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How conservatives use racism and why

The 60s and 70s were times of great change in Australia. Women were throwing off the shackles of domestic servitude, Aborigines were demanding civil rights, and the end of the White Australia policy saw us embracing a new era of multiculturalism where discrimination on the basis of race or gender was no longer acceptable.

But not all were happy and opposition leader John Howard saw a formula for political success in racist rhetoric and policies which could draw on and reinforce long and deeply entrenched feelings of racial superiority and traditions of attributing people’s problems to racial scapegoats.

In his paper ‘Xenophobic racism and class during the Howard years’ Rick Kuhn noted that “Howard understood that economic liberalism on its own would not win elections’ and complemented the politics of privatisations, cutting the welfare state and deregulating markets, especially the labour market, with ‘a conservative social politics focused on the traditional nuclear family, individual responsibility and chauvinistic nationalism.”

“The intensification of racism in Australia that Howard promoted became an aspect of a ruling class agenda, the core of which remained neo-liberal economic policies designed to restore profit rates. In this way, he provided a distinctive answer to an important question: how do politicians and parties attract or maintain mass support, even though their policies do not serve the interests of most of the middle class, let alone the working class people (a large majority of the population) who vote for them?”

“During the 1996 election campaign, immigration was not an issue, but the conservatives claimed that there was an ‘Aboriginal industry’, that Aboriginal land rights were a threat to ordinary Australians and that the Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander Commission (ATSIC), a government agency providing policy advice on and services for Indigenous people, was corrupt.”

“The new conservative administration curtailed ATSIC’s activities and, in 2004, finally abolished the Commission. Separate programs for Aboriginal health, education and welfare were ‘mainstreamed’ away from organisations controlled by Aborigines into government departments. In the area of education, a consequence of this transition was that $181 million allocated to Aboriginal education in 2004-2005 was not spent.”

“On coming to office, Howard expressed ‘understanding’ for the right-wing populist Pauline Hanson and her supporters, as her following grew between 1996 and 1998. Her popularity demonstrated that there was a substantial constituency that could be tapped by the kind of racist messages that the struggles of the 1960s and 1970s had, for a period, pushed to the edges of political common sense.”

“Hanson’s racism appealed to and reinforced prejudices and diverted attention away from the fundamental processes that had given rise to neo-liberalism and stressed many small businesses and workers.”

“When Pauline Hanson vilified Aborigines and Asian immigrants John Howard let her rip, defending her right to attack them. Whilst leaving the more outrageous statements to Pauline, Howard legitimised her views and his Government began a campaign against ‘political correctness’, a concerted effort to make racism and sexism respectable again by trivialising and demonising anti-racist arguments, verbal conventions and behaviour.”

“In Australia, racism has served capitalist class interests in several ways. From the very start of the colonial period, racism justified the appropriation of Indigenous land and the super-exploitation of Indigenous labour, which remained crucial for the profitability of the pastoral industry well after World War II.”

“The wider capitalist class did not initiate the shift toward anti-Muslim racism but it was a major beneficiary. This racist campaign and its predecessors helped maintain the popularity and electoral viability of a government that acted in capitalist interests by privatising, restricting Aboriginal land rights, narrowing welfare eligibility, introducing the regressive Goods and Services Tax, restricting environmental action and attacking trade unionism.”

“Private media proprietors gained audiences through sensationalist racist headlines and through enthusiastic reporting of government policy. The campaign against Muslims was reinforced by and added to the legitimacy of Australian participation in the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, which in turn consolidated the alliance with the United States that served the interests of Australian capital.”

“Politicians use racism to mobilise support around issues that advantage their own parties or capitulate to it in order to neutralise issues which they think will damage them. Those at the top of the police, armed forces and judiciary who are sensitive to politicians and the media use similar language and take complementary actions. By playing up racist threats, the senior officers of various police forces and military units justify their existence, the expansion of their organisations and the extension of their own power.”

“Racism can also fulfil a red herring function not only for particular politicians and parties, but also for the capitalist class as a whole. If terrorism and racial issues are occupying headlines then there is less space for articles that have greater potential to raise doubts about the wonders of capitalism, like unemployment, wages and conditions, profit rates, executive salaries, tax avoidance or the profits versus the wages share of national income.”

