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Issue #1834      August 8, 2018

Racism as policy

Racism – you’re soaking in it. From the weeks leading up to the 2001 federal elections and the interception of the MV Tampa under the government of John Howard carrying desperate refugees, Australians have been subjected to a campaign of intensified racism. A crescendo was reached prior to the recent “Super Saturday” round of by-elections with conservative candidates playing the race card including fear-mongering around the activities of “African gangs”. The ploy failed but the atmosphere of heightened tensions remains. And Australia is not the only country seeing this spike in ugly racism fanned by government and the all-too-willing media.

A central figure in the latest drive to divide people is Peter Dutton, Minister for Immigration and Border Protection and head of the mega-controlling Department of Home Affairs. He has hammered the alleged problem of African gangs. Against all the evidence, Dutton maintains that Melbourne residents are now scared to venture out to restaurants for fear of attack by Sudanese youths.

“There is a major law and order problem in Victoria and more people are going to be hurt until the rule of law is enforced by the Victorian government,” he told the media.

“We don’t have these problems with Sudanese gangs in NSW or Queensland.”

Prime Minister Turnbull, who usually tries to appear urbane and liberal on these issues, has fallen in behind the campaign of vilification. “There is real concern about Sudanese gangs,” he said last month. “We are able to be very picky about who comes to Australia as permanent migrants. And that’s our right, it’s our country.” The views echoed the notorious dog whistle used by then Prime Minister John Howard in his 2001 election campaign launch speech. “But we will decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come.”

Dutton, Turnbull and the rest of the team playing the race card are immune to facts. Sudanese-born Victorians are responsible for only one percent of crime in that state while 84 percent of misdemeanours country-wide were perpetrated by people born in Australia.

Meanwhile, undeservedly negative stereotypes are driving policy. The federal government is set to cut payments to asylum seekers. Benefits under status resolution support services currently stand at 89 percent of the miserable Newstart allowance. The tightening of criteria has led to a 46 percent reduction in approvals to migrants to bring their husbands and wives to Australia. Migrant intake is down.

Federal Treasurer Scott Morrison has been pandering to a perceived anti-immigrant sentiment in discussion of migrant intake levels. “I was one of the advocates of having it as a cap, not a target,” he said recently in reference to the 190,000 figure seen previously as a goal. Numbers actually fell to 162,000 permanent arrivals last year but, again, facts don’t serve the reactionary agenda. Labor has succumbed to pressure on this issue.

While this racially-charged campaign is being waged, refugees continue to suffer in illegal offshore detention, Aboriginal prisoners die in detention at the highest level in Australia in relative terms and communities are exposed to a wave of abuse and vilification.

Extreme goes mainstream

Institutional racism is as old as European settlement but open racism used to live at the political margin. Not any more. Pauline Hanson was paid for her appearances on Channel 7’s Sunrise program until their management camps fell out. News Corp columnist Andrew Bolt sank to new lows recently with a highly controversial piece in the Daily Telegraph about a “tidal wave” of non-English-speaking immigrants.

Sky News decided to invite Blair Cottrell of the so-called United Patriots Front as a guest of former Northern Territory Chief Minister Adam Giles for a studio interview. Cottrell is an open admirer of Adolf Hitler and his group has a history of violence towards minorities and anti-racist protestors. Sky later distanced itself from the decision, admitting that it was “wrong” to have Cottrell on the program.

The Australian government gave the green light to a tour by provocative anti-Islam “campaigner” Lauren Southern and side-kick Stefan Molyneux. Southern spoke at a $700 a ticket dinner and used her spare time to visit Lakemba where she wanted to engage with the Muslim residents about their religion. She said in a widely-circulated YouTube piece about the visit to claim that the area is a “no go zone”, “occupied land” subject to “Sharia law” after she was instructed by a high-ranking police officer not to incite a breach of the peace.

The scenes associated with Southern’s tour were totally predictable. The British government had already refused entry to the attention-seeking alt-right figure. Australia previously put out the welcome mat to another self-promoting defender of Western civilisation, Milo Yiannopoulos. Intolerance of diversity and encouragement of division is the government’s clear guiding principle in these decisions. Meanwhile, abuse of minorities in Australia continues to rise.

Not isolated – international context

The attacks on multi-culturalism and the fanning of hatred is not limited to Australia. The election of President Trump in the US is an indication of how desperate the capitalist ruling class is to keep attention away from the deepening global economic crisis. His talk of a wall, the insistence that “illegal immigrants” are not humans, the keeping of children in cages, threats to halt immigration from predominantly Muslim countries and other outrages have shocked many.

Unfortunately, there is an electorate for racism among the more ignorant of the population suffering neglect as the US economy turns down. In the UK, the campaign around the European Union Brexit vote unleashed a wave of xenophobia focussed on migration levels, swamping a rational campaign against the anti-worker, finance capital-dominated EU.

Founder of the racist English Defence League, Tommy Robinson, became the centre of a sizable but misguided free speech campaign lately when he was imprisoned briefly for contempt of court. This resulted from his attempt to film defendants during a rape trial in Canterbury.

Meanwhile, far-right political candidates in Europe and elsewhere are gaining ground. They claim that they are the targets of a growing police state and lack of respect for “free speech”. The truth is quite the opposite.

Repression

The reality is that official repression and intolerance is being directed at migrants, refugees from mostly US-led wars of aggression, and the international working-class movement. In Australia this is seen in the ratchetting up of anti-union legislation, curtailment of the right to protest and the go-ahead for the use of the military against the people seeking to halt the drift to a fascist-style state.

The left has not yet got traction for the alternative to this hate-filled agenda. The antidote to the toxic right message is internationalism and socialism – a non-exploitative society where working people are not set against one another to preserve capitalist class privilege. The greatest unity possible must be forged to fight the onslaught of the right and leadership from the Communist Party is key. Resources are limited compared to those of our enemies and our only hope is the mobilisation of masses of people against the right-wing agenda that threatens the whole planet with a new dark age.

Bob Briton is the General Secretary of the Communist Party of Australia

Next article – Editorial – Miners’ free-for-all

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