Racism in Australia

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Australia today is a multiethnic society and the product of multiple waves of immigration. All of Australia's population can be traced back to other countries, dating back centuries. Indigenous Australians are believed to have migrated from Africa, and were some of the first to do so.

Laws forbid racial and other forms of discrimination and protect freedom of religion.[1][2] Demographic analysis indicates a high level of inter-ethnic marriage: according to the Australian Census, a majority of Indigenous Australians partnered with non-indigenous Australians, and a majority of third-generation Australians of non-English-speaking background had partnered with persons of different ethnic origin (the majority partnered with persons of Australian or Anglo-Celtic background, which constitutes the majority ethnic grouping in Australia).[3] In 2009, about 25.6 per cent of the estimated resident population of Australia comprised those born overseas.[4] Nevertheless, there have been both historical and contemporary incidents of racism in Australia.

For around 50,000 years, prior to the arrival of British settlers in 1788, Australia was occupied exclusively by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Paleo-archeological evidence supplemented by recent DNA testing shows that several different waves of aboriginal people arrived from 50,000 until approximately 2,000 BC. Post-1788, the British Empire applied the European legal precept of Terra Nullius to the Australian continent and imposed political and economic control of it in the lead up to the 1901 foundation of the independent Commonwealth of Australia. Despite theoretical notions of equality contained within British law, Government policy and public opinion in colonial times and the early decades of Federation often treated Aboriginal people as inferior.

Initially, indigenous Australians were in most states deprived of the rights of full citizenship of the new nation on grounds of their race and restrictive immigration laws were introduced to preference "white" European immigrants to Australia. Discriminatory laws against indigenous people and multiethnic immigration were dismantled in the early decades of the Post War period. A 1967 Referendum regarding Aboriginal rights was carried with over 90% approval by the electorate. Legal reforms have re-established Aboriginal Land Rights under Australian law and in the early 21st century, indigenous Australians account for around 2.5% of the population, owning outright around 20% of all land. Intense focus on the impact of historical policies like the removal of mixed ethnicity Aboriginal children from their Aboriginal parent resulted in a bipartisan Parliamentary apology to Aborigines carried in 2008. Aboriginal health indicators remain lower than other ethnic groups within Australia and again are the subject of political debate.

Policies of multiculturalism were pursued in the post-war period and first Eastern and Southern European, then Asian and African immigration increased significantly. Legislation including the Racial Discrimination Act 1975, the Commonwealth Racial Hatred Act (1995) and the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission Act (1986) outlaw racial discrimination in the public sphere in Australia. In recent decades, anti-immigration political parties like the One Nation Party have received extensive media coverage, but only marginal electoral support and successive governments have maintained large, multiethnic programs of immigration. As in other Western nations, tensions in the aftermath of events like the September 11 attacks and Bali Bombing by radical Islamists contributed to strained ethnic relations in some Australian communities.

Indigenous Australians[edit]

Indigenous Australians comprise two groups: Aboriginal Australians, who occupy mainland Australia and Tasmania, and Torres Strait Islanders, who occupy the Torres Strait near New Guinea. The small population of Tasmanian Aborigines suffered a rapid collapse following the establishment of Britain's Van Diemens Land Colony in the early 19th century, and their remaining descendants are all of mixed Aboriginal-Settler ethnic heritage. In the past, indigenous Australians were subject to racist government policy and community attitudes. Despite massive shifts in community attitudes, legal reforms and billions of dollars in financial support, many indigenous people continue to suffer from the consequences of the British colonial period and early decades of the 20th century.[citation needed]

At the time of first European contact, it has been estimated the absolute minimum pre-1788 population was 315,000, while recent archaeological finds suggest (unlikely) that a population of 750,000 could have been sustained.[5] The 2011 Australian Census measured the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population at 517,200 or 2.5% of the total Australian population.[6] In 2009, around 20% of the Australian land-mass (including Tasmania and offshore islands) was owned by Aboriginal people.[7]

Historical relations[edit]

