In 2008 Kevin Rudd came to power in Australia on a Labour Party platform that promised change for minorities and indigenous peoples in the nation. In his famous ‘apology speech’ Rudd apologised for a century of policies that aimed to make Australia a white Europeanised nation. Mr Rudd apologised for what is known as the white Australia policy that prevented Asian immigration and openly persecuted aboriginal peoples until as recently as the 1970s.
10 years on however, the apology that Rudd offered has largely been empty, with race and racism still amongst Australia’s biggest political issues, despite the former Prime Minister being amongst the most empathetic towards minorities in Australian political history.
You only have to look at the speech by Fraser Anning in August this year – in which the Queensland senator called for a ‘final solution’ to Muslim immigration – to see that racism is pertinent to this day. In his maiden speech Anning claimed that ‘whilst all Muslim’s are not terrorists, certainly all terrorists these days are Muslim’ showing the underlying racism that is so significant in Australia still today. Fraser Anning also cited Australia’s European identity and the need to protect it from outside forces, a significant throwback to white Australia policy that devastated non-white populations for decades.
While Anning’s opinions are not reflective of the nation’s entirety, it is symbolic of a growing trend towards marginalisation of people that do not fit into the White-European-Australian mould.
In recent months, Australian media have sensationalised the presence of ‘African gangs’ in central Melbourne. Media pieces outlining how the city is overrun with black gangs would leave one to believe that Melbourne is on its knees at the hands of ‘Africans’. It’s not. These outbursts of racism are reflective of global populist trends, which has led to successive Liberal Party Prime Minister’s taking the nation’s government to the right, neglecting minorities and particularly aboriginal peoples.
The crux of Kevin Rudd’s 2008 speech was to apologise to Australia’s aboriginal population, who were decimated by disease and murder during the settlement of Australia from 1788 onwards and it seemed like Mr Rudd was promising a new deal for indigenous Australians. Despite this promise, indigenous Australian’s are still amongst the most oppressed peoples in any western society – if you are an aboriginal man in Australia today, you are more likely to go to prison than finish secondary education.
If you have looked at the history of Australia you may have uncovered the term ‘stolen generation’, this refers to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children who were taken from their families and placed in white homes, in an attempt to ‘civilise’ them.
The fact that alcoholism, unemployment, drug use and crime rates are all highest for the aboriginal population is a direct responsibility of these policies for which Rudd apologised. However, despite recent commitments by some Australian Labor party figures, the Liberal’s have consistently reacted against this to keep the population down. Rudd’s speech was boycotted by 9 Liberal politicians, many of which have served in subsequent Liberal governments, showing the party’s disdain for tackling their race problem.
Australia was a nation founded on racism and inequality, but what it is also clear, is that these issues are still present today. Whether it is the hangovers of centuries of targeting aboriginal people, or the oppression of new migrant populations, Australia is a society in which racism has an almost unparalleled place.
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