The Militant(logo) 
    Vol.60/No.44           December 9, 1996 
Protests Grow As Debate Over Racist Campaign Heats Up In Australia  


SYDNEY, Australia - Some 5,000 people took to the streets of Sydney November 23, following a march of 4,000 in Brisbane November 2. These demonstrations have been the largest actions to date protesting a surge of political attacks and racist abuse against Aborigines and Asian immigrants that has dominated politics in Australia over the past few months.

The new Liberal National Coalition government under Prime Minister John Howard is aiming to deepen the offensive against working people carried out by the previous Labor government, taking back gains won by struggles over decades. This includes attacking the limited gains made by Aborigines and immigrants towards redressing discrimination through affirmative action measures.

Setting the ideological tone for this, Howard has campaigned for lifting "the pall of censorship on certain issues." His attacks on "political correctness" have given more space to racist and anti-immigrant sentiments.

The rise to national prominence of Pauline Hanson, an outspoken rightist recently elected to the federal Parliament, has been at the center of the escalation of this racist campaign.

Hanson won the formerly safe Labor Party seat of Oxley, southwest of Brisbane, with a huge 24 percent swing, in the March 2 federal elections. The Labor government of Paul Keating was ousted March 2.

Hanson lost endorsement as a candidate from top Liberal Party officials for making blatant anti-Aboriginal statements, but not in time to have her listing as a Liberal removed from the ballot nor to run another Liberal candidate. The local Liberal Party branch continued to back her campaign.

Two days after her election, Hanson declared that she would represent "the white community" in the electorate, "anyone except Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders." This sparked a protest of 200 people, most of them local Aboriginal residents.

Hanson is associated with another rightist, Graeme Campbell, who also sits in parliament as an Independent. Campbell was expelled from the Australian Labor Party (ALP) in 1995, after having expounded his racist and anti-immigrant views from inside the ALP for many years. He recently founded the Australia First party.

Since Hanson's first speech in parliament on September 10, the capitalist media has given daily national prominence to the resulting controversy. This is the highest profile that rightist politics has gained in this country since the early 1930s. Scapegoating of Aborigines and Asians
The speech raised a range of reactionary themes presented as "common sense" and tapped a vein of popular support.

Presenting herself "not as a polished politician but as a woman who has had her fair share of life's knocks," Hanson called for an end to the "handout mentality," targeting social welfare for Aboriginal people in particular. "Along with millions of Australians, I am fed up to the back teeth with the inequalities that are being promoted by the government and paid for by the taxpayer under the assumption that Aborigines are the most disadvantaged people in Australia," she declared.

The Aboriginal population have among the lowest health and social indices in the world, living on average, 20 years less than non-Aboriginal Australians, and unemployment among Aborigines is 38 percent.

Chiming in on widespread concerns about unemployment, which is officially at almost 9 percent of the workforce, Hanson described it as "the greatest cause of family breakdown." The speech, echoing some of the anti-capitalist demagogy of fascism, attacked the government for "kowtowing to financial markets, international organizations, world bankers, investment companies, and big business people."

Appealing to a current of anti-Asian resentment, Hanson said Australia is "in danger of being swamped by Asians" who "have their own culture and religion, form ghettos and do not assimilate. A truly multicultural country can never be strong or united."

The racist "White Australia" immigration policy carried out openly by successive governments for over half a century, with the backing of the labor bureaucracy, was only formally ended at the end of the 60s Today in a country that adjoins Asia, those of Asian descent are only 4.8 percent of the population. In the last few years the proportion of immigrants coming from Asian countries has risen to 40 percent of total immigration for the first time.

Hanson has called for the immediate halting of immigration "so that our dole queues are not added to by unskilled migrants not fluent in the English language."

In response, leaders of both main capitalist parties have stated that there is a "legitimate debate" to be held on immigration levels while unemployment is high. Both the coalition government and the previous Labor government have been tightening immigration restrictions over the past few years.

