*disclaimer: that all allegations and issues in this article have been sourced from publicly available information
AAP does not endorse or are affiliated with any particular party, however we do value the importance of covering a diverse range of perspectives in all the conversations we have and in what we do.
Something is festering in Australia. Its roots are deep and pervasive. The trail of destruction and harm it brings to our society and communities. It consumes people, even driving people to death.
What I’m talking about is racism. The simmering falsehoods that created the bedrock of what ‘Australia’ is nowadays. Not only is Australia built on racism, but genocide, violence, slavery, and segregation. This is what our politicians in power do not seem to understand. All of White Australia has benefited from the oppression and suppression of People of Colour especially the suppression of First Nations communities and people. Yet, in the 120 years that Australia has existed as a federation, we have made little progress on anti-racism policies and community healing.
The upcoming federal election is what I would consider one of the most important elections in our lifetime. If the last few years were an indication of public opinions temperature on race relations, we can say that the temperature has been raised to an excruciating boiling over point. If there was ever a time to address racism head on, it is this election cycle. And despite racism being branded as persona non grata in the court of public opinion and recently published reports of the impact of racism, it seems as if the politicians and parties have purposefully navigated policy to exclude any meaningful action to address racism.
To be fair to the parties, racism is a complex and complicated issue. It is not merely solved by implementing policies or making grandeur speeches, increasing representation, or injecting more funding into existing institutions or organisations. Racism is also intersectional and affects other facets such as gender, sexuality, class, disability, residency status, etc. Thus, complex situations need time to understand and unpack the complexity, along with empathetic ears and a willingness to accept change if the solutions point towards that. Let us be clear when we mean addressing racism, it’s not just addressing the interpersonal violence and discrimination that occurs between people and communities, but also the systemic racism that our institutions, our Government, are built on.
As AAP has argued, in our ‘Submission to the Australian Human Rights Commission’ in addressing a National Anti-Racism Framework, the current Anti-Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth) is not fit for purpose in addressing inequalities that are a by-product of racism by design. Asian Australians still face barriers in reporting racism, either related to lack of accessibility or lack of trust in law enforcement authorities, or lack of knowledge of where to go. This can be applied more broadly to culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities and our First Nations communities. Although the Human Rights Commission is currently in the process of developing this framework, it is not enough until members of the political elite bring this into the chambers of Parliament and the party room discussions. With both major parties, Labor and Liberal Coalition, scrambling for each last vote, it seems like a relevant time to claw back the ‘ethnic vote’.
While there are People of Colour in parties, representing multicultural electorates, let us not forget that these very parties still perpetuate racist attitudes and uphold the very institutions whereby the design, is to disadvantage and marginalised Groups of Colour. Representation is not enough.
Let’s dig a bit deeper into the major political parties about where they lie in racism.
The Liberal and National Coalition
The current Government is no stranger to racism. The Coalition is responsible for Australia’s inhumane immigration policies. The Prime Minister, Scott Morrison (then Minister for Immigration and Border Protection), was the individual that led ‘Operation Sovereign Borders’ to ‘stop the boats’. Peter Dutton, the current Home Affairs Minister, is still serving in Parliament. Despite Australia’s deep history with immigration, humanitarianism, and multiculturalism, the current Government still maintains that indefinite offshore and community detention is what deters ‘people from coming to Australia illegally’. There have been extensive inquiries about the self-harm, abuse, and neglect that refugees and asylum seekers face in detention. The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) has said that Australia’s Migration Act is a breach of international law and despite this, in 2021, the Government had passed legislation that allowed lifetime detention of refugees.
The Coalition also secretly passed changes to the English language requirement for Partner Visas. Partner Visa applicants will have to ‘demonstrate a functional level of English or genuine attempt to learn from late 2021 to obtain permanent visas’. Community leaders in the multicultural sector were unconsulted and had argued that these new changes would lead to segregated marriages ‘based on race, culture, and nationality’. The current application process for migrants already includes rigorous language testing despite being legally allowed to apply for permanent residency. Race Commissioner Chin Tan notes that ‘achieving a functional level of English is a complex process influenced by many factors… and should be taken into account if the requirement is to be applied without discriminatory results’. These laws and policies have been structurally embedded into Australian public policy and opinion, fuelling distrust and negative opinion about people seeking asylum and refugees despite being a signatory to the UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.