The British navigator James Cook claimed the east coast of Australia for Britain in 1770, without conducting negotiations with the existing inhabitants. The first Governor of New South Wales, Arthur Phillip, was instructed explicitly to establish friendship and good relations with the Aborigines and interactions between the early settlers and the indigenous people varied considerably throughout the colonial period — from the mutual curiosity displayed by the early interlocutors Bennelong and Bungaree of Sydney, to the outright hostility of Pemulwuy and Windradyne of the Sydney region,[8] and Yagan around Perth. Bennelong and a companion became the first Australians to sail to Europe, where they met King George III. Bungaree accompanied the explorer Matthew Flinders on the first circumnavigation of Australia. Pemulwuy was accused of the first killing of a white settler in 1790, and Windradyne resisted early British expansion beyond the Blue Mountains.[9]

With the establishment of European settlement and their subsequent expansion, the indigenous populations were progressively forced into neighbouring territories,[citation needed] or subsumed into the new political entities of the Australian colonies. Violent conflict between Indigenous Australians and European settlers, described by some historians as frontier wars, arose out of this expansion: by the late 19th century, many populations had been forcibly relocated to land reserves and missions. The nature of many of these land reserves and missions enabled disease to spread quickly and many were closed as resident numbers dropped, with the remaining residents being moved to other land reserves and missions into the 20th century.[10]

According to the historian Geoffrey Blainey, in Australia during the colonial period: "In a thousand isolated places there were occasional shootings and spearings. Even worse, smallpox, measles, influenza and other new diseases swept from one Aboriginal camp to another ... The main conqueror of Aborigines was to be disease and its ally, demoralisation".[11]

From the 1830s, colonial governments established the now controversial offices of the Protector of Aborigines in an effort to avoid mistreatment of Indigenous peoples and conduct government policy towards them. Christian churches sought to convert Aborigines, and were often used by government to carry out welfare and assimilation policies. Colonial churchmen such as Sydney's first Catholic archbishop, John Bede Polding, strongly advocated for Aboriginal rights and dignity[12] and prominent Aboriginal activist Noel Pearson, who was raised at a Lutheran mission in Cape York, has written that Christian missions throughout Australia's colonial history "provided a haven from the hell of life on the Australian frontier while at the same time facilitating colonisation".[13]

The Caledon Bay crisis of 1932-34 saw one of the last incidents of violent interaction on the "frontier" of indigenous and non-indigenous Australia, which began when the spearing of Japanese poachers who had been molesting Yolngu women was followed by the killing of a policeman. As the crisis unfolded, national opinion swung behind the Aboriginal people involved, and the first appeal on behalf of an Indigenous Australian to the High Court of Australia was launched. Following the crisis, the anthropologist Donald Thompson was dispatched by the government to live among the Yolngu.[14] Elsewhere around this time, activists like Sir Douglas Nicholls were commencing their campaigns for Aboriginal rights within the established Australian political system and the age of frontier conflict closed.

Frontier encounters in Australia were not universally negative. Positive accounts of Aboriginal customs and encounters are also recorded in the journals of early European explorers, who often relied on Aboriginal guides and assistance: Charles Sturt employed Aboriginal envoys to explore the Murray-Darling; the lone survivor of the ill-fated Burke and Wills expedition, John King, was helped by local Aborigines, and the famous tracker Jackey Jackey accompanied his ill-fated friend Edmund Kennedy to Cape York.[15] Respectful studies were conducted by such as Walter Baldwin Spencer and Frank Gillen in their renowned anthropological study The Native Tribes of Central Australia (1899); and by Donald Thompson of Arnhem Land (c.1935-1943). In inland Australia, the skills of Aboriginal stockmen became highly regarded and in the 20th century, Aboriginal stockmen like Vincent Lingiari became national figures in their campaigns for better pay and conditions.[16]

Stolen Generations[edit]

Main article: Stolen Generations

The Stolen Generations are children of Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent who were removed from their families by Australian Federal and State agencies and church missions, under acts of parliament.[17][18] The removals occurred in the period between approximately 1869[19] and 1969,[20][21] although in some places children were still being taken in the 1970s.[22] Historians such as Henry Reynolds have argued that this constitutes genocide. Early in the 21st century more Aboriginal children than ever before are in state care.[23][24]

In April 2000, the Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Herron, presented a report in the Australian Parliament that questioned whether there had been a "Stolen Generation", arguing that only 10% of Aboriginal children had been removed, and they did not constitute an entire "generation". The report received media attention and there were protests.[25]

On 13 February 2008 Prime Minister Kevin Rudd presented an apology for the "Stolen Generation" as a motion in Parliament.[26][27]

Recent decades[edit]

The White Australia policy was dismantled in the decades following the Second World War and legal reforms undertaken to address indigenous disadvantage and establish Land Rights and Native Title.

