There are two pragmatic tests to ascertain the real level of racism in a country. Namely, the level of ethnic-motivated crime and the amount of inter-marriage between ethnic groups. Australia has a low level of ethnic crime and a high level of inter-marriages between all races, including indigenous people.
There is racism in every country. But Australia is not a racist nation. Certainly not when compared with societies where racism is, or has been, rife. The myth of Australia as racist has been promulgated by alienated leftist academics in Australia, who just happen to be employed in universities which are examples of tolerant multiculturalism at work.
From time to time a litany of journalists, actors, directors and the like join in the Australia-is-racist chorus. There is invariably a spike in such collective apologia around Australia Day. Among the voices heard this year was Warwick Thornton, the director of the widely acclaimed film Samson & Delilah.
Thornton told ABC TV News on January 24 that the Eureka flag will be like the swastika in 20 years’ time. In other words, according to Thornton, Australia is so racist it is just two decades away from Nazism, or at least fascism. Yet Thornton, who has an indigenous background, is a successful Australian whose work has been supported by the taxpayer through Screen Australia. His brilliant career, so far, suggests that Australia is anything but in pre-fascist mode.
Journalists or academics visiting Australia often catch up with our alienated set and soon hear that Australia is a racist society. Many take little notice, especially if they have an experience of real ethnic intolerance. However, some visitors hear what they want to hear.
Yesterday the current edition of the Indian news magazine Outlook received wide coverage in Australia. The cover story, written by Pranay Sharma, claims that “there is what can be termed ‘repressed racism’ in Australia, erupting at the slightest provocation or under the influence of liquor or often for no reason other than the sight of an Indian”. The evidence suggests that some Indian students have been victims of some racially motivated attacks, often fuelled by alcohol or drugs, in recent years. Especially in Melbourne.
Nevertheless, Sharma’s report is a significant exaggeration. Most of my Indian-born friends and acquaintances do not perceive the existence of racism, suppressed or otherwise. If Sharma were just another academic undertaking field study research, his views would not matter all that much. But Outlook is an influential magazine and the Australia-India relationship is important to both nations.
The key Australian sources for Sharma were the head of the Australia First Party, Jim Saleam,and the publicity officer for One Nation, Bob Vinnicombe. Both men are all but unknown in Australia. At least Sharma told his readers that Saleam is a member of the extreme right, more appropriately termed the Lunar Right.
What Outlook did not report is that Saleam has served two prison terms. The first for insurance fraud, the second for organising a shotgun attack on the home of the African National Congress’s representative in Australia. The trial judge described the attack as “an act of naked political terrorism”. At the time, Saleam headed an organisation called National Action. It changed its name soon after one of its members was convicted of murdering a colleague at the movement’s headquarters.
Saleam ran his familiar line to Sharma that non-Anglo-Saxon foreigners are taking Australian university places and jobs. This is the same Saleam who, when interviewed by Greg Bearup for Good Weekend last September, refused to answer the question as to whether he is on unemployment benefits.
Sharma conceded that Saleam’s views may not be shared by most Australians. Yet he quoted him all the same. Outlook also failed to point out that One Nation is but a shell of its former self during Pauline Hanson’s time and has virtually no electoral support in Australia.
Outlook also quoted Van Thanh Rudd, the leader of the minute Revolutionary Socialist Party, as asserting that “Australians are racist” and that “the dominant culture in Australia is a racist culture”. Rudd gets media coverage because he is the Prime Minister’s nephew and is wont to dress up in Ku Klux Klan gear for effect. But his prominence and success, as the son of an Australian father and Vietnamese mother, suggests that what he perceives to be racism has not thwarted his career.
Sharma’s report on Australia is not without merit. And he does concede that there is no unanimity among individuals of Indian background living in Australia as to whether the recent attacks on Indian students were racially motivated. Nevertheless, it is worth asking how Outlook would react if an Australian magazine did a cover story on India and gave prominence to the extremist views of members of India’s extreme right, extreme left or some religious movements.
Australia, like all nations, has to be vigilant about ethnic-motivated criminality, which is part of crime in general. A recent survey in the Herald-Sun revealed that the overwhelming majority of Victorians want more police in uniform on the beat and an end to soft sentencing by some judges. The spate of attacks on
Indians are one manifestation of increasing street crime in Melbourne.
It would be an act of denial to refuse to accept that some attacks on Indians are racially motivated. However, it is hyperbole to depict Australia as a racist nation. As James Jupp’s edited collection The Australian People documents, Indians have been a successful part of the Australian experience since European settlement in 1788.