By Dr George Venturini
At its heart, Australia is a system of representative government. More specifically, Australian parliamentary democracy is a variation of the Westminster system, the system which is characterised by responsible government.
The question is: responsible to whom? Both Her Majesty’s Australian Government and Her Majesty Loyal Opposition in Australia are responsible to the Queen – not to the people of Australia.
Now, the legislation enacted by the Parliament, the relative regulations, and also the international agreements and/or conventions freely acceded to and ratified by Australia must be regarded as the body of laws which is called, briefly, ‘the rule of law’. There is quite frequent reference to that in the statement. See, for instance, pp. 4 and 9 thereof.
It seems that there should be a kind of reciprocity between the government and the people: the government respects the law that Parliament has enacted or received as much and as long as the subjects do the same. It could be a condition for the protection of the people by and from the government.
The government commands and enforces respect for the ‘rule of law’ and at the same time protects the people within ‘strong borders’ and guarantees ‘strong national security.’ It is the statement proclaiming that much on p. 11, where the statement adds: “This helps to ensure that Australia remains an open, inclusive, free and safe society.” [Emphasis added]
The Australian Government of the time largely contributed to the wording of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (adopted in 1948), where Article 14 (1) reads: ‘Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.’ (Thank you Dr. Herbert Vere Evatt). Nowadays that means absolutely nothing in Canberra.
Successive Australian governments have acceded to, ratified and made the law of the land what is largely referred to as the International Bill of Human Rights, which is the name given to United Nations General Assembly Resolution 217 A (III) and two international treaties established by the Organisation. The Bill consists of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966) with its two Optional Protocols and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966). The two covenants entered into force in 1976, after a sufficient number of countries had ratified them. Australia was one such country.
Australian governments have entered into other treaties and conventions. To the extent that those instruments relate to the condition of asylum seekers and refugees in Australia, every single one of those treaties has been violated by the Australian governments of the last twenty five years, including the present.
As Christos Tsiolkas wrote on 25 March 2017 in an extract from his foreword to They cannot take the sky – Stories of detention (Sydney 2017), apropos the “destructive national debate about asylum seekers”, “In all the screaming across the parliament floor or on social media, we forget that the asylum seeker and the refugee is a real person, with a real body and a real consciousness, that they are as human as we are.”
And he went on:
“For nearly two decades now, Australian politics has been corrupted by a toxic and destructive national debate about asylum seekers and refugees. Unfortunately, fought out as much across media – traditional and digital – as it has in our parliament, the issue of asylum has become inexorably entwined with our security and existential fears arising from the threats of international terrorism.
Our leaders, across the political spectrum, have failed in the democratic imperative to ensure a cogent and humane approach to the issue. In fanning the hysteria of partisanship they have betrayed our trust. That great leveller, history, will ultimately judge us on what kind of country we created for ourselves at the beginning of the 21st century. This isn’t the place for political analysis.”
“We know that the detention centres we have built on our continent, on Nauru and on Manus Island, are not places we would ever countenance imprisoning Australians. We know what we have done. We don’t need history to instruct us on that.”
As Primo Levi had been reduce to number 174517 at Auschwitz, so we have turned all ‘undesirables’ into numbers at Nauru and Manus Island.
Such is the respect for ‘the rule of law’ by Australian governments since 1992.
One concluding observation: the 20 March Turnbull Statement on Multiculturalism boasts of Australia as “the most successful in the world.” Well, it depends on whom you are reading and to whom you are talking.
If one is talking about multiculturalism as expressing cultural diversity and/or ethnic diversity, then one could hear different voices.
A recent work by the respectable Pew Research Center presented the study of cultural diversity and economic development by researcher Erkan Gören of the University of Oldenberg in Germany.
In his paper, Gören measured the amount of cultural diversity in each of more than 180 countries. To arrive at his estimates, he combined data on ethnicity and race with a measure based on the similarity of languages spoken by major ethnic or racial groups. “The hypothesis is that groups speaking the same or highly related languages should also have similar cultural values,” affirmed Gören. He used his language and ethnicity measures to compute a cultural diversity score for each country which ranged from 0 to 1, with larger scores indicating more diversity and smaller values representing less.