1938 was an important year for indigenous rights campaigning. With the participation of leading indigenous activists like Douglas Nicholls, the Australian Aborigines Advancement League organised a protest "Day of Mourning" to mark the 150th anniversary of the arrival of the First Fleet of British in Australia and launched its campaign for full citizenship rights for all Aborigines. In the 1940s, the conditions of life for Aborigines could be very poor. A permit system restricted movement and work opportunities for many Aboriginal people. In the 1950s, the government pursued a policy of "assimilation" which sought to achieve full citizenship rights for Aborigines but also wanted them to adopt the mode of life of other Australians (which very often was assumed to require suppression of cultural identity).[28]

In 1962, Robert Menzies' Commonwealth Electoral Act provided that all Indigenous people should have the right to enrol and vote at federal elections (prior to this, indigenous people in Queensland, Western Australia and "wards of the state" in the Northern Territory had been excluded from voting unless they were ex-servicemen). In 1965, Queensland became the last state to confer state voting rights on Aboriginal people, whereas In South Australia Aboriginal men had had the vote since the 1850s and Aboriginal women since the 1890s. A number of South Australian Aboriginal women took part in the vote selecting candidates for the constitutional conventions of the 1890s.[15][29] The 1967 referendum was held and overwhelmingly approved to amend the Constitution, removing discriminatory references and giving the national parliament the power to legislate specifically for Indigenous Australians.

In the mid 1960s, one of the earliest Aboriginal graduates from the University of Sydney, Charles Perkins, helped organise freedom rides into parts of Australia to expose discrimination and inequality. In 1966, the Gurindji people of Wave Hill station (owned by the Vestey Group) commenced strike action led by Vincent Lingiari in a quest for equal pay and recognition of land rights.[30]

Indigenous Australians began to take up representation in Australian parliaments during the 1970s. In 1971 Neville Bonner of the Liberal Party was appointed by the Queensland Parliament to replace a retiring senator, becoming the first Aborigine in Federal Parliament. In 1976, Sir Douglas Nicholls was appointed Governor of South Australia, becoming the first Aborigine to hold vice-regal office in Australia. Aden Ridgeway of the Australian Democrats served as a senator during the 1990s, but no indigenous person was elected to the House of Representatives, until West Australian Liberal Ken Wyatt, in August 2010.[31]

In 1992, the High Court of Australia handed down its decision in the Mabo Case, declaring the previous legal concept of terra nullius to be invalid. That same year, Prime Minister Paul Keating said in his Redfern Park Speech that European settlers were responsible for the difficulties Australian Aboriginal communities continued to face: "We committed the murders. We took the children from their mothers. We practiced discrimination and exclusion. It was our ignorance and our prejudice". In 1999 Parliament passed a Motion of Reconciliation drafted by Prime Minister John Howard and Aboriginal Senator Aden Ridgeway naming mistreatment of Indigenous Australians as the most "blemished chapter in our international history".[32]

From the 1960s, Australian writers began to re-assess European assumptions about Aboriginal Australia - with works including Alan Moorehead's The Fatal Impact (1966) and Geoffrey Blainey's landmark history Triumph of the Nomads (1975). In 1968, anthropologist W.E.H. Stanner described the lack of historical accounts of relations between Europeans and Aborigines as "the great Australian silence".[33][34] Historian Henry Reynolds argues that there was a "historical neglect" of the Aborigines by historians until the late 1960s.[35] Early commentaries often tended to describe Aborigines as doomed to extinction following the arrival of Europeans. William Westgarth’s 1864 book on the colony of Victoria observed; "the case of the Aborigines of Victoria confirms …it would seem almost an immutable law of nature that such inferior dark races should disappear."[36]

