Read, Debate: Engage.
Karl_Ernst_von_Baer_Types_Principaux_des_Differents_Race_Humaines Kopie

Racism in Australia

From the nation’s harsh immigration policy – which its Prime Minister has attempted to export to the EU – to the proposed closure of indigenous communities, 2015 has not been a good year for Australia’s human rights reputation.

The face of this shame is Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who has become an easy target for comedy, with the satirical current affairs show Last Week Tonight with John Oliver making popular segments that mock the world leader.

Oliver himself has described Abbott as "a car crash of a human being", his flaws ripe for comedy.

The Prime Minister has certainly become an easy target. The man who won’t approve gay marriage despite having a lesbian sister, and enforces the harshest border policy in the world despite being a migrant himself is not looked upon kindly by international media.

So what kind of population is he leading?

How Aussies see themselves

A 2013 report from the University of Western Sydney titled Challenging Racism found that 87% of Australians believe in the benefits of cultural and racial diversity. From the repealing of the While Australia legislation to the enactment of the Racial Discrimination Act passed in 1975, the lucky country has come a long way. The Mapping Social Cohesion report from the same year showed that Australians overwhelmingly see themselves as “kind, caring and friendly”. So why do foreign perceptions negate this?

How the world sees Australia

Type “Why are Australians” in to Google and, if you wait a second, the autofill will complete your sentence: “Why are Australians so racist?”

On BBC News: Australian Football League (AFL) star Adam Goodes says he is taking time off, as a row over racism in the game shows no sign of dying down.

That’s right, enough people have asked Google this question that it is now the question Google suggests first.

We are all, of course, poor at judging ourselves, but it seems there are plenty of other people keen on finding out exactly how Australia has earned its reputation for racism, one that sits so sharply in contrast of how Australian nationals see themselves.

Indigenous rights threatened

Indigenous Australians have faced a long history of oppression at the hands of colonisation, from the Rabbit-Proof Fence to stolen generations, poorer quality of life and life expectancy, to lack of representation.

This year the struggle of Indigenous Australians played out on the world stage as protests took place around the globe against the proposed closure of rural Aboriginal communities.

The closures would result from the cutting-off of basic services in a bid to save costs. But it would also force indigenous people off their ancestral land, to which they hold a sacred connection.

After Tony Abbott said that Australian taxpayers should not have to subsidise the Aboriginal “lifestyle choice”, human rights activists, as well as ordinary Australians, took to the streets in protest. The issue remains unresolved.

Another indigenous issue currently playing out in the popular discourse is the display of Aboriginal culture during Australian Football League (AFL) matches.

Prominent indigenous AFL player and former Australian of the Year Adam Goodes has been consistently booed during his play in this year’s matches, following an incident where a 13-year-old crowd member called him an ape and he called her out for the racial slur. She was removed from the stadium and, although he refused to press charges, Goodes has been criticised for calling out such a young fan.

Since then, Goodes has been vocal about indigenous rights and the need for them to be supported by the sports league.

But this season, every time Goodes gets the ball during game-play, boos are heard throughout the crowd, no matter which part of Australia the match is taking place in.


At the end of July, the debate gained new momentum as another indigenous player, Lewis Jetta, performed a spear-throwing dance in response to the crowd’s hounding of Goodes. He told media he had done this in support of his teammate and their shared cultural cause.

But many took offense, saying the performance was threatening – although Jetta was throwing an imaginary spear.

This led supporters to ask: does an imaginary spear pose a greater threat than racism?

Meanwhile, Goodes continues to suffer abuse in his very public workplace – a fellow sportsman has even suggested he be deported, despite the 40,000 years his people have lived on Australian soil. Deported back to where, exactly?

Immigration policy shame

Indigenous affairs are not the only racial issue in Australia. Ironically, while the Abbott administration fights a native fire in one direction, it also fights a foreign one on the other side. If it’s not indigenous people or foreigners, then who really is welcome in Australia?

Australia’s Stop the Boats policy is among the harshest in the world, promising that no person seeking asylum in Australia who arrives by boat will ever be resettled there. It’s the policy Abbott was elected on in 2013.

Not allowing asylum seekers to claim asylum is in breach of international laws, and yet Australia continues to shift responsibility, making deals with poorer nearby nations to detain the asylum seekers on behalf on Australia for indefinite periods of time.

From the article Racism: An Ugly Truth in Australia on


Fear-mongering pervades the media landscape, describing asylum seekers as a burden that Australia needs to rid itself of. Claims of child abuse in detention centres abound, while doctors treating asylum seekers are threatened with jail time if they report abuse.

Press are prevented from reporting from the detention centres, and in Nauru, where many asylum seekers are being held, Facebook was recently shut down – the channel these people had been using to report on their own living conditions.

The reports of abuse, maltreatment and neglect are pervasive and threaten to permanently tarnish Australia’s international standing.

I’ll Ride With You

Sometimes, though, there is hope in a hashtag.

Last December a man took 18 people hostage in a Sydney café, and demanded that an ISIS flag be delivered to him, aligning himself to the extremist terrorist movement.

During the crisis, some Australians expressed concern that this could force an increase in violence and intimidation towards Muslims in Australia, disconnected as they are with ISIS. One woman wrote on social media that she had removed her head covering, hoping to more easily blend in with the public on her commute home from work.

This sparked the use of the #illridewithyou hashtag. People would tweet their public transport route with the hashtag, thereby offering to ride with anyone who felt threatened.

This display of solidarity on a dark day for Australia gives hope that there is room for change in the lucky country. As much as we can say Australian policy is racist, it’s the individuals that make up a culture and drive social change.