It seems a benign observation: that the topic which rouses the greatest passions in the hearts and minds of Australians is our history. Of course, any discussion of history is a dialogue about who we are. History and identity are inseparable: First Fleet, rugged explorers, Federation, Anzac and hard working, larrikin Australians.
You might notice that the orthodox telling flatters settler Australia as paragons of loyalty and prodigious industry. We are diggers and battlers who yearn for a fair shake of the sauce bottle, mate. This fair-dinkum telling of our story assures us that we are light-hearted and fair-minded. The dissonance is extreme. We lead the world in Indigenous incarceration and think it equitable. We treat asylum seekers with miserable cruelty and consider ourselves benevolent. We pay lip service harmony while tuning into after-dark talkshows flaunting thinly veiled contempt of minorities.
Over the last twenty years, Australia’s hostility toward difference has become its defining characteristic. This happening is no accident but rather the result of deliberate practices, a product of political rhetoric and media culture which forms the public imaginary. Indeed, our interests as a community have never been so parochial and chauvinist ideas never so viable. The media cycle gives the impression that each episode, sensational in its own right, is an anomaly. Behind that is an uninterrupted thread which weaves through our history. To make sense of it we must first grasp the constitution of the settler state as one founded, fundamentally, on white supremacy.
After all, settlers could only establish colonial rule after the theft of land. Hostilities on the frontier existed alongside slaves working sugar and pineapple plantations—the settler project aimed to destroy and control in order to replace. The intertwined projects of settlement, slavery and later apartheid found their impulse in racist beliefs. Our first Prime Minister, Edmund Barton, was explicit in his conviction that all ethnicities were inferior and servile to the white race. The architect of White Australia, Alfred Deakin, declared it to be the very heart of social and political life.
Racist attitudes encouraged and, in turn, were motivated by fears of imagined invasions. Barton feared the territorial expansion of the ‘black and yellow races’ while Deakin fretted about the underpaid labor of foreign realms. Our most fundamental conflicts were, and remain, indivisibly related to race and land. The psychology of early Australia was that of the usurper. Having seized a continent from its keepers, our forebears nervously anticipated that people of colour would reenact their violence. In turn, they assumed that others jealously coveted our precious resources and territory.
Australia’s first myth, then, is one of ethnic homogeneity. Settlers wanted a pristine country for fair skinned people, but the very existence of the White Australia policy proves its fiction. Such a scheme was necessary precisely because Australia was never a white country. Australia enclosed hundreds of independent Indigenous groups and imported tens of thousands of slaves from the South Pacific. People freely arrived not only from Europe but from China and far-flung British colonies as well. Nevertheless, the policy saw non-white immigration curbed, indentured labourers deported in droves, and thousands of ‘enemy aliens’ interned in camps during both World Wars.
Eventually, though, the state began to recognise the diversity of its population, substituting the discriminatory dictation test with public services provided in foreign languages. While this was material progress, it is wishful thinking to assume that we forever resolved our deep-seated homogeneity complex. Today, commitment to multiculturalism is in terminal decline. Meanwhile White Australia, approaching the fiftieth anniversary of its superficial demise, is en vogue.
The problem with multiculturalism, as such, is that it disrupts the traditionalist idea of ‘the nation’ as a body of people bound together by a shared culture, history and language. From this perspective, diversity threatens society by diluting the ties which bind the political community together. This traditionalism weighs heavily on our psyche. It implies that we can only trust people who are like ourselves. Like our colonist ancestors, a fear of difference constrains the boundaries of our politics.
It is this current which flows through our history: the idea that diversity is dangerous.
Introduced by John Howard in 1988, the Coalition’s concept of One Australia revealed such thinking. This was a picture of Australia bound together by shared values and distressed about the prospect of ‘enclave settlement’. The threat that migrant suburbs posed to the white majority needed no explicit explanation.
Howard was an ardent traditionalist. He was a firm believer in the nation with all its connotations, arguing that we needed to limit Asian migration and reject Indigenous recognition. He accused Keating of abandoning mainstream Australia in favour of special interest groups determining instead to ‘unite the nation’ for the benefit of ‘battlers’. This was a naked appeal to those in the working class unblemished by signifiers of difference. Pitting the everyman against minorities marked immigration above all other forces as the source of disadvantage.
