Australians are slowly edging toward facing the reality of what the boatpeople saga is really all about.
The catch-cry of the right-wing Australian commentariat and politicians has been ‘Stop the Boats’. They have claimed in their rhetoric that by stopping the boats the drownings will stop. They have said that, in order to deter others from making the perilous journey across the sea in leaky boats, those that do safely make it to Australia’s shores must be treated harshly by being told they will never be able to settle in Australia and that they’ll be placed in camps in places that are alien and inhospitable to them and where they may face an unknown future which may remain unknown for a very long time. All this, so we are told, is necessary ‘to stop the drownings’.
Accompanying the rhetoric of ‘Stop the Boats’, there has been a relentless tirade of commentary from both commentators and politicians demonising boatpeople by accusing them of being ‘queue jumpers’, ‘economic refugees’, ‘country shoppers’, and even ‘terrorists’. From Australia’s right-wing government the rhetoric has been no less relentless. Policies have been wrapped in nationalistic slogans and titles such as ‘Border Protection’ and ‘Operation Sovereign Borders’ as though Australia was being invaded by some kind of sneaky guerrilla force attempting to stealthily infiltrate Australia rather than desperate people merely seeking asylum.
Along with the ‘Stop the Boats’ and the ‘Stop the Drownings’ rhetoric, a new catch-cry was heard: ‘Stop the People Smugglers’ and ‘Put the People Smugglers out of business’, both slogans clearly designed to shift attention away from the actual refugees.
Both the Abbott Coalition government and the former Labor government of Rudd and Gillard have fallen over themselves to placate a now negative Australian public opinion about boatpeople.
But all of these slogans and excuses avoid saying what this is really all about.
For some reason, the non right-wing mainstream media to a very large extent have also avoided mentioning it while the right-wing media have gone to great lengths to deny that which the Left in the blogosphere and social media have been saying all along; that Australia’s policies are not about ‘Stopping the Boats’ or ‘Stopping the Drownings’ or ‘Border Protection’ or ‘Stopping the People Smugglers’ or ‘Stopping Queue Jumpers’ or ‘Stopping Economic Refugees’, they’re about stopping non-European, non-white, Muslims from coming to Australia and threatening the very core of what can only be called ‘Australianism’. In other words it’s about racism – pure and simple.
The cheerleaders for this racism – and the main source of the swing in public opinion away from the ‘fair go’ attitude of the post-White Australian era of the 70s and 80s – has been the emergence of extreme right-wing columnists in the mainstream media dominated by the Murdoch-owned newspapers.
Ironically, one of the reasons Australians are now edging toward facing the reality of the boatpeople saga really being about racism is because of the current debate over the change to Australia’s laws about racial discrimination and vilification.
Much of the debate about changes to the racial discrimination and vilification laws has be been brought about by the judgement of a Victorian court against one of the most vocal of the mainstream media’s anti-boatpeople protagonists, Andrew Bolt of the Herald-Sun newspaper. The judgement was not related to boatpeople but to one of Bolt’s other hobby horses, the demonisation of light coloured Indigenous persons who choose to identify as Aboriginal for cultural purposes, though Bolt actually accuses them of choosing to identify as Aboriginal in order to obtain some kind of pecuniary advantage.
Bolt denies being a racist; indeed, he declares that he is anti-racist. He even goes so far as to say that those who say that he is a racist are, in fact, racist themselves because they are preventing Australia becoming a nation where all Australians, regardless of skin colour or ethnicity, should be treated equally as ‘Australians’. He argues that recognising ‘race’ differences – and that includes recognition of different cultures, heritage and religions as well as actual race – is dividing Australians and, therefore, is racist. He calls it the ‘New Racism’, a term purloined from Bolt’s arch-nemesis, the historian Robert Manne. Manne, who first coined the term ‘New Racism’ in an article written in 2002 entitled ‘Beware the New Racism’ in which he argues that racism is no longer restricted to just blood and biology but also to culture and religion. Bolt, who has had a long-standing argument with Manne about the ‘Stolen Generations’, has seen fit to usurp Manne’s tag for use in describing his own version of ‘New Racism’.
What Bolt refuses to accept is that recognising and acknowledging the culture and heritage of people from different ethnicities and racial backgrounds has absolutely nothing to do with being ‘racist’ from his peculiar viewpoint but has everything to do with the sharing of heritage and the tolerance and respect of Australians’ differences regardless of whether it’s blood and biology or culture and religion. It’s not about ‘racism’, it’s about embracing and recognising diversity within a nation’s peoples.
Bolt and his fellow right-wing commentators by virtue of having access to one of Australia’s largest media organisations have over nearly two decades managed to manipulate public opinion to such an extent that Australians have been turned from being a nation keen to give people a ‘fair go’ to being a nation of intolerant bigots. The problem for Australia now is how to turn Australia’s world-wide reputation of being racists and bigots around and that can only be done by recognising that Australia has, indeed, become racist, and that in turn can only be done by education.
The current debate about bigotry in Australia can provide an opportunity to turn things around. Hopefully, that process of education, a process which rebuts the notion of Bolt’s so-called ‘New Racism’ and rejects the creeping new trend of ‘democracy by public opinion’ which gives power to those that have the wherewithal to manipulate public opinion, has now begun.
The debates are not about Left and Right politics; it’s about the morality of right and wrong and the elimination of poll-driven politics.
It’s time for Australia to put this glitch in our reputation as an easy going fair-minded multicultural society behind us and rebuild a more tolerant Australia free of racial bigotry.