4 June 2024

Is Australia a racist country?

| Ian Bushnell
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The ABC’s Laura Tingle believes Australians are racist. Are we? Photo: Supplied.

ABC political journalist Laura Tingle set the mostly News Corp hares running last week with her comments at the Sydney Writers’ Festival about racism, which were mainly a lament about Opposition Leader Peter Dutton’s approach to migration.

On the night of Peter Dutton’s address-in-reply to the budget, I was sitting there with this terrible chill running through me thinking, okay, we’re back into this territory. I don’t think … we’ve had the leader of a major political party saying everything that is going wrong in this country is because of migrants.

I had this sudden flash of people turning up to try to rent a property or at an auction, and they look a bit different – whatever you define different as – and he has given a licence for them to be abused where people feel they are missing out.

We’re a racist country, let’s face it. We always have been and it’s very depressing and a terrible prospect for the next election.

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Australia no longer practises overt institutional racism, and we’re one of the most successful multicultural nations on the planet, but it’s a fragile consensus and the content and tenor of Mr Dutton’s comments were not helpful for social cohesion.

The question of racism also depends on who you are.

I’m a white Anglo-Celtic man who is hardly going to experience it. But if you are Indigenous or a non-white migrant, the odds tend to narrow.

The disproportionate number of Indigenous people in prison suggests that they attract a disproportionate amount of attention from police, something that First Nations people have had to contend with for generations.

Australia has always had racist elements to its history as a product of British colonialism and European hegemony. After all, we had the White Australia Policy and deliberately strove to destroy Indigenous culture.

But the nation has matured and worked hard to put these beliefs and practices behind us, and we like to assume that racism, like child labour, is somewhere in the past and not relevant any more.

If only.

Recalcitrants persist, even in our Parliament, and sadly, the conduct of the Voice referendum campaign brought many out into the open.

Our institutions, such as Parliament, the judiciary and the military, remain Euro-dominant. That may change over time, but it seems to be a slow process.

Sections of the Jewish community claim that anti-Semitism in this country has never been greater in the wake of Israel’s war on Hamas in Gaza.

The multicultural project that is Australia remains ongoing. It requires nurturing and honest self-assessment. Tingle’s observations in the context of a free-ranging panel discussion were blunt but not unremarkable.

But they were seized upon in the context of an unremitting campaign against the ABC by News Corp, which is undergoing its own restructuring pain and deflecting attention anywhere but on itself, except to promote, ironically, its own special on anti-Semitism.

The vitriol towards the ABC and Tingle is to be expected. The tentacled Murdoch media writes its own rules and sets itself up as the arbiter of truth in this country.

The hypocrisy may be breathtaking for an organisation that rails against cancel culture, but it is what it is.

It is a pity that the ABC found it necessary to take the pile-on seriously and counsel Tingle, in effect undermining one of its key assets.

The message this sends to ABC journalists is that they must be scrupulously balanced in their political reporting and commentary to the point that all views are equal and worthy and none need to be scrutinised, something that Tingle’s critics would never do.

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Does the ABC now expect its senior figures to withdraw from the national conversation or public events?

The ABC has been subjected to this kind of intimidation for years, but it is getting worse.

The Tingle affair is just the latest chapter.

So is Australia, or are Australians racist?

Racism exists in this country. Whether it is allowed to grow to an extent that threatens what we have created on this continent depends on our leaders, an honest approach to history and us.

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newstart2021yk doit7:13 pm 09 Jun 24

As someone of Taiwanese heritage who has grown up in Australia as a young kid to now a 37 year old adult, unfortunately I have to say yes racism is very much prevalent in our society. I have faced racism multiple times throughout my 37 years from a young kid to adulthood. Racism exists in all parts of the world and we should all take action to form a more inclusive future.

Gregg Heldon12:31 pm 04 Jun 24

No, Australia is not a racist country. Nor does our Government have any racist policies.
But we are a country that has racist and intolerant citizens at all levels of society. That does not make us unique. In fact, every country has racist and intolerant citizens. It doesn’t make it right or acceptable.
But, as a whole, we are a tolerant and multi faceted country, unlike other countries.
All we can hope and encourage, is for future generations to be more tolerant and accepting. If that happens, racism, xenophobia and intolerance will, eventually, hopefully, be a thing of the past.

Yes Australia is a racist country. As a man of colour (born and raised here), I experience the full spectrum of unconscious racism, right through to the overt each and every day of my life. Just walking to my local IGA will invite all or some of these comments:

Do you speak English? Now tell me where you’re really from? What ethnicity are you? Does your kind eat this? How long have you been in Australia? F off home!!!l You black c….! Cash or card?

When you face that every where and every day, only then will you appreciate the extent of racism that exists here. Do I board up the windows of my house and become a recluse? No. I don my armour and head out. I shouldn’t have to but it’s life. No country is perfect nor free of racism. But that’s not grounds to ignore it or claim it doesn’t exist. Good on you Laura for shining a light on the bleeding obvious.

