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Who or What is the 'Other' in Contemporary Australia?

Australia has been a racist country since its foundation, which saw the destruction of Indigenous populations for the needs and wants of white settlers. Shortly after becoming a federation in 1901, the Immigration Restrict Act was introduced, forming the basis of the White Australia Policy. Officials were given the power to stop ‘undesirable’ immigrants from coming into the country through the use of a difficult dictation test until 1958. This required them to write a passage of fifty words dictated to them by an official in any European language chosen. The White Australia Policy favoured immigration from certain European countries, in particularly Britain.

Although the White Australia Policy has since been dismantled, racism continues to appear in everyday life, particularly towards Arabs and Muslims. Although Arabs and Muslims have been the targets of racism and discrimination since the Gulf War, life has been particularly made tougher after the events of September 11, 2001. It appears to have affected women more so than men, perhaps as a result of wearing a hijab or burqa which has resulted in more abuse and having their garments torn or pulled off. There is the belief that they these ‘others’ should assimilate into the Australian way of life, the garments identifying them as different.

A police officer protests a victim in Cronulla's summer of simmering tension which boiled over into race riots in 2005
A police officer protests a victim in the Cronulla riots of 2005

Since 1999, it appears there has been an increasing moral panic on boat people, who have been labelled ‘queue jumpers’, ‘human cargo’ and other degrading terms, serving to label them as the other.

Violence and attacks have victimised these social groups with many other nationalities like Asians also affected. Restaurant bombings, arson and Molotov cocktail attacks, bashings and abuse to name a few, have taken place against the other, although on the most serious end of the scale not being as common. Jack van Tongeren was the leader of the Australian Nationalist Movement, which was known as a white supremacist group and focused his actions on robbing and fire-bombing Asian restaurants but has since retired. The fear of ‘the other’ stems from politics, law enforcement racial profiling and moral panics initiated by the media. The Cronulla Riot saw a massive mob of young white males fight for their right to own the beach free of the other, in particular, the Arab and Muslim. This appeared to have started from the bashing of a lifeguard the week earlier by members of this social group, setting off talk back radio and various forms of media. They saw the other as a threat, perhaps as a lack of respect for Australians and Australian territory, in this case, the locality residing with Cronulla Beach.

Police are known to use racial profiling, such as stop and search laws which may affect subgroups of society more than others, such as Asians with swords or Muslims for no particular reason. This may be just as evident when it comes to traffic policing.

There is also the perceived threat of immigrants taking ‘our jobs’, housing, territory, and place in our society. The damage has already been done with the White Australia Policy, which continues in stealth, infiltrating the minds of those who see themselves as the real Australian, excluding thoughts of the original land owners, being the Indigenous populations.


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