A great many indigenous Australians have been prominent in sport and the arts in recent decades and Aboriginal art styles appreciated and embraced by the wider population. Oodgeroo Noonuccal (1920–1995) was a famous Aboriginal poet, writer and rights activist credited with publishing the first Aboriginal book of verse: We Are Going (1964).[37] Sally Morgan's novel My Place was considered a breakthrough memoir in terms of bringing indigenous stories to wider notice. 1976's The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith directed by Fred Schepisi was an award winning historical drama from a book by Thomas Keneally about the tragic story of an Aboriginal Bushranger. In 1973 Arthur Beetson became the first Indigenous Australian to captain his country in any sport when he first led the Australian National Rugby League team, the Kangaroos.[38] Olympic gold medalist Cathy Freeman lit the Olympic flame at the 2000 Summer Olympics opening ceremony in Sydney.[39]

In response to the Little Children are Sacred Report the Howard Government launched the Northern Territory National Emergency Response in 2007, to reduce child molestation, domestic violence and substance abuse in remote indigenous communities.[40] It was continued under the Rudd and Gillard Labor Governments. James Anaya, a United Nations Special Rapporteur, alleged in 2010 that the policy was "racially discriminating" because measures like banning alcohol and pornography and quarantining a percentage of welfare income for the purchase of essential goods represented a limitation on "individual autonomy".[41] The Rudd Government, the Opposition and a number of prominent indigenous activists condemned Anaya's allegation. Central Australian Aboriginal leader Bess Price criticised the UN for not sending a female repporteur and said that Abaya had been led around by opponents of the intervention to meet with opponents of the intervention.[42][43]

In the early 21st century, much of indigenous Australia continued to suffer lower standards of health and education than non-indigenous Australia. In 2007, the Close the Gap campaign was launched by Olympic champions Cathy Freeman and Ian Thorpe with the aim of achieving Indigenous health equality within 25 years.[44]

Immigrant communities[edit]

Early British and Irish settlers[edit]

In the early decades of the establishment of British colonies in Australia, attitudes to race were imported from the British Isles. The ethnic mix of the early colonists consisted mainly of the four nationalities of the British Isles (England, Irish, Scottish, and Welsh), but also included some Jewish and black African convicts. Sectarianism, particularly anti-Irish-Catholic sentiment was initially enshrined in law, reflecting the difficult position of Irish people within the British Empire. One-tenth of all the convicts who came to Australia on the First Fleet were Catholic and at least half of them were born in Ireland. With Ireland often in revolt against British rule, the Irish Catholics of Australia faced surveillance and were denied the public practice of their religion in the early decades of settlement.

Governor Lachlan Macquarie served as the last autocratic Governor of New South Wales, from 1810 to 1821 and had a leading role in the social and economic development of New South Wales which saw it transition from a penal colony to a budding free society. He sought good relations with the Aborigines and upset British government opinion by treating emancipists as equal to free-settlers.[45] Soon after, the reformist attorney general, John Plunkett, sought to apply Enlightenment principles to governance in the colony, pursuing the establishment of equality before the law, first by extending jury rights to emancipists, then by extending legal protections to convicts, assigned servants and Aborigines. Plunkett twice charged the colonist perpetrators of the Myall Creek massacre of Aborigines with murder, resulting in a conviction and his landmark Church Act of 1836 disestablished the Church of England and established legal equality between Anglicans, Catholics, Presbyterians and later Methodists.[46]

While elements of sectarianism and anti-Irish sentiment persisted into the 20th century in Australia, the integration of the Irish, English, Scotch and Welsh nationalities was one of the first notable successes of Australian immigration policy and set a pattern for later migrant intakes of suspicion of minorities giving way to acceptance.