“A decline in the appeal of xenophobic racism in Australia was an important element in the outcome of the November 2007 federal election, but a spike in the numbers of asylum seekers and the rise of IS set the scene for a belligerent, ambitious Tony Abbott to revive the ugly underbelly that had served his party’s interests so well in the past.”

So here we go again. Round two with Hanson and her ratpack, quietly encouraged by the capitalists, fighting the same battles we thought we had won 50 years ago.


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  1. John Kelly

    Excellent piece, Kaye. You have said all the things I have known and tried to express in the past. This article encapsulates the very essence of the conservative mindset.

  2. kerri

    Couldn’t what’s left of the CSIRO develop a right wing specific deadly virus? Sigh!

  3. stephentardrew

    Thanks once more Kaye for the excellent piece.

  4. paulwalter

    it is a morbid thing this conservative angst.

  5. jim

    When I visit the AIMN i now look for Kaye Lees articles first says it all really thanks Kaye for another straight to the crux of the matter post.

    We have the worst government . since 1949 and it’s the LNP,……As the Australia Institute’s research in June found – across a broad range of economic measures, the Abbott/Turnbull government has performed the worst of any Australian government since 1949. Economist Jim Stanford’s report examines economic performance across 12 indicators – including GDP per capita, the unemployment rate, employment growth and the growth of real business investment and intellectual property investment …

    The poor are hurting the most as inequality grows as a result of the government’s decision to cut the clean energy supplement to a range of new welfare recipients. The Turnbull government will drive the poorest incomes down to as low as 32 per cent below the poverty line within three years, according to the Australia Institute’s most recent research. – See more at:

    “Our democratic system depends on transparency and access by our journalists and also by other community groups who can speak up and take photographs and this must be demanded by us the people.

  6. Kaye Lee

    It is interesting watching the juggling act. The Coalition promote racism to capitalise on perceptions that they are tough on national security but that genie is hard to control once let out of the bottle. The capitalists want 457 visa workers and free trade agreements but the xenophobes (and many others) are questioning if that is in our best interests.

    Twenty nine per cent of migrants were admitted on strictly economic (as opposed to family reunion or humanitarian) grounds in 1995-96 but 69 per cent in 2005-06. Over the same period there was a rapid expansion of the number of Business Long Stay Visa holders, who were essentially guest workers.

  7. vivienne29

    Spot on Kaye.

  8. helvityni

    The rot started with Howard.

    I busied myself with domestic tasks, whilst Kelly O’Dwyer was interviewed on Insiders; she is the embodiment of all things Liberal I utterly abhor.

  9. Kaye Lee

    I listened to Kelly…what a waste of space she is. She may as well just pass over the Liberal Party talking points because she certainly can’t answer a question.

    “The $1200 to $2500-a-table breakfast, scheduled for 10 days after Mr Morrison delivers his first budget, will be held under the banner of co-sponsor National Australia Bank.

    NAB is one of two corporate sponsors for the May 13 event organised by the Higgins 200 Club, a fundraising body that supports Ms O’Dwyer, the federal member for Higgins.

    Ms O’Dwyer, who was a former adviser to Mr Costello, was an NAB executive before she inherited Higgins from her former boss in 2010.

    Along with Mr Morrison, she has rejected Labor’s call for a banks royal commission, which could be potentially damaging to major players in the financial industry.”

    “Only about a tenth of the $1,045,730 raised by ministers Kelly O’Dwyer​ and Josh Frydenberg​ and former ministers Andrew Robb and Kevin Andrews was contributed by disclosed donors.

    Ms O’Dwyer’s Higgins 200 Club ($301,000) and Mr Andrews’ Menzies 200 Club ($144,000) did not reveal a single donor source in the returns lodged with the Australian Electoral Commission.

    How the money was spent is similarly opaque. Less than a fifth of the cash raised – only $185,000 – made its way to the broader Liberal Party. The donations flooded in via corporate memberships (worth up to $7500), events (up to $2500 a table) and sponsorship.

    Bayside Forum, the fundraiser for Mr Robb, made no contribution to either the Victorian or federal divisions of the party, according to AEC returns, despite raising $156,000.