The Coalition’s return to power in 1996 saw an upheaval of the state’s political philosophy. Middle power diplomacy and good international citizenship smacked of naïve cosmopolitanism. What we needed was a single-minded pursuit of the national interest. The emphasis on the ordinary Australian in a majority white country is laden with meaning. Howard’s insistence that we were unproblematically a ‘Western nation’ was similarly pregnant with suggestions of race, religion and culture.
Enter Hanson. She toyed with economic concerns but her real aptitude was race rhetoric, swamped by Asians and Aboriginal handouts and so on. These pithy tokens articulated the misgivings of a group who felt emasculated by the multicultural project of yesteryear, who viewed the recognition of diversity as militant separatism. They delighted in a circus of bad faith. Affirmative action was reverse racism, and tolerance was political correctness. Hanson indulged any hostility toward difference.
A statesman of the right calibre might have diffused the rhetoric. It was somewhat impractical, though, for Howard to condemn someone who spoke with the same voice. After all, One Nation is just a cocksure restatement of the Coalition’s One Australia. Fears of enclaves and anxieties about assimilation are two sides of the same coin. Shared values and one people are the same prayer for unity through homogeneity. However, it was her plain speech that he found especially appealing. Australia had become less explicitly White since the 70s. As Howard noted, it had was unacceptable to talk about certain things. However wary he was (she cost him votes at the end of the day) Hanson’s ascendancy prophesied a nation willing to lend a sympathetic ear to the sectarianism of race politics.
So it was that Hanson made the proposals and Howard acted on them. While she arrested press attention he cut immigration, restricted visas and attempted to extinguish native title. At the same time, officials recast tired talking points with a mind to reach this burgeoning audience. Foreign Minister Alexander Downer hinted at the threat of an incursion, capitalising on Hanson’s vernacular: ‘A region in stress is a region less predictable,’ he suggested, ‘Problems can become unmanageable and spill over borders.’
Howard’s genius as a politician was his masterful command of language. He knew winning rhetoric when he heard it. When the Government seized control of the MV Tampa, he argued that it had nothing to do with race or culture. It was about our sovereignty and our right to control the flow of migration. Water metaphors channelled old anxieties about invasion toward fears of a porous border. Troubles spilt and we were swamped as floods, torrents, tides and waves of migrants arrived. The peril of ethnic migration, as represented by the metaphor of drowning, is unspoken but understood.
The attack on the World Trade Towers in New York aggravated the delusion which saw refugees as a sinister threat emerging from an unstable region. The peculiar activation of the Anzus Treaty foregrounded the war on terror as a conventional military conflict and, more importantly, as an attack on Australia. For Howard, 9/11 was not just an assault on the ‘civilised world’ nor an attack on our values but something more profound. We were targets not because of what we had done, he explained to the Institute of Public Affairs, but because of who we are. The logic was that in attacking people similar to ourselves, al-Qaeda had committed a sort of hate crime against us. So we closed ranks with those who shared culture, history and language against an alien, Orientalised other.
Through this lens, the Pacific Solution was not so much a response to Tampa as much as it was to 9/11. The hundreds of refugees on the MV Tampa were political prisoners of the war on terror. The state incarcerated them without due process or recourse because of what they represented, because of who they were. In truth, indefinite offshore detention is nothing more than a technical euphemism for internment. The camps are an oubliette which allow the state (as the French oublier implies) to deposit problems known only by their identification numbers, and forget about them.
Refugees were kept offshore to deny them access to courts and the press. They were deliberately confined in a cramped space with inadequate facilities and left to suffer. The tents were overcrowded and water frequently ran short. Indeed, the camps were disciplinary by design, intended to punish people fleeing persecution. The Government conflated fear of terrorism with anxieties about maritime arrivals to justify illegal boat turn-backs and the re-establishment of internment.
