Australia’s political heartland: hate, fear, prejudice

By ABC’s Jonathan Green

Posted Thu Jun 6, 2013 7:59am AEST

The great Australian shame is that not only are there votes to be had in hate, fear and prejudice, but that this is the heartland in which our political game is lost and won, writes Jonathan Green.


So where does it come from, this simultaneous sense of shame and licence over racism in this country?

Our twin capacity to tolerate a political discussion that fixes on stopping the boats and Aussie jobs while generating storms of righteous indignation over high-profile instances of racial abuse and denigration?

In all the suddenly inward looking wonder since a single hurled syllable from an irate 13-year-old set off this latest pricking of the national racial conscience, the role of our leaders has been all but ignored, the critical mood set by those who would guide, inform and govern us.

How can we be so detached from what is one of the ugly realities of Australian democracy: that there are votes in a subtle dog whistle to racist sentiment, that an appeal to xenophobia or worse is at the very core of some our most significant and constant national discussions.

What else is at the heart of the bipartisan embrace of our cold-hearted policy aimed at resisting the arrival of refugees from war, hunger, poverty, oppression and simple fear? Policy that masks an appeal to a suburban distaste for an imagined invading mass of ‘others’ with pious mouthings over the safety of lives at sea and noble distaste for the ‘evil trade’ of people smugglers.

We value the assumed order, dignity and righteous process of ‘the queue’.

We honour the now timeworn maxim: “we will decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come”. But surely we also sense the darker truth at the heart of this discussion: that there are votes in pandering to xenophobia and outright racist loathing and fear.

It’s the sentiment that lies in the populist pit Kevin Rudd feared when he warned of a “race to the bottom” in refugee policy. This issue in our politics is a comprehensive failure of vision, execution and communication … and has been prosecuted with an eye not to the realities of global human movement, but against the prejudices of a populist rump, voters whose preconceptions of asylum seekers as disease-laden, terror-tainted, queue jumpers have been pandered to by successive administrations.

Why? Because it has been a political convenience to do so.

Watch the recent parliamentary rhetoric, from Coalition spokesman Scott Morrison who railed against the ASIO “light touch” that has allowed the ready egress of boat-borne ‘jihadists’, to Werriwa MP Laurie Ferguson who challenged the PM on Tuesday to make plainer the ALP strategy for arresting the flow of refugees.

Without more sound and fury waged against the tide of boats and their fearsome cargo, the ALP would be ‘dead’ in western Sydney, clearly the heartland of national concern over questions of orderly migration.

And all of this dark heat around an issue that is essentially a fabrication created for purely political purpose. The trickle of boat-borne arrivals does not by any objective international measure constitute a crisis. What it does constitute is an opportunity to rake fear in a sometimes xenophobic and insular public.

And it’s not just in migration that exploiting a sense of racial disquiet can be a political positive.

What else other than a subtle racist underlay could have enabled the quickly imposed apartheid of the NT intervention, policy at first carried out by our armed forces under the cover of a suspended race discrimination act and that years later still leaves citizens innocent of any offence other than their race with limited control over their own income and the most mundane details of their daily life.

We should think on this when we wonder how it is that somehow, weirdly, inexplicably, racism seems so ever present, such a purulent constant under a thin scab of well-cultivated, sometimes cynical, civility.

And it is of course too quick and easy to blame our politicians for the populism that uses the community’s darker instincts as an easy path to votes.

Politics is nothing if not a mirror of the society it serves … that it, in every sense, represents. We provide the clay they work with.

If there wasn’t a vote in hate, fear and prejudice then there would be no gain in pandering to any of them. The great Australian shame is that not only are there votes to be had here, but that this is the heartland in which our political game is lost and won.

The likes of Eddie McGuire aren’t even a pimple on its backside … and in many ways the star chambers that assemble around these public transgressions just blind us to the greater reality of a public whose blind-peeping anxieties breed an agenda that turns that suburban fear to populist political profit.

Jonathan Green is the presenter of Sunday Extra on Radio National and a former editor of The Drum. 


“Men call me things”

Campaign to fight misogyny ‘flawed’
Michelle Griffin
November 9, 2011 The Age

A TWITTER campaign to highlight anonymous abuse could do more harm than good, warns Australian cyber safety expert Susan McLean.

Using the hashtag #mencallmethings, women in Australia, Britain and the US have started reposting violent and defamatory comments made about them online. The aim is to raise awareness of the viciousness of online misogyny, but Ms Mclean fears the campaign will only encourage abuse.