Not unusually, the list of culturally diverse countries is headed by Chad, with Cameroon, Nigeria, Togo and the Democratic Republic of the Congo following. (In Chad in north-central Africa 8.6 million residents belong to more than 100 ethnic groups). These and other African countries typically rank high on any diversity index because of their multitude of tribal groups and languages. According to Gören, the only ‘western’ country to break into the top 20 most diverse is, again, Canada.
Such data should be observed with considerable caution: cultural diversity is a different concept from ethnic diversity. As a result, a map of the world reflecting ethnic diversity looks somewhat different from the one based on Gören’s cultural diversity measure which combines language and ethnicity profiles of a country.
The Harvard Institute of Economic Research developed a map similar to the one offered by Gören’s findings.
Still, a comparison of the Harvard and Goren maps shows that the most diverse countries in the world are found in Africa. Such conclusion could have been a source of worry for Mr. Turnbull, permanently concerned as he was about his difficult relations with the troglodytes at his right and with most of the ‘Nationals’.
The cave-men, and probably some of their women, would feel more comfortable with the dreams of Menzies and his “British to the bootstraps”, or the menaces of Howard and his “we will decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come.” than with looking, if they ever look at such things, for a real multicultural experience and finding it in … Chad. The comparison with Toronto comes back here: in Toronto there live 53 per cent ‘Whites’, 7 per cent Blacks, and 40 per cent ‘Others’. Every member of the Melbournian bene society would be entitled to worry. What? Some 250,000 Blacks going about in Melbourne? There is enough to hear about ‘being swamped’ by them!
And how would Mr. Turnbull have reacted if faced with a motion similar to the one passed by 201 votes to 91 on 24 March 2017 by the Canadian Parliament? On that day, the Parliament adopted a landmark anti-Islamophobia and religious discrimination motion which calls on politicians to condemn anti-Islamic behaviour and rhetoric. It called on the Canadian Government to recognise the need to “quell the public climate of fear and hate.”
It is worth reproducing that motion verbatim:
“Whereas: “Islam is a religion of over 1.5 billion people worldwide. Since its founding more than 1400 years ago, Muslims have contributed, and continue to contribute, to the positive development of human civilization. This encompasses all areas of human endeavors including the arts, culture, science, medicine, literature, and much more;
Recently an infinitesimally small number of extremist individuals have conducted terrorist activities while claiming to speak for the religion of Islam. Their actions have been used as a pretext for a notable rise of anti-Muslim sentiments in Canada; and
These violent individuals do not reflect in any way the values or the teachings of the religion of Islam. In fact, they misrepresent the religion. We categorically reject all their activities. They in no way represent the religion, the beliefs and the desire of Muslims to co-exist in peace with all peoples of the world.
We, the undersigned, Citizens and residents of Canada, call upon the House of Commons to join us in recognizing that extremist individuals do not represent the religion of Islam, and in condemning all forms of Islamophobia.”
How can one even imagine such a thing happening in Canberra?
Beyond the words which decorate the composition of a multiethnic society such as Australia, and coming to the real substance of life – and in Australia that is money – it remains a reality that in multicultural Australia as described, the levers of command in the corporate boardrooms are still overwhelmingly in the so-called ‘Anglo-Saxon’ hands.
“Anyone that sounds different, behaves different, or has somewhat different views – which is the point of diversity and the strength of diversity – it can be a little hard to get into the club.” the chairwoman of the Asian Australian Foundation, Cheri Ong, told the A.B.C.
A look at the statistics bears out Ms. Ong’s point.
In the past few decades Australia has become a very different country.
Only 58 per cent of Australians still have British roots; 18 per cent are European; 21 per cent non-European; and 3 per cent of Australians are Indigenous.
By contrast, in the big end of town, three quarters of C.E.O.s are from British heritage and 18 per cent from Europe, meaning a total of 93 per cent are white.
And in the boardroom, 70 per cent of directors come from a British background.
A detailed breakdown of the other 30 per cent is not available, but they include directors from other white, first-world, countries.”’
