Page 2778 - Week 09 - Thursday, 8 August 2013

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Most white Australians cannot or will not acknowledge the racial message behind “stop the boats”. Australians do not want to be seen as racist. Our social norm, our shared sense of appropriate behaviour and our Australian values demand that we are not racist, that we do not oppress or belittle people because of their race. Yet, the desire to not look racist drives some people to preface the most appallingly bigoted remarks with, “I’m not a racist but,” as if the denial of the bleeding obvious is going to fool anybody.

The truth is that we are all prejudiced about people who are different from ourselves. Prejudice is simply our unthinking judgement about another’s race, religion, sexual preference, gender or other difference. In the case of race, it is what we do about our prejudices that make us racist or not.

The general shock and horror at recently reported outbursts of racist language on sporting fields and public transport demonstrate that most Australians, when they think about it, abhor racism, yet they are unable to recognise the racist dog whistle which plugs straight into their in-built prejudices. For the 10 per cent of Australians with ancestors from outside Europe, the racial message is as obvious as a slap in the face.

Australia has form on racism, in our history, our laws and our politics. One of the major forces which encouraged the states to federate and form a commonwealth was the desire for a white Australia—a policy we did not reject completely until 1973. Our constitution, the rule book for our country, includes several racist powers—powers which allow the commonwealth to make laws about any race, laws that can be discriminatory or beneficial. The Australian Constitution also permits states to ban any race from voting—something no other country in the world allows.

You might think that the commonwealth’s Racial Discrimination Act passed in 1975 could provide protection. Well, it does, except when the commonwealth parliament suspends its operation, as it has done twice so far.

White Australians need to recognise the racial message in a dog whistle, decide where they stand and act accordingly. If we ignore the racial framing of “stop the boats”, dog whistling on race will continue to be a part of our politics.

Jack Charles v The Crown

MR SMYTH (Brindabella) (5.50): I want to speak tonight about a play I was very privileged to see at the Canberra Theatre—it ran from 17 to 19 July—called Jack Charles v The Crown. On the night I was there Mr Wall was there, and I think he would agree with me that it was a very entertaining story. It is the story of an Aboriginal Australian, and it is his life. The show grew out of a documentary called Bastardry. Bastardry looked at this man’s life, and the outline to the documentary says that Jack Charles was an addict, a homosexual, a cat burglar, an actor and an Aboriginal. It probably could have added the word “prisoner”, as he has spent a large amount of his life in jail. To foster a 30-year addiction, he was a cat burglar and he did a number of burgs.

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