The Guardian 1 February, 2006


Australia Day and nationalism

Australia Day this year was notable for the massive proliferation of Australian flags, hung from buildings, trees, cars and used as wrap-arounds. This trend may have been helped along by the use made of the Australian flag to cover-up the racism seen in Sydney’s recent beach riots. The Federal Minister for Citizenship John Cobb, echoing the Prime Minister, declared that Australia is not a racist country.

The majority of Australians are not racist, but there are many who are and it is an attitude which is being surruptiously reinforced and promoted by the Government. This is seen in the inhumane incarceration refugees from the Middle East and Afghanistan in concentration camps, some for years on end, and in the Government’s involvement in the US wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, both Muslim countries.

Nationalism and militarism are also being assiduously promoted by the government and the Prime Minister in particular. He told an Australia Day citizenship ceremony that there "aren’t any better countries to be found". It is an assertion that is often made and believed by many but can be challenged on closer examination. He takes every opportunity to be seen farewelling or welcoming troops, participating in military anniversaries. At the same time as talking peace, the government is actively preparing for war. Its policies alongside its almost open-ended military budget are inevitably propelling Australia into war in Asia sometime in the future.

Howard, and a number of his Ministers, promote the policies of the extreme fundamentalist religious Right that has gained considerable influence both here and under the Bush administration in the USA. They promote church schools, oppose abortion, oppose a Bill of Rights and seek to dismantle the welfare system with churches and other philanthropic organisations taking over the state’s social and educational responsibilities. In the economic sphere they pursue privatisation, anti-labour laws, and worship the god of profits. They obscure many of their far-reaching objectives with clever propaganda that uses such terms as "family values".

The absence of a Bill of Rights in Australia and the Howard Government’s control of Parliament, and prior to that, support from the Labor Opposition, has enabled the government to strip many basic human and democratic rights. The limited protections that have curtailed the most extreme ravages of employers for the past century have been stripped. The dishonestly named "anti-terror laws" destroy a number of long held basic legal rights and extend police state powers, including the right to kill civilians, to the armed forces.

The government’s contempt for democracy is also shown in its refusal to accept the democratic election of Hamas to the leadership of the Palestinian people. When a democratic ballot does not elect those that they support it is condemned.

Government leaders are not averse, when all else fails, to flagrant lies such as were used to justify the invasion of Iraq and the government’s callous refugee policies. In many respects there is a policy of "dumbing-down" the Australian people which is vastly contributed to by the lack of information and analysis published by all elements of the mass media. It is also behind the PM’s recent foray into the teaching of history in Australian schools. Although not stated clearly he wants a return to the old-style teaching of history which was limited to rote learning of the names of prominent people and battles and the memorising of endless dates.

The sentiment that Australia is the "best country in the world" is often related to our economic standards and weather conditions. But it is well to remember that Australia’s small population and extremely rich resources have allowed massive trade to Asian countries (and others) which underwrite the present conditions enjoyed by so many Australians. But they are not enjoyed by all Australians.

There is one group who Howard has never given true recognition, who he would like to wish away, or make invisible. That is the original owners and occupiers of this vast continent, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. The jingoistic, nationalistic celebration that was to be seen this year on January 26, with never-ending orchestrated wishes for a "Happy Australia Day" on radio, hides Australia’s pre-white invasion history.

The Invasion Day events around Australia on January 26 did not make the media headlines. There is no room for Indigenous Australians in Howard’s nationalism.

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