is a cliquey industry, if you work a specific type of job like my friend does, you can’t afford to complain & get a ‘reputation’ or you will not get employed anywhere.

    Having said that, I do acknowledge that it is not a MASSIVE problem as is being presented in the media, there are just not enough examples like my friends to warrant the hysteria.

    With the other, totally agree. Yellow badges is exactly what came to my mind. What I actually find worse is the number of MP’s including Abbott ‘explaining’ & ‘justifying’ what Mr Morrison & Mr Abetz said. I assume from what I have read that Morrison in particular is just a bigoted man, and really we need to feel for people like that who cannot see any further than their narrow Christian beliefs. Which is ridiculous and not particularly ‘christian’ in the true meaning of the word that I was taught at Catholic school. What I despise is that many who do know better are defending those comments. These people know it is wrong. How they can look themselves in the mirror KNOWING that they are condoning repulsive behaviour from colleagues and an equally repulsive marketing strategy (face it that is what it is) is worse for me, that is morally reprehensible.

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    • Ed Butler
      March 6, 2013

      On the subject of 457s, I’m not really looking to get into the ins and outs of it. My point is that the attacks are based on basic xenophobia rather than any real policy-based challenge. Keane in Crikey today lays out the case well, pointing out that at most 1 in 1,000 457 visa holders are exploited at lower wages.

      http://www.crikey.com.au/2013/03/06/keane-our-sordid-triangle-of-xenophobia-over-457-visas/

      If there was a real problem with 457s, then deal with it. But simply saying that ‘we’ll put Aussies first’ is pretty blatant pandering to baser instincts. We’re basically at full employment and some industries need workers. All the data suggest that your friend’s case was an outlier.

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      • Marcus
        March 9, 2013

        To me that line sounded like more of a warning towards the Ginas & Twiggys out there, looking to further exploit 457′s as a means to lower wages….especially in the mining sector, when local skilled employees are available. As has been said elsewhere, it was the sudden surge in 457′s over the previous calendar year that has prompted this crack down, a crack-down that I certainly don’t see as being aimed at the workers themselves (who are as much the victims as anyone else in this instance). By attempting to link the 457 issue to Xenophobia, you’re actually just falling for the Coalition/MSM trick of falsely equating the Dog Whistling of Pyne, Morrison & Bernardi with genuine attempts to fix problems in an existing Visa scheme-which neatly takes the heat off the former, extremely nasty group.

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      • Marcus
        March 9, 2013

        For the record, I find the Murdoch press to be a very useful negative barometer on matters like this. The more they complain that it’s an over-reaction, the more likely it is that there is a very serious problem to be dealt with. Ever since the government announced the tightening of the 457 system, we’ve had *dozens* of news reports & Op Ed pieces in the Murdoch Press telling us what a massive over-reaction it is. Given that their backers are big business (especially mining) this sounds to me like a media organization working desperately to protect its vested interests-interests who profit from rorting of the 457 Visa System. After all, if these very minor changes are so unnecessary, then there is no reason for complaint….is there? It’s not like they’re talking about canning 457 Visa changes altogether! Of course, this negative press serves a useful double purpose-namely distracting people from the far, far worse issue of a Liberal MP comparing asylum seekers to paedophiles. Unfortunately, you seem to be getting sucked into this distraction!

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  4. Neo
    March 6, 2013

    “Discrimination is simply the ability to make a decision based upon the available information.” Incorrect, human nature is incapable of perfect, rational decisions so our decisions are based on our ANALYSIS of the available information. There is no one, single, correct response to the people coming to Australia seeking refuge – Tony Abbott might make it look like there is, but that is a simple answer for simple minds.

    “It is a terrible injustice for legislation to take the capacity for self judgement from the community and vest it in the government.” That’s how our system of parliamentary democracy works – we vote for MPs, the MPs organise themselves into a Government and Opposition, and they have the right to get on with the business of governing until the next election. Unless you want to go down the Swiss model, with constant referendums on minor aspects of legislation, voting posters plastered up at every bus stop etc (I’ve lived there and watched it in action).

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  5. Florant
    March 9, 2013

    ” Or France with its persecutioen of Algerians is,” i’m french and i’m chocked by this statement. I follow this website because i aspire to go aboard at your state, at the end of my computer studies. are you visited france?

    In France, my country has a problem. Our constitution prevented the statistics follows the religion or origin of these people. If you come visit our prisons, our courts, or you ask the police in our cities, you will learn that most of our problems délinquences is due to a majority of our citizens of the countries of origin Saharan africa black and balkan . Certain community don’t respect the secularity of the French Republic. Come and see the French social security and family allowance fund the abusers. And yet these poor citizens represent less than 40% of their communities. it’s like all countries, minorities are generalities. Racism exists in France as elsewhere. But on France, the French did in sick leave sooner our politicians allow some communities to win their votes. I hope that one day our politicians have the courage to allow Stats for delinquency and abuse of social goods that our citizen immigrants.

    If I remember correctly last November, there was a French racism in brisbane into a bus. And I don’t say that the French persecute.
    I have friends who are expatriates in some countries. And I think, franch have to respect the education host country, the desire to integrate that culture, and especially to respect the laws.

    I am disappointed to see a educated economist have a judgment against a country without spending time. I think we are still forgiving sahara immigration or another.

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This entry was posted on March 6, 2013 by in Philosophies, values and ethics, Policies and tagged , .

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