Coronavirus: Universities collude with race politics

February 12, 2020
Image: Gerd Altmann/Pixabay

There is growing concern the university sector is not following best practice in dealing with the outbreak of the new coronavirus, but is instead joining in the racist hysteria.

University of Sydney Vice-Chancellor Michael Spence informed Chinese students affected by the federal government’s travel ban that they have until March 30 to join classes.

The university has also requested students arriving from mainland China to undertake an unnecessary 14-day “self-isolation” period.

ABC reported on February 4 that 100,000 students will not be able to start their university or TAFE classes because of the travel ban, which applies to anyone travelling from China to Australia, with the exception of Australian citizens, permanent residents or airline crews.

The government has also begun to lock up 600 Australian citizens in the poorly-equipped Christmas Island Detention Centre, as part of its extreme response to a virus less virulent than SARS.   

University of Sydney said it was following the government’s recommendations, rather than the World Health Organisation’s advice that states “effectiveness of entry screening is uncertain” and “global trade and travel bans are not needed”.

Some media outlets are starting to criticise the government’s deliberate whipping-up of racism.

Sydney Morning Herald’s Michael Koziol wrote on February 9: “There is disagreement over whether the evacuees needed to be isolated on Christmas Island.

"NSW Health believes they could have been accommodated at the state’s various hospitals. The federal government says Christmas Island was the only viable option.”

Students and academics have also expressed outrage.

“I’m disappointed that the current government is just following exactly what the US government is doing,” University of Sydney Student Representative Council general secretary and Chinese international student Abbey Shi told Honi Soit.

University of Sydney academic and former Race Discrimination Commissioner at the Australian Human Rights Commission Tim Soutphommasane tweeted: “It would ... help if political leaders refrained from race politics and from campaigns to weaken laws against racial discrimination.”

Students and the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) organised protests against the upsurge in Sinophobia, outside Department of Immigration and Border Protection offices in Sydney and Melbourne on February 7.

According to Honi Soit Fei Zheng told the Sydney rally “International students are students and deserve at least equal care”. She said “government-led racism” is designed to create racialised panic and fear and that recent events are a reminder that the “yellow peril” rhetoric of the 1990s has not gone away.

NTEU Victorian secretary Mel Slee told the Melbourne rally that Prime Minister Scott Morrison is using racism to revive his political fortunes, which had sunk over the mishandling of the bushfire crisis. The NTEU has launched a campaign to affirm that Chinese students are welcome, while racists are not.

William Wong, from the Australian Chinese Workers Collective, said Chinese workers are losing their jobs and suffering hardship. He accused the government of throwing Chinese international students “under the bus”.

Racism is “worse than any virus”, he said.

About 15 right-wing Chinese-Australians who support the ban attempted, but failed, to disrupt the Melbourne rally.

The 14-day temporary travel ban is set to be reviewed on February 16, although it is expected that the government will extend it.

[Join a meeting hosted by Resistance Young Socialist Alliance at the University of Sydney to discuss how we can end the racist response to the Coronavirus.]

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