And there is more.
“But as tough as it is for people like Ms. Long [chairwoman of A.M.P. Capital Funds Management] and Ms. Ong to become directors, there’s one group that’s completely shut out, and that’s Indigenous Australians.
I think it probably stems from the generations of exclusion of Indigenous Australians from mainstream Australi,” said Ms. Laura Berry, who is the C.E.O. of Supply Nation, a company which links Indigenous businesses with the big end of town.
As an Indigenous person making her way in the business world, Ms. Berry has no doubt there are many Aboriginal people more than capable of being company directors.
Ms. Ong had one more interesting comment: “With company boards so un-reflective of Australian society, inevitably the issue of targets, or even quotas, gets raised in discussions about how to fix the problem.
Targets and quotas actually force boards to actually explore the option, and I think that’s where as a mechanism, in a tool-kit for change, that progresses the cause, if you like,” Ms. Ong said.
Targets and quotas have been shown to work in boosting the percentage of women on company boards, but as in the gender-diversity debate, there is one issue that’s also very important on dealing with cultural diversity.
“And that is it’s not what you know but who[m] you know that can determine your board prospects.
“If you didn’t go to that private school and you didn’t meet at university, or play in the rugby club together, then it’s really hard to have that network in place to be able to be considered in the first place,” Ms. Berry lamented. (A. Robertson, ‘In multicultural Australia, corporate boardrooms are still overwhelmingly white Anglo-Saxon,’ abc.net.au, 2 October 2018).
Despite the claim to multiculturalism prejudice remain. It is not possible to dismiss that as recently in October 2018 a question was seriously being asked such as: “How much prejudice is there against Australians of Greek and Italian descent in Australia?”
Interestingly one of the respondents noted: “Growing up as Greek Australian I did face some prejudice and discrimination, especially during my early school years where I had an ethnic name and could’t speak English properly. I did change my name to an Anglo name when I moved to a different school, but I still got some racial hate. The high school I went to, there was a clear distinction between the ‘skips/Aussies’ (Australians of Anglo and Celtic descent) and the ‘wogs’ (Australians of southern Europe, Balkan and Middle Eastern descent). There were constant racial fuelled fights during lunch breaks and even after school hours w[h]ere the groups would meet at certain locations and fight. I did repeatedly get told to ‘go back to my country you wog’, have been spat on, was called s ‘greasy hair wog’ and stuff like that. Even some teachers had obvious biases too. But I never paid much attention to it.
We have integrated into society quite well and, in fact, some Greeks and Italians now don’t acknowledge their own heritage. [Emphasis added]
There are still isolated incidences [sic] that do come up every now and then. But for the most part, it is limited to really backward thinking Bogans (Australia’s equivalent to a redneck). Most of us live our lives in peace and the prejudice and discrimination we once faced is a thing of the past.”
Xian Zhao, a postdoctoral fellow at the Department of Management at University of Toronto at Mississauga, in a study appearing in Social psychological and personality science has observed that “We do not suggest immigrants to Anglicise their ethnic names in order to avoid discrimination” and “This certainly puts the onus on immigrants to promote equity and our previous studies also suggest that Anglicising names may have negative implications for one’s self-concept.” (‘Biases Against Immigrants With Non-Anglicized Names’, eurasiareview.com, 27 December 2018).
There being no question as to existence of prejudice against minorities in Australia, one may well ask: is Australia racist? The question has disturbed and is returning from time to time amongst persons seriously concerned.
One of the biggest ever survey conducted on racism and prejudice in Australia was commissioned early in 2018 by Special Broadcasting Service with the Western Sydney University.
Professor Kevin Dunn, from Western Sydney University, led the survey of just over 6,000 respondents and examined issues including attitudes to cultural differences, tolerance of specific groups and racial hierarchy.
The conclusion was that one in five Australians had experienced racism in the previous twelve months.
- 31.6 per cent of respondents claimed to have ‘negative’ feelings towards Muslim Australians, 22.4 per cent claimed to have ‘negative’ feelings towards Middle-‐Eastern Australians while only 9 per cent had negative feelings towards Aboriginal Australians.
