New blog

All new content on my restarted blog is here

Saturday, June 30

Australian racism

I can't put better than Richard Ackland in The Guardian what is happening in Australia with Aboriginal people.

For 10 years [Prime Minister John Howard's] government did little other than dismiss the suffering of Aboriginal people in the past as an invention of leftwing academics in the present.

Under Howard, federal government support for black Australia slowly dried up. Services were slashed, native title restricted. By 2000 official figures revealed that more than 41% of indigenous women and 50% of indigenous men could expect to die before they reached 50. Still nothing was done. The condition of many Aboriginal communities - frequently and accurately described as third world - grew only worse. The dreamtime was a grog-ridden nightmare. In the last few years black leaders, government agencies and welfare bodies have been talking of a growing crisis in traditional communities and calling for immediate action. But not until last week did Howard, less than six months out from an election and facing polls pointing to, in his own words, "electoral annihilation", discover this "national emergency".

Alcohol banned in Aborigine areas
Aboriginal people gather in a street in Alice Springs (file image)
Alcohol and poverty have blighted Aboriginal communities
Australia is to ban alcohol and pornography in Aboriginal areas in the Northern Territory in a bid to curb child sex abuse.

All Aboriginal children in the territory will be medically examined.

The new proposals follow a report last week which found evidence of abuse in each of the territory's 45 communities.

The report blamed high levels of alcohol and poverty for the situation, which Prime Minister John Howard has described as a national emergency.

Ackland: For 10 years the trauma at the heart of Australia had not only been denied, but exacerbated. Now there was a damburst, a national outpouring of despair and anger.

For Howard the aborigines are the problem. His response is not to send teachers and doctors, his response is to send the army and the police. He is a risible human being and unfortunately the rest of my fellow australians that support this policy are just as disgraceful. But Howard has now won a number of elections appealing to them, and this is just another attempt.
The subsequent comments detail a litany of experiences of Australian racism and I'm sad to say that is my experience of most Australians (I lived there for fifteen years): they are either overtly racist or in denial, thinking 'sorry' is enough. There are a lot of people who actively support reconciliation but they're the minority. Even 'left' parties support racist policies. This isn't surprising though as Aboriginal people are largely invisible - most Aussies wouldn't know one - and effectively segregated. Most Australians in my experience are ignorant of their own history.

The plain fact is that at the heart of the problem are two issues: rights and resources. Aboriginal people need collective land rights and a settlement like the Maori and Native Canadians (who are much more successful) have. But they also need resources and that means spending. Much of this would be to bring Aboriginal settlements up to standard and provide equality in resources like health. I had a friend in the NT who had to travel hundreds of kilometres twice weekly for dialysis - this is common. Lack of facilities like sewerage is common.

The two go hand-in-hand. Rights is about recognising the past because it's part of the present problem. Even with the supposed shock of child abuse - whites were part of that problem. In Sydney there have been various child-sex scandals involving aboriginal kids and prominent white people. I had a friend who is an elder who dealt with the damage - dead kids - which resulted. They'd kill themselves, one way or another.

I don't agree with Ackland's hope though for some sort of damburst - I can't see it in the reaction I'm seeing in Australia. Australians had an opportunity with former PM Paul Keating's 'we poisoned the waterholes' Redfern speech in 1992 ["a fundamental test of our social goals and our national will"] and the reaction to the Mabo native title case, and the Millennium marches for reconciliation but it's been downhill ever since.

There are now less Aboriginal university students than ten years ago. And, as a former PM and a leading Aboriginal woman say in a statement, no democracy - Howard abolished it:

We believe we are the only western democracy with a significant indigenous minority that has no elected representation of any kind. Trachoma, the leading cause of blindness worldwide, is entirely a disease of third-world countries – except for Australia where it is the scourge of remote Aboriginal communities. Our governments pretend to be generous with aid to the third world. There is a third world living within Australia, to Australia’s shame.

We can be pleased that the Government accepts there is an emergency which requires action. But their first step needs to be a broad-based approach based upon respect, upon self esteem and on the recognition of a real partnership.

