| South China Morning Post
It's easy for some politicians to deny racism in Australia when they are not members of targeted ethnic groups
SYDNEY – Another war is tearing through Australia’s civil society: a war of discrimination, racism and suspicion.
For three consecutive years, Australian politicians have commemorated Anzac Day, a time of remembrance of its war dead, with war-cries.
During this year’s Anzac Day, just four weeks shy of what was tipped to be a ‘khaki’ federal election, defence minister Peter Dutton marked the occasion by saying Australia can only preserve peace by preparing for war and likened Russian president Vladimir Putin to Adolf Hitler.
In a reference to Russia and China, prime minister Scott Morrison warned again about an ‘arc of autocracy’ – which has become one of his favourite election catchcries.
Last year, Australian home affairs secretary, Mike Pezzullo, talked about the need for “preparedness of arms” and the protection of “our precious liberty”.
The year before, Morrison was busy talking about sending weapons inspectors into the Chinese city of Wuhan – where the pandemic broke out – during investigations into the origin of the coronavirus.
This kind of fear mongering is dangerous, as it taps into a deep Australian psyche of insecurity and long-standing wariness of foreigners and ‘the others’. Who could forget the White Australia policy?
Ironically, it is regional security that Canberra often talks about along with the unfounded notion that ‘Australia is the most successful multicultural society in the world’.
Getting on a train filled with proud war veterans in Sydney this Anzac Day, I was confronted by racial abuse from an older Caucasian woman.
It started ‘innocently’ enough, first with criticism of my wearing a mask and then derisive slurs about how “my kind should move right on”.
Ordinarily and sadly, I would have moved seats. Phrases like ‘go back to where you came from’ aren’t new in Australia and many parts of the world.
She accused me and my people of storming and invading Australia and taking things. She said that I must be enjoying “breathing its fresh air”.
I called her out so that those around me would hear it, allowing it to impress their subconscious that bullying had to be stood up to.
Subconscious biases form the roots of systemic biases.
In part, this incident was as disturbing as the day Australian senator Eric Abetz used a parliamentary inquiry in 2020 to wage a ‘McCarthyist’ campaign against three Asian-Australians by demanding that they, as ‘fair dinkum’, or genuine, Australians condemn the Chinese Communist Party.
Language matters, and while most Australians do not adopt language like this, some are picking up the government’s rhetoric like kids picking up their parents’ swearing.
And it is easy for some politicians to deny racism in Australia when they themselves are not members of Asian, Muslim or other targeted ethnic groups.
The Australian government, and all governments for that matter, need to exhibit leadership and bear responsibility for civil behaviour instead of focusing on staying in power with cheap election tactics.
When politicians sacrificed the well-being of civil society for a vote, they need to think again. When they think Australians are just arbitrary toys for their personal gain, they need to think again.
If the politicians fail us as a society, and they have, we cannot let them and their greed for power get the better of us in a world becoming more geopolitically complex and challenging.
When the Morrison government wants Australian voters to believe there are invisible enemies that it can protect us from, it is the people who have to do the thinking.
Defending Australia is fair but most countries build their forts without goading and creating enemies. That is just contradictory and senseless.
We are better than that. We can reject that.
Su-Lin Tan joined the South China Morning Post in 2020 after working for the Australian Financial Review. She is a qualified accountant who, before becoming a journalist, worked in investment banking and funds management in London and Sydney