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Comedy without art (part 6)

Br Dr George Venturini

Can we do more than highlight, year after year, the lack of representation afforded to people of colour in parliament, in business, in the media? More than that recent spate of Aboriginal and Arab and South-Asian women who have somehow overcome unimaginable odds to get elected to parliament? Or more than women of colour journalists such as Bhakthi Puvanenthiran and Sarah Malik, who have found a way into the white-dominated editorial spaces in important and influential mastheads like Crikey and SBS? Just when it seems women and men of colour are levelling the playing field, not just in visible positions but in decision-making positions, along comes another ‘aberration’ to take us right back to the debate over whether or not it’s actually okay to be racist. Progress is so slow, yet regression happens in an instant.

It’s frightening rhetoric but it’s also a distraction. Racism is not just these eruptions; racism is the entire system that makes every facet of life easier for a white person – not necessarily always easy, but easier than not being a white person.

White supremacy – by which I do not mean the Ku Klux Klan or indeed neo-Nazis, but simply the system we live in, constructed on the attempted destruction of the First Nations, which “privileges white people at every conceivable opportunity”, as comedian Aamer Rahman notes in his famous stand-up routine – needs these extremists to keep functioning. It needs these supposed outliers, the truly unconscionable voices to press those limits of what can be and what is said, so that the others may look reasonable by comparison.

Anning may have been elected to the senate with just 19 votes, but the political system our country built has a habit of elevating these allegedly marginal figures to positions of unearned power.

Steve Fielding, anyone?

It’s hard to see all of this as anything other than a game – a way of shifting the centre, edging it ever towards the right until anything short of an actual “final solution” is up for debate.

And so, even as the ghosts of all the horror of the past 230 years silently haunt us, taunting us to reckon with them, we choose instead to fabricate the easiest test for deciding what makes a “good” and non-racist person: do you condemn Anning’s words? Very well then, you pass.

And, suddenly, racism becomes a white people’s issue again; something to be solved by merely denouncing the most genocidal of racist intentions, without having to actually do anything about the societal conditions that create space for such statements and policies. And so, we are treated to the spectacle of political figures such as Hanson and Malcolm Turnbull assuming the role of Good Cop in contrast with Anning and Katter’s Bad Cop.

It is an absurd state of affairs that Hanson – herself castigated by George “people have a right to be bigots” Brandis – now gets to occupy a moral high ground by denouncing Anning’s “appalling” comments. Likewise Turnbull, who still presides over those refugee torture camps where children are wasting away even as I write this, and who himself not so long ago scolded the Muslim population of western Sydney for its high “No” votes in the laughable postal survey that his government foisted on us after years of dragging its feet on marriage equality, but who now gets to claim pride in Australia’s “successful” multiculturalism.”

What a sight to behold as these politicians fall over themselves to pass the most basic of moral tests. In these endless culture wars, race is a cherished weapon, each side playing to its base, trading barbs in parliament and in the media, each presenting themselves as the real benefactor of the baffled “coloureds” consigned to the sidelines. But here is the thing about the good cop/bad cop trope – at the end of the day, they are all cops.” (R. Hamad, Fraser Anning and racist politics, The Saturday Paper; This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Aug 18, 2018 as “Racism is not a moment, it’s who we are”).

In the politics of racism the ‘target’ varies with the times. Some years before Hanson appeared in the stage the victims of generic smear were ‘Asians’. That was the dark work of Prime Minister John Howard – an experienced intriguer – in 1988.

More recently the designated target would become the Melbourne South Sudanese, portrayed as ‘African crime gangs’. The smear was in aid of the Victorian Liberals who feared a large loss at the elections of November 2018 and a return of the Andrews Labor Government. It happened.

“It began with former Prime Minister Abbott who characterised the difficult “big question” … and went on “why do we store up trouble for ourselves by letting in people who are going to be difficult, difficult to integrate.” [Emphasis added]

Abbott’s comments took the issue into darker territory than any other, but not by much. Numbers of his Coalition colleagues, both federal and Victorian, aided and abetted by the radio shock jocks, tabloid TV and the Murdoch media, have long been working to beat up fears of “African crime gangs” rampaging across Melbourne.

However, at the beginning of 2018, Peter Dutton, who was still Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, famously took the scare campaign to a new rhetorical level, claiming Melburnians were “scared to go out to restaurants” because of “African gang violence.”

He sheeted home blame to the Andrews Labor government, alleging a lack of deterrence, claiming the state’s bail laws were too lax, that the Labor government had installed “civil libertarians” as magistrates, who imposed “jokes of sentences” due to “political correctness that’s taken hold.”

Dutton did not quote any source and much of what he claimed is questionable, if not outright false. But what does that matter?

He sheeted home blame to the Labor state government of Daniel Andrews, alleging a lack of deterrence, claiming the state’s bail laws were too lax, that the Labor government had installed “civil libertarians” as magistrates, who imposed “jokes of sentences” due to “political correctness that’s taken hold.”

Dutton even exploited the murder of 19-year-old African–Australian woman Laa Chol, echoing tabloid media claims that it was gang related.

Her grieving family were appalled by the suggestion that the sporty, law-abiding teenager was involved in gang activity. Equally damningly, investigating police have categorically denied the tragedy was gang related.

Dutton, however, was insistent her death was evidence of “a major law and order problem in Victoria.” He said “more people are going to be hurt until the rule of law is enforced by the Victorian government.”

“We don’t have these problems with Sudanese gangs in New South Wales or Queensland,” he said.

The political point had been scored! Such despicable things do not happen in Coalition-governed states, or in Queensland – Dutton state of origin!

Back in March 2018, in a speech to the Liberal-aligned Menzies Research Centre in Canberra, Alan Tudge – since 28 August 2018 the Minister for Cities, Urban Infrastructure and Population – spoke of what he called the “integration challenge” to Australian multiculturalism.