Hanson's nationalist appeal also hit Canberra's "foreign aid" program, demanding the money be used "at home" to create jobs. She also called for the introduction of compulsory national service for all 18-year-olds to work on job creation projects, "with a touch of military training."

"I do not feel we can go on living in a dream world forever and a day believing that war will never touch our lives again," Hanson declared. "Neighboring countries ... are well aware of our resources and potential," she said, citing the larger populations of Asian nations such as Japan, China, India, Indonesia, and Malaysia. Racist speech sparks controversy
In the days following Hanson's inaugural speech, there was a surge of support expressed for her racist rationales, from talk-back radio programs to newspaper letters columns. The various ultra-right groups have all publicly backed her, including the long-established League of Rights, which is distributing copies of her speech by the thousands. One of her staffers has boasted that there are now 21 branches of the Pauline Hanson Support Movement.

At the same time, several local branches, not only of the conservative Liberal and National Parties, but also of the ALP, echoed support for her as well. In the weeks since the "Hanson debate" erupted, there have been increased reports to immigrant welfare groups of verbal abuse and spitting at people of Asian appearance. When some Singaporean soldiers in civilian clothes were racially abused and mugged in Rockhampton, Queensland, it became front-page news both in Australia and in parts of Asia.

Prime minister Howard refused to condemn Hanson's views. Deputy prime minister Tim Fischer, on the other hand, complained that her statements may have damaged trade relations with Asia. He said Hanson's remarks had been reported in the Asian media with a "degree of coverage up there that is not helpful." Sixty percent of Australian trade depends on Asian markets, and Asian travelers are an important component of the tourism industry here. Labor Party leader Kim Beazley expressed similar views.

A bipartisan statement, aimed at allaying the fears of Australian capitalists with interests in Asia, was adopted by Parliament on October 30, pledging to maintain "Australia as a culturally diverse, tolerant and open society."

Former prime minister Paul Keating, who resigned from parliament after his electoral defeat to take up business consultancy, scored the Howard government on November 11 for its "responsibility" in failing to stem "the tide of prejudice." He said that "a very ugly, resentful and xenophobic cat has been let out of the bag." He, too, voiced concern at the "harm to Australia's reputation" in Asian markets. Rightward shift of capitalist politics
This rise of rightist demagogy comes out of the very course of capitalist politics in a period of stagnating depression conditions. Both Labor and Liberal-National Coalition governments have implemented restrictions on immigration and discrimination against immigrants. Both administrations have also presided over cuts to Aboriginal and broader social welfare; racist cop brutality, declining real wages, layoffs and continuing high unemployment, increased military spending and nationalist appeals to back "Australia" as the capitalists face intensified competition on the world market.

Speaking on talk-back radio in Sydney October 24, Howard said, "I sympathize fundamentally with Australians who are insulted when they are told that we have a racist, bigoted past."

But not only is the dispossession of the indigenous people from the land during the past European colonization of Australia soaked in Aboriginal blood. Present-day capitalist rule perpetuates racist oppression of Aborigines. A report just released cites both the level of Aboriginal incarceration by the police and the level of black deaths in custody at 17 times that of non-Aborigines.

A policy of "assimilation" of the Aboriginal people was carried out for several decades up to the late 60s, including the forcible removal of "half-caste" Aboriginal children from their families to be placed in foster care.

The Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, John Herron, stated in early October that many Aborigines had "benefited" from being seized from their families and brought up in foster care. At least 60,000 Aboriginal children were taken and some 500 Aborigines of "the stolen generation" are currently filing a class action law suit against the government for compensation.

There has been increasing protest in response to these racist attacks. The large street demonstration in Brisbane on November 2 followed a rally of 200 on October 11. Over 200 rallied on the University of Melbourne campus October 12, forcing the rightist Australian Reform Party to shift the location of a meeting Hanson had been invited to address.

Actions also took place November 23 in a number of other centers, including a rally of 1,000 in Ipswich, where Hanson's electorate of Oxley is based. An anti-racism protest is planed for Melbourne December 8.

Bob Aiken and Ron Poulsen are members of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union.  
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