Australian gold-rushes[edit]

The four nationalities of the British Isles continued to comprise the great majority of immigrants to Australia for some decades until the Australian goldrushes saw a massive surge in multinational immigration to Australia. Other than from Britain, immigrants came from continental Europe, North America and China. The Colony of Victoria’s population grew rapidly, from 76,000 in 1850 to 530,000 by 1859.[47] Discontent arose amongst diggers almost immediately, particularly on the crowded Victorian fields. The causes of this were the colonial government’s administration of the diggings and the gold licence system. Following a number of protests and petitions for reform, violence erupted at Ballarat in late 1854.

Competition in the goldfields, labour disputes and Australian nationalism created an environment of racial antagonism during the second half of the 19th century. The Chinese mining population in particular was to suffer from racial resentment on the mining fields and the Australian colonies began to introduce restrictive immigration policies.

Early Asian immigration[edit]

The Australian colonies had passed restrictive legislation as early as the 1860s, directed specifically at Chinese immigrants. Objections to the Chinese originally arose because of their large numbers, their religious beliefs, the widespread perception that they worked harder, longer and far more cheaply than european Australians and the view that they habitually engaged in gambling and smoking opium. It was also felt they would lower living standards, threaten democracy and that their numbers could expand into a "yellow tide".[48] Later, a popular cry was raised against increasing numbers of Japanese (following Japan’s victory over China in the Sino-Japanese War), South Asians and Kanakas (South Pacific islanders). Popular support for White Australia, always strong, was bolstered at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919 when the Australian delegation led the fight to defeat a Japanese-sponsored racial-equality amendment to the League of Nations Covenant. The Japanese amendment was closely tied to their claim on German New Guinea and so was very largely refuted on security grounds.[49][50]

Federation and the White Australia Policy[edit]

Following the establishment of autonomous parliaments, a rise in nationalism and improvements in transportation, the Australian colonies voted to unite in a Federation, which came into being in 1901. The Australian Constitution and early parliaments established one of the most progressive governmental systems on the earth at that time, with male and female suffrage and series of checks and balances built into the governmental framework. National security fears had been one of the chief motivators for the union and legislation was quickly enacted to restrict non-European immigration to Australia - the foundation of the White Australia Policy - and voting rights for Aborigines were denied across most states.

Australia's official World War One historian Charles Bean defined the early intentions of the policy as "a vehement effort to maintain a high Western standard of economy, society and culture (necessitating at that stage, however it might be camouflaged, the rigid exclusion of Oriental peoples)."[51]

The new Parliament quickly moved to restrict immigration to maintain Australia's "British character", and the Pacific Island Labourers Bill and the Immigration Restriction Bill were passed shortly before parliament rose for its first Christmas recess. Nevertheless, the Colonial Secretary in Britain made it clear that a race based immigration policy would run "contrary to the general conceptions of equality which have ever been the guiding principle of British rule throughout the Empire", so the Barton Government conceived of the "language dictation test", which would allow the government, at the discretion of the minister, to block unwanted migrants by forcing them to sit a test in "any European language". Race had already been established as a premise for exclusion among the colonial parliaments, so the main question for debate was who exactly the new Commonwealth ought to exclude, with the Labor Party rejecting Britain's calls to placate the populations of its non-white colonies and allow "aboriginal natives of Asia, Africa, or the islands thereof". There was opposition from Queensland and its sugar industry to the proposals of the Pacific Islanders Bill to exclude "Kanaka" laborers, however Barton argued that the practice was "veiled slavery" that could lead to a "negro problem" similar to that in the United States and the Bill was passed.[52]

Demise of White Australia Policy[edit]

The restrictive measures established by the first parliament gave way to multi-ethnic immigration policies only after the Second World War, with the "dictation test" itself being finally abolished in 1958 by the Menzies Government.[53]

The Menzies Government instigated migrants over all others since the time of Australian Federation in 1901 and abolished restrictions on voting rights for Aborigines, which had persisted in some jurisdictions. In 1950 External Affairs Minister Percy Spender instigated the Colombo Plan, under which students from Asian countries were admitted to study at Australian universities, then in 1957 non-Europeans with 15 years' residence in Australia were allowed to become citizens. In a watershed legal reform, a 1958 revision of the Migration Act introduced a simpler system for entry and abolished the "dictation test" which had permitted the exclusion of migrants on the basis of their ability to take down a dictation offered in any European language. Immigration Minister, Sir Alexander Downer, announced that 'distinguished and highly qualified Asians' might immigrate. Restrictions continued to be relaxed through the 1960s in the lead up to the Holt Government's watershed Migration Act, 1966.[53]