- 36.4 per cent believe the number of immigrants accepted into Australia is too high or much too high.
- 41.1 per cent believe Australia is weakened by people of different ethnicities sticking to their old ways.
- 20.5 per cent believe that African refugees increase crime in Australia. Men and older participants were more likely to believe that African refugees increase crime.
- 32 per cent of respondents reported having experienced racism within their workplace. 32 per cent of respondents reported having experience racism within an educational facility.
- Those who belong to a Language Other Than English, LOTE background reported the highest rates of workplace racism (54.1 per cent) and racism within various educational institutions (55.8 per cent).
- The experience of racism on public transport or in the street was the highest at 34.1 per cent, followed by at a shop or shopping centre at 32.2 per cent. Online experiences of racism were also quite high at 28.2 per cent.
- Those of LOTE background experienced the highest rates of discrimination in shops/shopping centres (56.9 per cent), on public transport or in the street (58.2 per cent), and online (49.1 per cent).
- 48.6 per cent believe people from racial, ethnic, cultural and religious minorities groups should behave more like mainstream Australians.
- 54.4 per cent of respondents agreed that Australia should help refugees fleeing persecution in their homeland.43 per cent believe that all boats carrying asylum seekers should be turned back. (M. Acharya, ‘Is Australia racist? Here are 10 stunning stats?’, sbs.com.au, 8 April 2018).
When Dr. Tim Southphommasane, Australia’s Race Discrimination Commissioner, gave his final speech ahead of stepping down on 20 August 2018, his message struck a sombre tone. Racial disharmony is on the rise, he lamented.
Dr. Soutphommasane warned that Australia’s success as a multicultural society is under threat. This threat is not from extreme factional groups or mask-wearing fascists, it is from the mainstream of Australian public life. So wrote Professor Carl Rhodes, of the University of Technology, Sydney
The real danger, Dr. Southphommasane argued, comes from “dog-whistling politicians” and “race-baiting commentators” eager to harness populist attention through the careless “mixing of race and politics”. Just about a week later, Senator Fraser Anning proved how devastatingly true that was when he called for a “final solution” to “ethnocultural diversity” in Australia in his first speech to Parliament.
“There is much more to the resurgence of cultural and gender politics in Australia than that.” wrote Professor Rhodes.” More than the playing out democratic differences, this is the acting out of white male privilege in a democracy fast turning to tyranny.
It is an absolute affront to democracy, at least insofar as democracy is understood in terms of a way of life that values equality over elite privilege.”
“Nowhere is the reality of [white male] privilege more blatantly obvious than in the workplace – a location where the intersection of whiteness and masculinity dominate top leadership,” wrote Professor Rhodes. And he confirmed that “Recent research reveals that 95 per cent of corporate executives have Anglo-Celtic or European heritage. Despite comprising almost half the workforce, only 5 per cent of C.E.O.s are women. A third of those companies have no women at all in executive roles.”
For the past two decades, the gender pay gap has favoured men by between 15 and 19 per cent. Of women, 28 per cent report having been sexually harassed at work.
Clearly, the comfort and spoils of the Australian workplace are disproportionally skewed towards white men on a vast scale. Only staunch advocates of patriarchal white supremacy would have the audacity to suggest Australia is an equal society when it comes to gender and cultural difference at work.
The brute facts of white male dominance in the workplace – and politics – demonstrate that the promise of equality that is built into the very idea of democracy is not being kept. (C. Rhodes, ‘Anning and Latham fight for a white male privilege ‘final solution’, independentaustralia.net, 17 August 2018).
As Dr. Soutphommasane intimated, “If there is now political unity against racism let’s start seeing that unity and leadership every day. No more racial hysteria about “African gangs”. No more false alarms about multicultural “separatism”. No more assaults on racial equality and the Racial Discrimination Act.”
Continued Wednesday – Comedy without art (part 5)
Previous instalment – Comedy without art (part 3)
Dr. Venturino Giorgio Venturini devoted some seventy years to study, practice, teach, write and administer law at different places in four continents. He may be reached at George.firstname.lastname@example.org.
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