Will The Fair Dinkum Aussie Please Stand Up?


Those familiar with right wing columnists would be well used to the types of defences they mount when one of their own is taken to task on race issues, and this Josh Manuatu article in the Spectator has little to distinguish itself. But I was struck by one passage, and I’ve been meditating on it:

“I am very supportive of Australia being open and accepting of immigrants to our nation, if it is done in an orderly way that ensures that immigrants understand our way of life and, importantly, our values.” – Josh Manuatu, The Spectator

It’s always struck me as curious that people expect immigrants to be subject not only to Australia’s laws, but also to our ‘ways of life’ and ‘values’. On the face of it, reasonable enough requests, but these seem such vague and tender notions, and I always wonder what exactly they mean. How do Australia’s values differ from those of other nations? Is there truly a set of Australian characteristics that constitutes an Australian identity?

It seems natural that when thoughts turn to ideas of Australianness, those burnished cultural idols are brought out – the likes of Barnsey and Boony; Bob Hawke and Ned Kelly; those parched Aussies with their strong accents, those sunburnt barbecue drunks. If there’s a common thread in all this, you might observe that the figures of Australian folklore are iconoclasts, outsiders, challengers to the existing order. You might also find it notable that Australia’s celebrated national heroes were almost universally white men.

VB man

You can get it being a white fella

When John Howard dismissed the ‘black arm band’ view of history, he reassured white voters that the once conventional narrative of Australia was complete and correct. It reassured us that the foundational myths of Australian national identity still held. It was okay to believe that British colonisation of this country was largely of a benign nature, and that Australia was by and large the product of the honest, enterprising spirit of the early white settlers.

Howard’s argument against the black arm band warned that revisiting our founding narratives by acknowledging injustices against Indigenous people was by and large a bad thing, a moral hazard. Howard’s long fight against land rights was couched in similar terms: the dangers of waste and welfare dependency justified continued white control. His Intervention borrowed from the rationale of the British colonial state, and his refusal to apologise to Stolen Generations followed its obstinate legal logic.

While Howard’s politics have a clear lineage, it is said they harkened back to a cultural memory of white suburban Australia that never truly existed – a supplanted memory. This imaginary cultural moment might have borne some resemblance to Howard’s own childhood and that of some Australians, but these national mythologies by their very nature require outsiders and insiders.

Conceptions of national character have long been a staging ground for mythmaking, for ideological engineering, and for excluding and including certain groups. We should remember that our political class have a long and fond history of harnessing nationalist sentiment and outright racism.

If decades of culture wars have taught us anything, it’s that matters of Australian identity are still very much open to debate. In this context, it’s hard to ignore the reemergence of Pauline Hanson, a woman whose identity borrows something from Australia’s iconoclastic and brash character, and whose politics draw from its deep well of anxieties. If you asked most Australians about our shared values, they might be more inclined to mention inclusivity, equity and fairness, and reject Hanson’s values outright. But figures like Howard and Abbott show us that these sentiments can be given a far more mainstream voice.

It’s clear from Hanson’s resurgence many white Australians continue to reject multiculturalism, in practice if not in principle. Perhaps it’s worth acknowledging that other seemingly intrinsic Australian characteristic, the tendency to regard outsiders with suspicion or distrust, to turn our back on Indigenous Australia, to turn the boats back, and to excise refugees from our borders.


Faruqi: the Greens’ prospects in the Lower House

After the 2016 Federal Election, many of us find ourselves flapping around in the flotsam without even a clear electoral outcome to grab hold of. And while the Coalition cling to a razor-thin majority in the lower house, conservatives have been lashing the prime minister and threatening mutiny over the party’s electoral performance. The ALP might be tempted to celebrate, but in truth they achieved their second lowest primary vote in history, and face a changing electoral landscape, especially in inner Melbourne, where the Greens achieved big swings in several seats.

green march

Despite those swings, and although the decline in major party votes is welcome, the Greens failed to secure extra seats in the lower house, and in fact have lost one in the senate. Despite heavy resistance from pokies lobbyists who spent millions trying to talk voters out of it, the Xenophon team were one of the few clear winners this election, along with the Trumpesque alternative Right, and fans of Derryn Hinch.

Here I’ll digress. It stands to reason that voices within the broader Green movement are calling for a frank assessment of our strategy from here on in. Osman Faruqi is a former Greens staffer and online rapscallion whose Guardian columns might occasionally blur the lines of parody, but on this topic he’s fairly frank and not entirely off the mark. He is however somewhat Sydney-centric in his assessment of the Greens’ electoral chances. Lower house seats in inner Melbourne show a very clear long-term trend towards the Greens, the result of a lot of hard work here in Victoria over some decades.

Still, worth a gander imo:

Without some serious soul searching, the Greens will never move beyond the 10% plateau, by Osman Faruqi

My New Look: Misty AF Eyes

Our esteemed Prime Minister can look at our immigration detention system without crying, he’s proud of that, and he’s warning others against the danger of ‘misty eyes’. I must now reflexively endorse misty af eyes, a’la the timeless Katherine Hepburn.

“We shouldn’t allow empathy to cloud our judgement”, says Turnbull.

I disagree. We should reject a martial vision of leadership where compassion is somehow a barrier to correct and proper judgement. Turnbull sounds like a grotesque Boer War general with a pencil moustache.

Where does this model of leadership actually lead us? Is cruelty ever a rational response?

Afterthought: Is Turnbull having a dig at Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young with this phrase? I’m thinking particularly about this event which is widely pilloried among right-wingers, usually in chauvinistic terms. I can think of few people who have shown as much courage and leadership on this issue in the Australian Parliament as Hanson-Young.

And can you imagine the outrage if a third party contractor paid by the Australian Government conducted spying operations on an ALP or Coalition senator abroad on official business? The AFP would have to show up with water cannons.

Midnight Oil

I enjoy politics and music and I’d like to talk about Midnight Oil, a leading Aussie post-punk/new wave/alternative band from the late 70s onwards surely due for a reformation; a truly inventive and deeply political band who are deservedly revered by fans of Australian rock music, and whose vocalist Peter Garrett was by the mid 1980s not only a gangly, lurching figure on American MTV, but also an influential player in Australian politics, a leading voice in a party that at the time commanded over 7% of the Australian popular vote (the NDP); and of course a man who found his way into (and subsequently back out of) the federal cabinet during the Rudd administration, the details of which should probably for decency’s sake remain a topic for another post, but suffice to say: it was 2007, the ALP had just kicked out the odious John Howard and had a fresh mandate for things like an ETS, an apology to stolen generations, and more decent treatment of refugees — or so we hoped.