Why is it that the only Australian of the Year award plaque at the lake which required a Perspex protective cover was Adam Goodes? The screen, thankfully, has been removed now, but the fastening holes remain as a lasting legacy of what?

Peter Le Mesurier2:59 pm 03 Jun 24

It would be more appropriate for Laura Tingle to counsel ABC management, which has a dismal habit of accommodating News Corp criticisms.
The ABC employs Laura Tingle to provide analysis of political issues, and should support her when she delivers on that task. Ms Tingle’s analysis draws out the strands of a matted fabric of ‘policy’ put out by politicians of various shades. As a conscientious journalist, Ms Tingle calls it out when policies lack intellectual and factual input.
Ms Tingle has acknowledged that her comments were truncated by the nature of a panel discussion, and that acknowledgement is appropriate and sufficient.

If she acknowledges her comments were truncated by the nature of a panel discussion, perhaps she should also acknowledge that her broad based statement was inappropriate in the first place?

And most definitely not befitting a senior journalist for a taxpayer funded organisation who is meant to represent at least some sort of objectivity.

Australia isnt racist, no more than any other country. The only people who appear to benefit from throwing the mud around, are those who appear to want to establish division and/or a political diversion.

Qui bono?

Aren’t all countries racist? And they just differ by how institutionalised that racism is, as well as its acceptability.

Australia, per se, maynot be a ‘racist country’ but there are very many Australians who are racist – disgustingly, unashamedly and virulently so. Until those people no longer feel free to spew their racist hatred, until they no longer get tacit (and not so tacit) support from those who allow it or, worse, indulge in it themselves, Australia will have to wear the mantle of racism.

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The world is racist and it’s pretty much the same in light skinned countries and dark skinned countries.

I came from the UK to Australia over 30 years ago and I have always felt Australia was quite racist on several levels – with its indigenous people, with immigrants who happen to have a different coloured skin or religion. I always felt it was born out of ignorance – with Australia being so isolated, but unfortunately, it hasn’t changed.

Not saying the UK was any different, I was always just surprised at this ‘melting pot’ of cultures as it is termed, being quite openly racist.

Capital Retro5:06 pm 03 Jun 24

Have you ever been called “a whinging Pommy”?

Now you know why.

@Capital Retro
Yep, CR, and your comment justifies why he “felt Australia was quite racist on several levels”

Daniel O'CONNELL2:05 pm 03 Jun 24

The issue is whether, as a taxpayer funded journalist, she should be using her position to promote her own views.

She was at a writers’ festival on her own time, answering a question. This was a response to a spontaneous question, not a carefully prepared news presentation. She wasn’t there to represent the ABC in some PR role.

Capital Retro12:02 pm 04 Jun 24

I think the writers’ festival was taxpayer funded too.

Tony Mansfield2:05 pm 03 Jun 24

Agree entirely Ian. Here we go again with Peter Dutton playing the racist card in an effort to win votes and in the process stirring division. Turning a complex problem into a B&W de-humanising choice, just like he did with the voice. If only he could present something positive and uplifting that we could all aspire to, or show some true leadership around humanity.

No, except if you are a university student directing your vitriol at fellow students whom happen to be Jewish. No, except if you are from certain parts of the sub continent that adopt the caste system. No except some people whose religion stipulates hating all other religions

Australia has worked hard for many decades to become one of the least racist countries in the world.

Margaret Freemantle6:09 pm 03 Jun 24

And failed. Muserably

Given the left’s disgusting treatment of Jewish Australians since October 7th, I would say Ms Tingle is correct. Sadly the irony is lost on her and her ilk.

No, the problem is idiots looking for racism where there is none. Wanting to cut immigration is not racist. Had Dutton said “We don’t want any of those dirty people from country X coming here”, that would be racist. Saying “We need to lower immigration until the housing sector can catch up” is not, at all.

Exactly right Ken.

Balance needed2:42 pm 03 Jun 24

Yes Ken. Exactly.

Agree that saying we need to cut immigration is not racist, but I expect that Tingle was thinking of Dutton’s well-known divisive rhetoric and his history in attacking certain racial groups (eg black African ones) whilst promoting others (eg white South African farmers).

So, you have an issue that he called out a criminal element in a certain community, and was against farmers being murdered? Seems odd.

Maybe a more useful question is whether Australia could be an anti-racist country? After all, it’s not enough just to be “not racist” (even if that is true). That way, we can find ways to move forward as a society, rather than just keep playing the finger-pointing game.

Stephen Saunders10:10 am 03 Jun 24

Tingle is strongly pro Labor, strongly pro migration. What she said was a bait-and-switch, to distract attention from Labor’s extraordinary immigration onslaught, One Million Net in 24 months. She deserved to be pilloried, for partisanship.

Racism is hard to measure, but look at the studies, eg World Population Review, and they have Australia as one of the more tolerant nations. Albanese’s best immigration buddy, Modi India, is one of the worst for racism and sexism.

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