Let’s not forget that the Coalition was quick to accuse the Labor Party of racism when Gladys Liu was being questioned about her relationships with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) when the party is actively promoting political rhetoric that is ‘tough on China’ without realising the effect it has on the millions of Chinese Australians that live here. It just shows that despite that you’re an asylum seeker, migrant, or even citizen, if you try to ‘a fair go for those who have a go’, your skin colour or where you were born, or English ability will always be a barrier. This is a clear contrast to the quick response of the Government, when it decided to immediately prioritise and resettle Ukrainian refugees, over the non-Anglo non-Christian refugees. We can explore how Islamophobia is rife within the Coalition but forget one of Australia’s most important bilateral relationships is with the world’s most populated Muslim nation, Indonesia.
That just speaks volumes.
The Australian Labor Party
Most people forget that the White Australia policy was implemented under a Labor Government (ALP). While the current ALP is a far cry from its predecessors in the early 1900s, the Party was still responsible for the institutionalised racism against non-whites particularly Asians. The White Australia policy was implemented as a backstop to prevent low wage Asian labour from undermining white labourers who had to compete for this in the gold fields. This policy was only repealed in 1973, a mere 50 years ago when many Chinese Australians have resided in this country since the late 1800s.
The original intent of the repealing of the Act was to ‘populate or perish’ due to the devastating effects of World War II on Australia’s population, not because the ALP saw the legislation as racist. The remnants of the White Australia Policy still exist. Senator Hanson, from One Nation, had made this policy part of her election campaign in the early 90s and she is still currently serving in Parliament. As a party that champions unionism and for ‘the workers’, it has failed to acknowledge its history and how this has impacted People of Colour (POC). The White Australia Policy is rarely talked about in public spheres, and even less so, the impact of it on POC. Its erasure in post-war history is a stain on our national Australian identity. How can we be ‘one and free’ if we do not acknowledge that our history and foundation of modern Australia were not built on being a unified or free country for all?
This lack of acknowledgement is clear in the modern ALP. Pre-selections for multiple seats in New South Wales show that rather than listening to voters and expanding diversity in their party, they chose to further their political points in marginal seats. Both seats of Parramatta and Fowler are considered multicultural suburbs made up of diverse culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities. However, despite public outrage and the clear competency of the alternative CALD candidates (Tu Le, Durga Owen, Alan Mascrenhas, and Abha Devasia) Labor has been strangely quiet and unapologetic in parachuting two white candidates despite both not living in the electorates their running for. Out of the 152 candidates they are running for this election, only seven of them come from CALD backgrounds. Those seven candidates make up less than five percent of the current ALP candidate pool.
For the Opposition to claim ‘incredible cultural diversity in [their] ranks’, there does not seem to be much representing the face of the ALP. The ALP’s candidates have criticised particularly Tu Le’s overshadowing and the fact that this is a failure of ALP’s diversity.
We can say the contemporary version of the ALP is different from that of the mid-20th century, however, we cannot look past the long-lasting impact of the White Australia policy and its direct link to Australia’s current xenophobic and sinophobic tensions. Before the ALP accuses the Liberal party of racism and points to itself as a moral beacon, it should look back at its history and reflect on why this may seem hypocritical and ironic.
The Australian Greens positions themselves as the alternative option to the Liberal Party and the ALP, largely marketing themselves as a progressive and democratic party. Increasingly popular amongst young people and People of Colour due to their stances on a diverse range of issues from climate action to discrimination to First Nations reconciliation and treaty, as well as their core principles of social justice and ecological sustainability. The Greens are unashamed and unapologetic for the politics they preach and often advocate for minority groups such as LGBTQIA+, People of Colour, people with disabilities, and First Nations communities. Despite young people traditionally flocking towards the ALP, this has been steadily declining with both the ALP and Liberal party losing voters to the Greens. In the last federal election, the Greens had their highest party vote on record at 28%. There are also notable politicians in the Greens who represent different facets of minority communities, such as Mehreen Faruqi who is a Muslim Woman of Colour, Jordan Steele-Jon who uses a wheelchair, and Lidia Thrope and Dorinda Cox who are proud Aboriginal women.
Surprisingly, there have been no Asian Australians, let alone People of Colour, in the top echelons of the Greens. Since 2005, when the Greens voted to abandon their tradition of having no official leader, there have been no People of Colour either as leader or deputy leaders. They have all been white people. Does this speak to a broader issue? Perhaps so. Given that there have been five federal elections since the Greens have had an official leader, it is surprising that they have not had a Person of Colour to lead the party when they have had four leadership changes since then. For a party that preaches diversity and representation, is it very diverse or representative of them to have no People of Colour in leadership positions? This just points to the bigger issue: in the party room, whose vote matters the most? And the results speak for themselves.