Holt's government introduced the Migration Act 1966, which effectively dismantled the White Australia Policy and increased access to non-European migrants, including refugees fleeing the Vietnam War. Holt also called the 1967 Referendum which removed the discriminatory clause in the Australian Constitution which excluded Aboriginal Australians from being counted in the census;– the referendum was one of the few to be overwhelmingly endorsed by the Australian electorate (over 90% voted 'yes').[54]

The legal end of the White Australia Policy is usually placed in 1973, when the Whitlam Labor government implemented a series of amendments preventing the enforcement of racial aspects of the immigration law. These amendments:[55]

  • Legislated that all migrants, regardless of origin, be eligible to obtain citizenship after three years of permanent residence.
  • Ratified all international agreements relating to immigration and race.
  • Issued policy to totally disregard race as a factor in selecting migrants.

The 1975 Racial Discrimination Act made the use of racial criteria for any official purpose illegal (with the exception of census forms).

Issues in contemporary Australia[edit]

Public planning to counter cultural racism was ahead of its time in Western Sydney, a suburban region with a long history of migrant settlement.[56] Many of its attempts to build an inclusive "cultural foundation" have been picked up by state governments, including council-funded social clubs for seniors, the provision of community services in major community languages, and the securing of places of worship through rezoning. All of these initiatives are aimed at public involvement rather than antiracist "integrating" strategies.

A 2003 Paper by health economist Gavin Mooney said that "Government institutions in Australia are racist". The paper evidenced this opinion by stating that the Aboriginal Medical Service was underfunded and under supported by government.[57][58][59]

In 2007, What's the Score? A survey of cultural diversity and racism in Australian sport conducted by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) said that "racial abuse and vilification is commonplace in Australian sport... despite concerted efforts to stamp it out". The report said that Aboriginal and other ethnic groups are under-represented in Australian sport, and suggests they are turned off organised sport because they fear racial vilification.[60][61] Despite the finding, indigenous participation in Australian sport is widespread. In 2009, about 90,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders were participating in Australian Rules Football alone and the Australian Football League (AFL) encouraged their participation through the Kickstart Indigenous programs "as the vehicle to improve the quality of life in Indigenous communities, not only in sport, but in the areas of employment, education and health outcomes".[62] Similarly, Australia's second most popular football code encourages participation through events like the NSW Aboriginal Rugby League Knockout and the Indigenous All Stars Team.[63]

Journalist John Pilger blames racism for the state of Aboriginal disadvantage in Australia.[citation needed] As noted by Professor Colin Tatz in an interview with Pilger,[vague] in relation to an IOC representative who was seemingly unaware of Aboriginal socio-economic conditions when sent to Australia to see whether or not it was a "fit and proper country" for hosting the Olympics:

On the salt pan at Lombadina, Aborigines play with two saplings stuck in the ground. If he had inspected these conditions, he would have been looking at third- and fourth-world sporting facilities. He would have seen Aborigines kicking a piece of leather stuffed with paper because they don’t possess a single football or have access to the kind of sports facilities that every white Australian takes for granted, even in poor working-class suburbs where there is a municipal pool, a municipal ground, a cricket pitch or a tennis court or a park of some sort – these things are totally absent in 95 per cent of Aboriginal communities.[64]

— Professor Colin Tatz, in The New Rulers of the World

Since the end of World War II, Australia has had a programme of mass immigration that has led to an increase in the cultural diversity of its people. Some academics[who?] have argued that since the 1970s a policy of multiculturalism have played an important role in the relative peacefulness of Australian society.[65]

Pauline Hanson and One Nation[edit]

Pauline Hanson was elected to the Australian Federal Parliament in 1996 and lost her seat in 1998. Despite various attempts she was never re-elected. In her maiden speech to Parliament, Hanson called for the abolition of multiculturalism and said that "reverse racism" was being applied to "mainstream Australians " who were not entitled to the same welfare and government funding as minority groups. She said that Australia was in danger of being "swamped by Asians", and that these immigrants "have their own culture and religion, form ghettos and do not assimilate".[66] She was widely accused of racism. Hanson also argued that rural and regional Australia was being neglected by government and called for a return to protectionist economic policies.[67] She helped form the One Nation Party, which between 1998-2002 won a number of lower House seats in State Parliamentary elections, in Queensland, New South Wales, and Western Australia. One Nation currently holds no seats in any Parliament in Australia.