”It will only inflame the situation,” said Ms McLean, a former police officer who has been working on cyber bullying cases since 1994. Women who receive anonymous threats of rape or assault should go to the police and campaign to get the cases prosecuted, she said, noting the speed with which police tracked down alleged ”collar-bomber” Paul Peters from an anonymous Gmail account.


Now hang on Susan. There’s a distinct flavour of “cop-speak”  in your statement.

Clive Pugh

Cop-speak...shifting the blame... in a northerly direction

It’s the misogynist men who make the comments in the first place. They have inflamed the situation, not the women who are fighting back.

Secondly, the “collar-bomb” incident was a critical major hostage incident which was appropriately and successfully dealt with by following correct police procedure. It has nothing to do with sexism or misogyny – the victim could just as well have been a young man or another family member.

It was not in the same crime category as the insidious and ongoing hatred shown by misogynist comments on social media.

Susan McLean’s reaction sounds too much like some of the official reaction to the Slutwalk protesters, as well as reminding us of the comments made by senior Victoria Police when Indian students were being attacked. In other words

…it’s the victim’s fault shhhh…

Sometimes the police will say go away, there’s nothing they could do. They try and fob off people … but it will embarrass police forces around Australia if they were bombarded with these complaints and then they failed to act.”

Susan, police often fail to act . Social media like Facebook and Twitter are often indifferent.


The #mencallmethings campaign was launched on Monday by US blogger Sady Doyle.

”People don’t often talk about it, because that’s seen as complaining or whining,” Ms Doyle told The Age.

The campaign does not target the internet trolls who provoke arguments, Ms Doyle said. It’s about exposing personal hatred aimed at women online. ”These people aren’t just saying they hate women in order to get a reaction; they mean it.”

Many columnists, including anti-porn campaigner Melinda Tankard Reist, Princesses and Pornstars author Emily Maguire and Melbourne SlutWalk founder Clementine Bastow, welcomed the campaign.

”I’m absolutely sick and tired of individual creeps telling us they’re going to rape us or kill us,” said social commentator Nina Funnell. ”For so long, we’ve been told to lighten up … But these comments are reflective of a deep misogyny.

”When you get anonymous attacks, you don’t know who those people are … it can lead to paranoia. You have no idea of your level of safety.”


Women could send screen grabs of misogynist abuse to anti-discrimination site The Anti Bogan, a spokesman for the site said. ”Censorship gets nowhere, but by naming and shaming, we can give these people the publicity they deserve.” The site has exposed Australians by name for racist comments on websites and Facebook.

Please do so


You can deal with abuse when you know the source, says parenting expert Dannielle Miller, who received an apology after the Facebook page of Australian kickboxing champion John Wayne Parr featured the comment: ”If there was ever a question some females should be punched in the face … ” alongside photos of Ms Miller, Kerri-Anne Kennerley and News Ltd columnist Angela Mollard.

Ms Miller didn’t fear Mr Parr, but she worried that the kickboxer’s fans might take him literally. ”My family were very worried and telling me I had to be careful.”


Elsewhere Troll attack campaign goes viral


Former ADF Soldier Charged Over Gay-Hate Facebook Page

SYDNEY police have charged a former Australian soldier over the creation of a Facebook gay-hate page that targeted four serving members of the Defence Force. The arrest was made less than a month after the Herald revealed the harassment, which targeted an army major, Paul Morgan, two members of the Sydney-based commando regiment 2RAR and another serving soldier. It was also revealed that – despite the Facebook page clearly identifying several dozen serving soldiers – the Defence Force failed properly to investigate and punish dozens of serving members allegedly linked to a social media campaign designed to expose and intimidate homosexual personnel.

Major Morgan, an army psychologist, was also sent a graphic and highly violent email, which police allege came from the former soldier, a Kareela man aged 32. It stated: ”I will cut your homosexual carcass into 100 pieces to feed you to the marine life in Botany Bay.”

The Facebook page was created using the pseudonym ”Steve Austin”. The four serving gay men had their names published on the page, which has since been taken down. It allegedly had links to extremely violent and pornographic videos on YouTube showing executions of homosexuals superimposed over images of Anzac Cove in Gallipoli and flag-draped coffins of dead Australian soldiers.

Yesterday morning police from Surry Hills charged the man with one count of using a carriage service – the internet – to threaten. He was also charged with using a carriage service to menace, harass or cause offence, relating to the Facebook page. He is due in the Downing Centre Local Court on June 3.