Despite not having any notable or publicly available knowledge about racism in the party, silence does not mean it does not exist. White privilege means automatically being considered for leadership positions, it means having a seat at the table and not having to fight to put a foot in the door. White privilege is having the ability and resources to speak out against racism but not be vilified because of your skin colour or where you come from. White privilege is having the ability to fight for climate action but having enough income to afford an electric car. White privilege is the ability to fight to end ‘deaths in custody’ but not worry about ending in custody themselves.
Racism and white supremacy are more than just policy and rhetoric: it is the intersection of institutions, policy, people, structures of power, economy, and culture and how it affects People of Colour every day. Opportunities for People of Colour in this country are either given to them or taken from white people, and for us to have a foot in the door, let alone a seat at a table, someone has to allow us to sit there or we have to take it ourselves. This is the reality of the Greens. Unless true representation is reflected in the leadership of the Greens, People of Colour either have to wait or take action.
Why do we need parties to have racism specific policies?
Racism seems to be the word that is on everyone’s minds but is never uttered in public. There have been positive movements and changes towards being non-racist in this country. But being non-racist is not enough. Non-racism accepts colour blindness and neutrality (‘I don’t see colour’/’race is not the issue’) which centres on non-discriminatory intentions and assumes racial innocence of people, policies, and ideas (Mapedzahama, 2019). It is the passive rejection, non-acceptance, and opposition to behaviours and discourses that are considered racist. But we know that this is not enough to address racism in its entirety. We know racism is structural, systemic, and pervasive. This cannot be solved with just non-racist policies and behaviour. It needs proactive action and accountability from policymakers. Despite the Stolen Generations happening in the 20th century, the current child protection system is labelled as the ‘second stolen generation’ due to the high rates of Aboriginal children being removed from their homes. Despite the White Australia policy ending in 1973, eight in 10 Asian Australians reported discrimination in 2020 and Chinese Australians have repeatedly had to prove their loyalty to Australia. Culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities are more likely to face barriers in accessing appropriate service delivery in any form due to a multitude of reasons (Sawrikar and Katz, 2008).
This is why we need anti-racist policies. It is to dismantle the structures and institutions in place that perpetuate and benefit white supremacy. It is to restructure them to make them fairer and more equal for the minority and vulnerable. Addressing racism means choosing to give up positions of power and white privilege and being accountable and actionable.
Politicians have the power to create royal commissions, national enquiries, and parliamentary enquiries, so why not an enquiry into the state of racism in this country? The last national enquiry into racism was in 1991 and Australia has changed a lot since then. The general public can pressure the Government in, to establish such bodies to investigate issues such as sexual harassment in the workplace. While the Government can choose to ignore or accept the findings and recommendations, it is about bringing the issue to the table that matters most. So despite whoever is Government of the Day, there is never a perfect time to address racism, but when will there ever be? We cannot stay silent or be scared to talk about the issue because the longer we wait, the longer People of Colour will have to pay the price.
Write to your local candidate
Dear (local candidate name),
I am a concerned resident of the (federal electorate name). I am writing to you to express my disappointment in the lack of policies addressing racism and racial discrimination that the (party name) has made for the upcoming federal election. Given the last decade, we have increasingly seen the racial divide in Australia deepen with political rhetoric acting as fuel but having real-world effects on Australians.
(POC) As a Person of Colour (or you can insert your cultural group), racism is an issue that continues to affect my community in every facet of life and interaction with the broader community. Racism continually disadvantages my community from pursuing further opportunities and harms the physical and mental wellbeing of individuals. We are made to feel ‘un-Australian’ and othered despite balancing our multiple cultural identities.
(ALLY) As an ally to People of Colour, I have seen the effects of racism that it has on our multicultural and First Nations communities. I cannot standby as another election cycle passes and we fail those communities again.
I am appalled that in 2022, we still do not have robust and meaningful policies that address racism beyond the Anti-Discrimination Act of 1975. A National Anti-Racism Framework is not enough. Culturally and linguistically diverse communities and our First Nations communities are still more likely to experience worse outcomes compared to white Australians, despite boasting that we are ‘multicultural’ country, and everyone gets a ‘fair go’.
I implore you to advocate for all Australians, including those who have been unfairly targeted because of their cultural or ethnic background and disadvantaged by systems and institutions that were designed to marginalise them. The (party’s name)/you (if independent) must address this issue, to not, is to let racism endure, and you (or party’s name) in letting this continue.
Mapedzahama, V., 2019. Race matters: (Re)thinking the significance of race and racial inequalities in community development practice in Australia. PhD. University of Sydney.