Australia's not racist – as long as you 'fit in'


Racism is alive and well in Australia today.

This is most evident in the shocking statistics of racist oppression against Aboriginal people. A 2001 NSW study found Aboriginal people were 5.5 times more likely to suffer domestic violence, 3.4 times more likely to suffer assault, 2.8 times more likely to suffer sexual assault, and 2.5 times more likely to be murdered.

The Northern Territory intervention is an example of racial oppression. The government suspended the Racial Discrimination Act to lease back Aboriginal land and compulsorily quarantine welfare payments.

The latest attack on land rights was the compulsory acquisition of Alice Springs town camps. The camps were run by the Aboriginal-controlled Tangentyere Council, but Indigenous affairs minister Jenny Macklin has pressured the council to sign a 40-year lease and transfer control of housing in the town camps to Territory Housing.

Under the plan, 20 remote communities have been selected to become "Territory Growth Towns". These towns will receive $160 million in "priority" funding for infrastructure, such as schools and health services. The remaining 580 communities, or outstations, are to share just $36 million a year.

The NT intervention perpetuates myths of welfare dependency and drug and alcohol abuse, but ignores the effects of dispossession, alienation and racial discrimination.

Australia was founded on the oppression of Aboriginal people. Australia Day, January 26, celebrates the European invasion of Australia, and the devastation of Aboriginal people and culture.

This has never been genuinely recognised by any government. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's token apology to the Stolen Generations in 2008 flatly denied those who were stolen from their families, and for the more than 200 years of Aboriginal oppression, any compensation.

Because Australia was founded on white xenophobia, immigrants have also been constantly treated with discrimination and contempt. European immigration was used to boost the labour force but any "non-whites" were considered a threat.

This has been the case since the gold rush of the 1860s, when the Chinese were seen as competition for scarce gold deposits, to the racist treatment of Muslim communities today.

White nationalism has been central to Australia's origins as a colonial settler state. This means that today, non-humanitarian migrants wait two years before they can access most social security and most are not eligible for the disability or age pension for 10 years.

Overseas qualifications are not recognised and the risk of poverty and homelessness among migrant communities is high.

Politicians foster violence against immigrants.

People in positions of power — be they politicians, police or journalists — claim that Australia is not racist, but then pick out a particular migrant group as being more prone to criminal activity or less likely to learn English and "fit in". The attacks on Indian students are a recent example, but not a new one.

In 2007, then-immigration minister Kevin Andrews was referring to the Sudanese community when he said: "Some groups don't seem to be settling and adjusting into the Australian way of life as quickly as we would hope."

A spate of violent attacks were then unleashed against Sudanese migrants, and one was bashed to death by a group of white men.

Racism justifies many of the policies, activities and exploitative measures undertaken by governments and those in power.

As long as nationalism and the profit motive remain, racism is used to justify war, acquisition of Aboriginal land and austerity campaigns. Racism is used to justify global inequalities and inequality between nations: it's a convenient device to divide and rule.

Racism must be opposed in all its forms, including the attacks on land rights, racist law enforcement, employment discrimination, immigration cuts and refugee detention.

However, as capitalism is built upon oppressive social relations and thrives from discrimination, exploitation and dividing people of different backgrounds, nationalities, cultures and beliefs, racism will never be entirely eradicated until capitalism is defeated.

This is yet another reason to join Resistance and campaign for a just and humane world where the colour of one's skin can never be used as justification for exclusion or discrimination.

[Duncan Roden is a member of Sydney Resistance. This article is based on his presentation to the NSW Socialist Alliance conference on August 8.]