Still, desperate people on rickety fishing boats was a crisis of its own making. Howard introduced temporary protection visas in 1999 with a mind to create more opportunities to deport visa holders. After a brief respite, the Coalition reintroduced temporary visas under a different name in 2013. Crucially, these provisional visas frustrate family reunions, a move designed to prevent men from travelling to Australia by boat and bringing their family at a later date. The effect is that an unseaworthy vessel is often the best option for women and children with no alternative.
The internment apparatus is a subterfuge in that it creates the problem it purports to solve. Visa policies force more people out to sea and, in turn, governments cite rising boat arrivals as an excuse for increasingly vicious deterrents. The infliction of pain, deprivation, psychological torment and death through calculated negligence is imperative to the system.
This methodical brutalisation is sold as a necessary evil to stop the boats, end smuggling et cetera. Not only is it unfathomably immoral to use human beings in this way, it is also pointless. We have known for decades that deterrence is a fallacy. A failed policy, a bureaucrat would say. People continue to arrive. It is only that we have stopped hearing about them.
After Tampa, the fishing boat SIEV X floundered on its way to Australia. Hundreds of asylum seekers drowned. In the aftermath, the Howard Government knowingly released false photographs to promote the ‘children overboard’ narrative rather than reflect on how policy was forcing more people out to sea. At this pivotal moment, an intoxicating hybrid of security discourse and moral panic became a new political tool. Broadsheets and tabloids cooperated with the state to paint refugees and terrorists as interchangeable folk devils.
Ministers branded asylum seekers queue jumpers, illegals and terrorists. They were monsters who threw children overboard and threatened society. They wanted to take advantage of our generosity and impede on our sovereignty. They were not worthy of our help. They were dangerous.
Identity was instrumental in the production of public opinion. On Howard’s account, our defining moment was on beaches and cliffs of Gallipoli. We forged the Anzac spirit and the enduring ethic of mateship through our reluctant but heroic sacrifice. Just as we had defended our way of life by sending young men to die on a faraway beach, so too were we called to valiantly offer blood and bodies in the war on terror. By following the US into the campaign against evil we realised ourselves as correctly Australian.
The Anzac myth binds us to Britain through history and America through alliance. It affirms our diplomatic relations to countries with a Christian and European heritage. In other words, it reinforces the idea that we should only trust people like ourselves. A martial cosmology such as this naturalised a military response to a perceived threat to values. The Pacific Solution and the invasions in the Middle East are two instances of the same reflex, one which identifies cultural, ethnic and religious difference as dangerous and brute force as the solution.
It is no accident that Australia’s carceral border regime coincides with the war on terror. The Anzac spirit normalised violence while mateship compelled us to close ranks against an alien other. Fighting the terrorists abroad became the same thing as stopping the boats at home. Interestingly, fixing the genesis of our identity to WWI obscured how Howard produced it through discourse. Anzac-identity was something he inherited, but the Asian model was social engineering. This approach has the benefit of dodging 80,000 years of pre-colonial Aboriginal history.
This manipulation was effective because it undermined any opposition. To dispute Anzac-identity meant mutating into the sorriest creature… the unAustralian. To quarrel with the interventions in the Middle East and the Pacific was to be cowardly, to question internment was unpatriotic. Academics were elites who were out of touch with battlers. The Opposition were weak on borders or unconcerned about Australian lives. Such rhetorical coercion made alternative narratives unsustainable. So anxieties about invasion found new purchase in fear of terrorism. The arc of instability was recycled into an Iraqi ‘tower of threat’ while the media displaced the hazard of failed states onto rogue states. Talk of WMDs burned like bushfire through news reports.
The state incessantly stoked the idea of an impending attack, in part to justify counter- terrorism laws which quickly became a federal neurosis. In the ten years after 2001, the Howard Government enacted more than 50 pieces of new legislation amounting to hundreds of pages of rushed laws. This whirlwind law-making eclipsed the British, Canadian and even American counter-terrorism responses. In some cases, Australia copied the laws of other jurisdictions without the safeguards. Hazy limits on executive power and our lack of a human rights charter left few avenues for legal challenges.