In 2006, as an ex-politician, Pauline Hanson again achieved notoriety by asserting that Africans bring disease into Australia.[68]

Cronulla riots[edit]

Main article: 2005 Cronulla riots

The Cronulla riots of 2005[69] were a series of racially motivated mob confrontations which originated in and around Cronulla, a beachfront suburb of Sydney, New South Wales. Soon after the riot, ethnically motivated violent incidents occurred in several other Sydney suburbs.

On Sunday, 11 December 2005, approximately 5,000 people gathered to protest against alleged incidents of assaults and intimidatory behaviour by groups of Middle Eastern-looking youths from the suburbs of South Western Sydney. The crowd initially assembled without incident, but violence broke out after a large segment of the mostly white[70] crowd chased a man of Middle Eastern appearance into a hotel and two other youths of Middle Eastern appearance were assaulted on a train. One of the "white" youths, who was notoriously known for bashing police officers, went by the name of 'Cake J'.[citation needed]

The following nights saw several retaliatory violent assaults in the communities near Cronulla and Maroubra, with large gatherings around south western Sydney, and an unprecedented police lock-down of Sydney beaches and surrounding areas, between Wollongong and Newcastle. Dr Mary Kalantzis, a leading proponent of multiculturalism said about the riots "Everything that was here before the Second World War was stolen from the Aborigines, and everything since then has been built by migrants."[citation needed]

2005 UN report[edit]

The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in its report SMH,[71] released in 2005 was complimentary on improvements in race-related issues since its previous report five years prior, namely:

  • the criminalising of acts and incitement of racial hatred in most Australian States and Territories
  • progress in the economic, social and cultural rights by indigenous peoples
  • programmes and practices among the police and the judiciary, aimed at reducing the number of indigenous juveniles entering the criminal justice system
  • the adoption of a Charter of Public Service in a Culturally Diverse Society to ensure that government services are provided in a way that is sensitive to the language and cultural needs of all Australians
  • and the numerous human rights education programmes developed by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC).

The committee expressed concern about the abolishment of ATSIC; proposed reforms to HREOC that may limit its independence; the practical barriers Indigenous peoples face in succeeding in claims for native title; a lack of legislation criminalising serious acts or incitement of racial hatred in the Commonwealth, the State of Tasmania and the Northern Territory; and the inequities between Indigenous peoples and others in the areas of employment, housing, longevity, education and income.[72]

Assaults against Indian students[edit]

Australia is a popular and longstanding destination for international students. End of year data for 2009 found that of the 631,935 international students enrolled in Australia, drawn from more than 217 different countries, some 120, 913 were from India, making them the second largest group.[73] That same year, protests were conducted in Melbourne by Indian students and widescale media coverage in India alleged that a series of robberies and assaults against Indian students should be ascribed to racism in Australia.[73] According to a report tabled by the Overseas Indian Affairs Ministry, in all some 23 incidents were found to have involved "racial overtones" such as "anti Indian remarks".[74] In response, the Australian Institute of Criminology in consultation with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and Department of Immigration and Citizenship sought to quantify the extent to which Indians were the subject of crime in Australia and found overall that international students as recorded victims of crime in Australia, were either "less likely" or "as likely" to be victims of physical assault and other theft, but that there was a "substantial over-representation of Indian students in retail/commercial robberies". The report found however that the proficiency of Indians in the English language and their consequent higher engagement in employment in the services sector ("including service stations, convenience stores, taxi drivers and other employment that typically involves working late night shifts alone and come with an increased risk of crime, either at the workplace or while travelling to and from work") was a more likely explanation for the crime rate differential than was any "racial motivation".[75]

