The Skip Hegemony


It has become commonplace among certain ruling groups to compare Australia with the United States. Both belong to the New World; both are seen to be ‘mature democracies’; both are ‘multicultural’; and Australia is roughly the same size as the continental United States.

And there is, of course, John Howard’s sycophantic relationship with President Bush. The banal, little Australian with the firm handshake can strut the world stage in the company of the great; and his wife can take tea with the First Lady of America. The boy from Earlwood and the Anglican Saturday night dance has come a long way.

Much has been said in praise of multiculturalism in this country, but it has had little real effect on the Australian polity. Despite the influx of migrants in the 1950s, and again in the 1970s, the only real influence of ‘ethnics’ has been on diet, football and the telephone book. The Anglo-Celt culture is still pervasive and strong.

Ironically, we have to thank the labour movement — as much as anyone else — for the latent, institutionalised racism in Australian society. Although approved of generally, the White Australia Policy was primarily the program of the working class and the trade union movement. Billy Hughes described it as ‘the greatest thing we have achieved’; and the utopian socialist, William Lane, embraced it whole-heartedly. (There is a comparison to be made between Billy Hughes and John Howard, is there not? Both are nasty little men who love the international high-life.)

Thanks to Peter Nicholson at <i>The Australian</i>

Thanks to Peter Nicholson at The Australian

During World War II, the Labor Prime Minister, John Curtin, said, ‘This country shall remain forever the home of the descendants of those people who came here in peace in order to establish in the South Seas an outpost of the British race.’ But the Labor Party prefers to forget its racist past.

In 1966, the Liberal Minister for Immigration said that ‘applications for migration would be accepted from well qualified people on the basis of their suitability as settlers, their ability to integrate readily, and their possession of qualifications positively suitable to Australia’. Does all this sound familiar? Almost forty years later, we have virtually the same attitude; and it does not surprise me that Sharman Stone, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Finance Minister, wants to bring the dictation test back. We cannot have people living in the country who are unable to speak Australian-English.

It wasn’t until 1973 that the Whitlam Government finally dismantled the White Australia Policy; and the first significant increase of migrants from non-European countries took place under the Fraser Government after it came into office in 1975.

Racism or prejudice against ‘strange’ people with coloured skins, funny clothes or slanty eyes, still persists; and as for the Aborigines … The detention camps and the treatment of people like the Bakhtiaris and Vivian Solon is proof of the overt racism within the Department of Immigration and the supine acquiescence of Australian society generally. Let’s face it. Detention camps and forced deportation of ‘undesirables’ and ‘queue-jumpers’ is not a big political issue nor is the condition and future of the Aborigines.

As far as immigration is concerned, in America things were somewhat different. There (although racism was endemic in the white culture), the working class and the trade unions were not strong enough, or well organised enough, to object to the massive waves of immigration in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. And the industrialists of the day — such people as JP Morgan, Andrew Carnegie, Henry Frick and Henry Ford — did not care how their products were produced as long as they were produced as cheaply and profitably as possible. The migrants did all the unpleasant and dirty work and remained in ghettos for a long, long time.

Such was the strength of organised labour in Australia, this did not happen here. The Anglo-Celt hegemony ruled and continues to rule.

As far as matters of race are concerned, John Curtin and John Howard are one and the same person. Both have a cramped and monocultural view of Australian society. And the events concerning asylum-seekers have proven there is nothing to choose between the two major parties — if you can call the ALP a credible political party any more. (It is an irony that proposals to ameliorate conditions for detention camp inmates came from the back bench of the Liberal Party, not the Labor opposition. Neither Kim Beazley nor Laurie Ferguson, the Shadow Minister for Immigration at the time, could bring themselves to propose changes to the Government’s inflexible and inhumane policy.)

It is, perhaps, somewhat unfair to blame organised labour solely for Australia’s cultural bias. From the 1850s, or thereabouts, Australia was defensive and saw itself surrounded by (coloured) enemies. It still does — hence the reliance on powerful friends.

Any comparison with the United States, though, is pure humbug and wishful thinking. For all its faults, America was able to cope with virtually unrestricted immigration. Australia was not — it remained frightened and defensive. It was, as John Curtin put it, an ‘outpost’ in the South Seas.

The Anglo-Celt hegemony in Australia is a cultural mindset and will be hard to change. It can only be changed by political leadership, and — with Howard, Ruddock, Vanstone, Beazley, et al, entrenched — there is no sign of that.

As things stand at the moment, any real change in our culture will be seen as ‘un-Australian’.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.