Rt Hon Malcolm Fraser Prof Lowitja O’Donoghue Mr Brian Butler
Malcolm Fraser and Lowitja O'Donoghue are Co-Patrons and Brian Butler is the Chairman of Stolen Generations Alliance.

I agree with Ackland that Howard is "a risible human being", but so are the Aussies who continue to support him and his policies. The Australian Aboriginal situation should shame Australia and Australians. It says volumes that it obviously isn't and the more who say this loudly to Aussies, the better.

A commentator on Ackland puts the situation for Aussies well:
June 28, 2007 7:50 PM

I'm from New Zealand, and this really disappoints me. Despite what you may have heard, and apart from sporting rivalries and poking fun at each other, New Zealanders tend to like Australians.

But there's a big difference between the two countries when it comes to race relations. New Zealand is far from perfect, and has its share of people with racist views, yet these views are rarely reflected in electoral results. For example, in the last general election, the leader of the conservative party attempted to copy Howard and attack "special privileges" for Maori people. After a brief surge in the polls it was back to normal, and he ended up losing. In the end, while they may be perturbed about many things, New Zealanders won't put up with out and out racism. Another example: in Australia, Howard basically refuses to deal with Aboriginal land claims. In New Zealand, there is a government agency set up to deal with them, and many claims have been settled. Again, a lot of New Zealanders aren't happy with this, but it hasn't prevented the government from engaging in the difficult, and ongoing, task of sorting out past injustices.

I often wonder why there is so much racism in Australia. Perhaps it is because most Australians do not personally know any Aboriginals. In New Zealand Maori people are everywhere. We all go to school and work together, and I personally have many Maori friends. That's not to say that Maori are not overrepresented in poverty and crime statistics, but there is no "separate society". Non-Maori New Zealanders deal with Maori all the time.

Part of it may be that Maori have been heavily involved in the political life of New Zealand. For the last 140 years Maori representation has been guaranteed in the New Zealand Parliament, with a set number of seats set aside for them in proportion with their share of the population (although in the last few decades Maori people have been free to choose to vote on the general or Maori roll, and the number of seats has been adjusted accordingly). Maori issues are always front and centre in New Zealand politics, often because Maori members of parliament are vociferous in defending their interests.

I can't understand why this cannot be the same in Australia. Believe me, this latest news could be very very bad for Australia. As some other posters have noted, Australia has not loomed large in the global consciousness as a racist state, whereas countries like South Africa have. It seems to me that this latest crisis may well change that. Many people are finding themselves taking another look at Australia and Australians, and this cannot be good.

I guess it's now up to the Australian people to do something about it. They better do something, or they will end up as pariahs, which would be a shame, because Australians are generally nice, fun, informal and outgoing people.

Recommended reading - Greer gets to the heart of remote communities
Worlds apart Australia's prime minister is sending in the army to tackle child abuse and alcoholism in the Aboriginal homelands. But his aggressive campaign will only make the situation worse, says Germaine Greer


  1. Anonymous1.7.07

    Tis 2 TRUE wat iz written here. Hope U don't mind but I snagged the 1st pic 4 me blog post: Justice haz a colour & it's white ~ Lex Wotton

    & Linked it back 2 U.


    Kirky a Koori in Parkes. Oz.
    Wife, mum, nan, sista, aunt, cuz & friend 2 all.
    Laundry iz the only thing that should B separated by colour.

  2. Anonymous6.8.07

    I am an Australian white woman and I have to say you have it absolutely right. It is a great shame that so many people here are so ignorant to what is going on. This situation needs to change now.

    Thank you for spreading the word.

  3. Anonymous21.5.08

    i think its sad that racism in australia is still going on in this day and age. people need to speak out and push for change. australians seem like fun loving people and the country is beautiful, but honestly the racists attitudes puts a lot of peolpe off. even an american actor commenetd on how poor the aboriginals were being treated and was shockedit was still going on in this day and age when he visited australia recently. most people i knoow from britian and around the world would not like to visit australia because of this. as a british, i totally understand them. its sad that the minority are painted in the same brush as the racist majority. its even visible in thier tv shows which portray little if not none of aboriginals and other race groups. and a lot of us brits have noticed this. its a pity cause austalia is a beautiful country, but people tend to put thier head in the sand when it comes to racism.