    On Sunday, Fairfax Media revealed that two-thirds of the sums raised by the Bayside Forum came from executives linked to the Yuhu Group, a Chinese conglomerate Mr Robb had enthusiastically supported and which stood to gain from the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement the then trade minister was negotiating. One of the donations was made on the day the free trade deal was clinched.”

  10. diannaart

    Those advocating the end of 18C, have not noticed Pauline Hanson ever?

    She and her ilk are louder and noisier and ignorant as ever. Once again, the LNP, can let Hanson say all the things they would like to say, but dare not.

    Turnbull may well decry racists, but these people do aid the LNP/IPA agenda, don’t they?

  11. townsvilleblog

    helvityni, I often wonder whether Kelly is a Hillsong member as her boss was. I find the USA based assembly of god cult a particularly hypocritical organization that ropes in the otherwise intelligent people, she is a very shallow person as most Liberals are.

  12. townsvilleblog

    Yes diannaart they certainly do, sadly I believe that most One Nation members do not know the party’s policies.

  13. helvityni

    townswilleblog, if she is part of Hillsong, no doubt she sings the LOUDEST; she and Michaelia make me reach for a vomit bucket every time they appear on the telly, and that’s something as in my pregnancy years I NEVER ever suffered from morning sickness.

    Shane, I can handle ‘shallow’ , but nastiness, NEVER, there are too many extremely vindictive people amongst the Liberal politicians and their supporters….

  14. Evan Evans

    Hi Kaye, I enjoy your articles very much as they tend to put into words my thoughts. I do have a problem with the end of your first paragraph where you say in effect that discrimination is no longer unacceptable, surely this should read discrimination is no longer acceptable?

  15. The AIM Network

    You could be right, Evan. I’ll change it on behalf of Kaye.

  16. Chantelle Prince

    Great article except; why is every paragraph in quotation marks?

  17. Chantelle Prince

    Oh, I see, it is NOT every paragraph, just most, which are in fact quotes from just one book!
    Kaye, just use your own words and own it! I’m sure you can!

  18. Matters Not

    Chantelle Prince, KL makes no secret that of the fact she liberally ‘cites’ other sources. If you click on her ‘links’, then that will become immediately apparent.

    It’s her search of ‘sources’ and faithful citing of same that makes her contributions so uniquely valuable.

    The notion that anyone could be so prolific in such short time frames without reference to ‘sources’ is a bit of a stretch. Read, think and enjoy, She raises serious points.

  19. paulwalter

    At uni we were taught to employ reputable sources in order to verify assertions within an argument.

    I do not understand the problem with la belle Chantelle, if tertiary educators find some point to citing.

  20. Kaye Lee

    Thanks Evan and admin,

    I had a wedding and a funeral to go to so I was a bit rushed and wasn’t around to edit.


    I understand your criticism. What I tend to do is share things that I have read. Sometimes I am collating several articles, sometimes concentrating on one, with me providing context, links and some commentary, and sometimes I do my own opinion pieces (though I am more a researcher with a good memory than a creative wordsmith.)

    If I was being paid as an investigative journalist that would not be good enough. Likewise if you were forced to pay to read what I write that would not be adequate. If I was submitting it for assessment I would spend more time paraphrasing.

    The great thing about this site is the quality of the comments. Articles can prompt very instructive informative discussions.

    I try to acknowledge my sources, The extent of my personal input tends to be a function of time available.

  21. keerti

    It was howard who discovered (i think) the way to power in this country is to manipulate the mind of those unable to think and read with intelligence. The so-called “howards battlers”. As long as the capitalists/lieberals don’t get excessive (a very relative term in this case) in their greed, as they did with workchoices, and keep the “battlers” attention away from themselves they will likely continue to win. It is articles like the above which need as wide an audience as possible to bring the country back from either collapse caused by lieberal government ineptitude or dictatorship which is the eventual direction of the fascists who are presently in control.

  22. Steve Laing

    Bang on the nail again, Kaye. Racism as a source of votes.

  23. ozbrays2

    Enjoyed your article very much Kaye. One thing I have learned since the sixties is that the battle is never won and we should not make the mistake of expecting it to be. Eternal vigilance is a must!

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