He said there was “emerging evidence that we are not integrating as well as what we have done in the past.”

He focused in particular on two threats to “social cohesion” – greater concentrations of particular ethnic groups in certain areas, and declining English language skills among immigrants.

“The 2016 census,” said Tudge, “shows that 24 per cent of the people who arrived between January and August 2016 reported that they did not speak English well or at all. This compared with 18 and 19 per cent respectively in the 2006 and 2011 census.”

Tudge did not mention particular ethnicities. Had he done so, he would have had to acknowledge that Chinese migrants were the group shown by the data to be the stand-out group in both categories.

“In Sydney,” he said, “there are 67 suburbs with more than 50 per cent born overseas. Of these, 28 suburbs have 60 per cent or more born overseas.”

But he cited only one place specifically. No, it wasn’t Sydney’s Haymarket, where 90 per cent of the population was born overseas. Nor was it one of the scores of other suburbs in Australia’s two largest cities where migrants make up more than three-quarters of residents.

It was Dandenong in Melbourne, where “of the population of 152,000, 61.7 per cent were born overseas with almost 17 per cent speaking no English or speaking English ‘not well’. ”

It just happens that, among Victorian local government areas, Dandenong ranked first in 2006 for Sudanese-born residents, and second in 2011.

Coincidence, perhaps? Whatever, Tudge went on to outline five measures to address the “challenges” to integration.

These were: to place greater emphasis on English language skills, although he offered no policy ideas to assist in this; to “actively encourage new arrivals to take positive steps to integrate”, although he did not suggest how; to place greater emphasis on commitment to “Australian values” via “a stronger values statement which a person agrees to upon entry”; and, to improve security vetting of people before they come.” (M. Seccombe, ‘The politics of racism’, The Saturday Paper, 4 August 2018).

Pointedly Dr. Kampmark observed: “Dutton’s untutored meddling in the Victorian policing scene is spectacular, claiming that he is on to something others in Victoria are not. “Andrews can’t even admit Sudanese gangs exist so how can he hope to fix the problem. He is out of touch and more people will get hurt or worse until the problem is fixed.”

For a Home Affairs minister to be using the rule of law as a point of execration for Victoria must be another one of life’s curious ironies, given the utter incapacity on the part of the minister to comprehend the term. Under Dutton laws suggest weapons rather than shields. During his troublesome reign, liberties have been clipped, scraped and accordingly eroded in what is becoming an amateurish police state.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who has convincingly dispelled any notions of being moderate during his tenure, seconded his minister on July 17 during a visit to Melbourne, claiming that “there is a gang issue here and you are not going to make it go away by pretending it doesn’t exist.” You can sense the acrid smell of elections around the corner.”(B. Kampmark, ‘Embellishing Crime: Melbourne’s “African Gang” Problem,’ theaimn.com, 28 July 2018)

It did not matter much to Crown Minister Dutton that the Victorian Crime Statistics Agency says crime has actually been dropping in the southern state, and that the Sudanese make up only one per cent of the ‘unique offender population.’ Melburnians are much more likely to be a victim of an ordinary ‘Anglo’ Aussie’s criminal activity than that of a Sudanese or Somali-ancestry offender. Even the tragic killing of 19-year-old African-Australian Laa Chol last Saturday was unrelated to gang activity, according to police who specifically dismissed Dutton’s suggestion of a Sudanese gang problem.

What mattered, in that it was useful for electoral purposes, is that stigmatising a minority community may gain votes. Race-baiting and dog-whistling are where Australian politics comes from. It has been so for a long time. Whether it was the original invaders treating Indigenous People like value-less fauna, and later on like ‘savages’; the enactment of the Influx of Chinese Restriction Act enacted in New South Wales in 1881, followed in time by other jurisdictions, because of ‘moral panic’ over Chinese miners; the discrimination against Irish because of the ignorant assumption that they were all Catholics and thus potential fifth-columnists; the internment of Germans as ‘enemy aliens’ during the first world war, and of German, Italian and Japanese ‘enemy aliens’ during the second world war; the mind-twisting obsession with ‘Asian crime gangs’ in the 1980s; or the anti-Lebanese and anti-Muslim sentiment which fuelled the Cronulla riots in late 2005, and the present Islamophobia fuelled by another ignorant, Pauline Hanson and her followers and imitators, Australia has wasted most of its historical efforts demonising one group or another.

But there is no improvement on the horizon, and not for want of trying.

Continued Wednesday – Comedy without art (part 7)

Previous instalment – Comedy without art (part 5)

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.venturini@bigpond.com.au.


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  1. Brad Black

    ‘Race baiting and dog whistling are where Australian politics comes from.’
    Great article, but the above is a bit sweeping. There have been many Australian politicians in my 45 years of voting that wouldn’t fit that category.
    Recent conservative politics, since tuck shop johnny at least, definitely.

  2. Alan Nosworthy

    Although Anning was briefly a Kap candidate he proved to be far too rascist for Bobs taste. Bob Katter is despicable on many levels but is not a rascist on an Anning or Hansonite scale. Whilst Bobkat displays just enough racial intolerance to gather first preferences from one notion ahead of his main competition, the L.N.P., his personal interactions with many indigenous constituentswho generally find him quite approachable, and helpful as a local member. Bob has often played up his Afghan heritage and presents himself as a sort of murri from elsewhere to the locals who find him more acceptable than the white businessman/farmers child who is inevitably the L.N.P. candidate.
    The same electoral cunning that lead Katter to declare that he “wont stand for union bashing” in order to shore up Labor preference flows also made him drop Anning like a burning coal.
    Bobkat is more the undistinguished, ineffective cop treading water til retirement rather than bad or good cop.

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