Virtually unimpeded, the state awarded itself new powers: detention without suspicion, warrantless searches and year-long control orders alongside new offences for sedition. Under Howard, Parliament enacted a new anti-terror statute once every six weeks. The Government’s cataclysmic view of our place in the world gave us every reason to be afraid, and therefore, to support illiberal and extreme border and security legislation.
Terrorism is by its nature public and hyper-visible. Ironically, this conceals the fact that it poses a much lower risk than many other causes of mortality. Women, for instance, are considerably more likely to be murdered by an intimate partner than by a terrorist. Nevertheless, this period shifted anxieties about invasion onto the emerging threat of global terror. We yoked our identity to a military culture through history and refugees to terrorists in our understanding of the present.
A permanent state of alarm was the new norm. Recurring moral panics testify to the eagerness of the political class to locate danger in cultural, ethnic and religious difference, and further, to deploy fear as a political tool. In a way, the Cronulla race riots were the culmination of these forces. The Government convinced enough of us that immigration compromised out safety and that terrorism lurked behind every hijab. Difference had never been so alarming.
Cronulla was a twisted (though not unfaithful) interpretation of Anzac-identity. Thousands of white Australians gathered to stand by their mates who shared a culture, history and language against an alien other who did not. Their chosen battlefield was loaded with symbolism, the beach, the site of colonial ingress. Cronulla was not a random event as Howard insisted but rather the predictable result of race-baiting politics. Roaming gangs of white Australians looking for people of colour to attack did not materialise from the ether. It took years of political agitprop and weeks of campaigning from career provocateurs like Alan Jones to incite the violence.
The refusal of politicians to speak candidly about the racialised nature of the event promised that the riots would recede fruitlessly into our collective amnesia. It also meant that the conceptual machinery would remain concealed but no less potent for it. So it was that we stumbled from Tampa to Cronulla to the Northern Territory Intervention almost breathlessly. Many are scandalised to remember the military occupying dozens of Aboriginal communities but at the time it might have looked almost like a logical progression. Timor Leste, Afghanistan, Iraq, the Solomon Islands… the Northern Territory.
Every indignity was brought to bear against Aboriginal people. Howard explained on morning television that such ‘dysfunctional’ communities had no ‘elements of civilised society’. Senator Cory Bernardi evangelised that values had broken down in a ‘slurry of alcohol and lawlessness’. The architect of the Intervention, Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough, argued that the Government should remake these ‘failed societies’ into ‘normal suburbs’. The watchful eye of the state shifted toward its fabled interior: from failed states to rogue states to failed societies.
Settler media, flaunting no interest in meaningful Aboriginal representation, devolved immediately into moral panic. The Government would, Howard said, heroically rescue women and children living out a ‘Hobbesian nightmare of violence, abuse and neglect’. At heart, the Intervention was a white-saviour dream with no appetite for history. There was no concern for the persistent effects of dispossession, massacres, slavery, apartheid, caste-systems, stolen wages or stolen children. It was not the alternating apathy or hostility of the settler state which was the problem. No, the nuisance which the Government endeavoured to solve was, really, cultural and ethnic difference itself.
In his reference to the state of nature, Howard depicted Aboriginal people as trapped in a prior stage of human development. The heroic intervention of the settler state would allow them to escape their inferiority and achieve the desired level of progress in the form of postcard-perfect suburbia. Once again the state strove to destroy so that it might replace. The Government seized enormous tracts of land and relaxed rules around private resource exploitation. It whitewashed Indigenous communities by quashing customary law and restructuring black townships for the settler market.
Further, the Government banned pornography in communities that sometimes went without water or cell phone reception. How a $20,000 fine and jail time for supplying porn was supposed to help anyone went unquestioned. Moral hygiene was paramount. The state also quarantined a considerable proportion of welfare payments, a colonial paternalism later institutionalised in the form of Basics Cards. Holding the purse strings tight while forcing Aboriginals to work for the dole stunk of indentured labour but it was a means to an end. Poor Aboriginals could not be trusted, not even to look after themselves. The state assumed responsibility for the moral and physical welfare of the natives in an eerie echo of the Aborigine Acts of the prior century. It wasn’t so much that there was wealth for toil as that work would make pure.