On 30 May 2009, Indian students protested against what they claimed were racist attacks, blocking streets in central Melbourne. Thousands of students gathered outside the Royal Melbourne Hospital where one of the victims was admitted. The protest, however, was called off early on the next day morning after the protesters accused police of "ramrodding" them to break up their sit-in.[76] On 4 June 2009, China expressed concern over the matter - Chinese are the largest foreign student population in Australia with approximately 130,000 students.[77] In light of this event, the Australian Government started a Helpline for Indian students to report such incidents.[78] Australian High Commissioner to India John McCarthy said that there may have been an element of racism involved in some of the assaults reported upon Indians, but that they were mainly criminal in nature.[79] The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, termed these attacks "disturbing" and called for Australia to investigate the matters further.[80] In the aftermath of these attacks, other investigations alleged racist elements in the Victorian police force.[81]

However, in 2011, the Australian Institute of Criminology released a study entitled Crimes Against International Students:2005-2009.[82] This found that over the period 2005-2009, international students were statistically less likely to be assaulted than the average person in Australia. Indian students experienced an average assault rate in some jurisdictions, but overall they experienced lower assault rates than the Australian average. They did, however, experience higher rates of robbery, overall. The study could not sample incidents of crime that were not reported.[83] Additionally, multiple surveys of international students over the period of 2009-10 found a majority of Indian students felt safe.[84]

Asylum seekers[edit]

Some commentators have accused the Australian Government of racism in its approach to Asylum seekers in Australia. Both major parties support a ban on asylum seekers who arrive illegally by boat.[85] Australia operates the Pacific Solution which includes Relocating asylum seekers. Former Minister for Immigration and Border Protection Scott Morrison described asylum seekers as 'illegal'.[86] Social justice advocates and international organisations such as Amnesty International have condemned Australia's policies, with one describing them as 'an appeal to fear and racism'.[87]

Legislation relating to racism[edit]

Racist legislation in Australian history[edit]

Some notable legislation which might be said to be based on racist theory:

Notable legislation that deals with racism, and other forms of discrimination:

  • Racial Discrimination Act 1975 - Section 18D "does not render unlawful anything said or done reasonably and in good faith"

Anti-racist legislation in contemporary Australia[edit]

The following constituted important legal reforms in the movement towards racial equality:

  • 1958 revision of the Migration Act, introduced a simpler system for entry and abolished the "dictation test".
  • 1962 Commonwealth Electoral Act, provided that all Indigenous Australians should have the right to enrol and vote at federal elections (previously this right had been restricted in some states other than for Aboriginal ex-servicemen, who secured the right to vote in all states under 1949 legislation).
  • Migration Act 1966, effectively dismantled the White Australia Policy and increased access to non-European migrants.
  • Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976, was a significant step in legal recognition of Aboriginal land ownership.[7]

The following Australian Federal and State legislation relates to racism and discrimination:

Anti-racism organisations[edit]

  • All Together Now - Australia's only national charity that has a sole focus of addressing racism
  • EXIT White Power - a resource for all Australians to reduce the recruitment and growth of white nationalism in Australia
  • Racism: It Stops with me - is a government campaign to invite all Australians to reflect on what they can do to counter racism wherever it happens
  • Racism No Way - tackling racism in schools in Australia

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "A guide to Australia's anti-discrimination laws | Australian Human Rights Commission". Humanrights.gov.au. 2007-01-24. Retrieved 2015-05-16. 
  2. ^ Section 116 of the Constitution of Australia
  3. ^ [1][dead link]
  4. ^ "Fact Sheet 15 - Population Growth". Immi.gov.au. Retrieved 24 January 2015. 
  5. ^ 1301.0 - Year Book Australia, 2002 Australian Bureau of Statistics 25 January 2002
  6. ^ "4705.0 - Population Distribution, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, 2006". Abs.gov.au. Retrieved 24 January 2015. 
  7. ^ a b "Reconciliation Australia". Reconciliation.org.au. Retrieved 24 January 2015. 
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External links[edit]