The common understanding was that family violence was an aberration in settler culture, but inherent to Indigenous societies which were, therefore, in need of correction. Never-mind that there were roughly x7 more cases of child abuse in Howard’s home state of NSW than in the NT in the years leading up the Intervention. The double standard is unsurprising. The suspension of the Racial Discrimination Act made it manifestly clear that the legislation was systematically racist.
The settler public practised authentic Australian-ness by supporting a military response to difference which, through an entirely concocted narrative, presented as a threat to values. The logic of Anzac-identity reframed violence as inclusion, and further, colonialism as an act of courageous mateship. We were virtuous, unlike the savages of Howard’s state of nature. Once again Australians rallied against the unfamiliar. Culture and ethnic distinctiveness was the problem and force was the solution.
These episodes are flash-points in a long-running story. The promise of change following the ceremonial decommission of White Australia soured in 1996, 2001, 2007 and then again in 2013 as the country pitched toward ethnonationalism and, as a consequence, authoritarianism. As a community we learned to fear difference while the state entered a period of wartime crisis which it has never cast off. Terrorists, refugees and Indigenous people fell into the same category, threats which could only be ameliorated with violence.
This shift was as permanent as it was pervasive, affecting every axis of politics. For instance, the Rudd Government that Apologised nevertheless committed itself to the Intervention. All the most troubling developments in our democracy have been bipartisan from intervention to mass surveillance, and there is an exceptionally rich history of bipartisanship on internment. The Gillard and Rudd administrations reinstated the Pacific Solution, only with a new humanitarian façade. It was about saving lives at sea and beating human traffickers. How throwing children into gulags accomplished this, nobody could clearly say. The Coalition made good use of such contorted logic. Indeed, the Coalition has largely stayed afloat on the flotsam of immigration rhetoric. The stop the boats campaign was a magisterial deployment of fear that saw the callousness of border policy installed as a new litmus test for competence.
To defend the public, the state demanded new agencies with more guns, secret operations with more ships and, most importantly, more camps. Boat turn-backs, buy- backs, foreign aid that amounts to little more than bribery—anything can be justified in the name of the national interest. The Border Force doubled its regiment of armed officers who sport military-chic uniforms, replete with epaulettes and insignias. This branch of the government surpassed the Department of Defence in the amount it spent on commemorative medals back when it was still, nominally, the Immigration Department. Honours for tours of duty in the war on difference.
At the same time, militarisation has trickled into our lives. Our cities have become petty fortresses in record time. Sleek black Public Order vehicles roll up main strips while bollards stand stoically as totems of ever-present danger. The lines between the constabulary and the military draw closer together as police arm themselves with semi- automatics and ministers claim for themselves the right to deploy the army against civilians.
Journalists reporting on intelligence operations risk prison time while security agencies use metadata to target whistleblowers. Apropos of no recommendation at all, the Turnbull Government consolidated Australia’s national security, border control and law enforcement agencies in a new super-ministry with almost no oversight. When George Brandis said of a new suite of contentious ASIO powers were ‘by no means a temporary regime’ in 2014 he aptly prophesied the coming years. As the state seizes every pretence for escalation, the counter-terror response erodes the freedoms it claims to protect.
To justify each new grab for power the state fosters fear which has, in turn, driven the rise of extremist movements in Australia. This cult of fear is to the far-right what anti- immigrant rhetoric was to Cronulla. When difference is dangerous, rejecting diversity becomes self-defence.
The most visceral rejection comes from neo-Nazi groups who enjoy new renown. Groups like the Antipodean Resistance hold secret radicalisation camps and target Jewish and LGBTI people in posters and pamphlets. Hate groups like the United Patriots Front give the movement a more palatable front with Muslims are their primary target. They hold signs which read multiculturalism is genocide and clothe white supremacy in nationalism.
These groups are increasingly assertive. United Patriots Front stormed city councils and racially vilified a senator, and recently the Antipodean Resistance almost succeeded in stacking the NSW Young Nationals. This trend came to a head at the opening of 2019 when neo-Nazis rallied on the beaches of St Kilda, enthusiastically throwing sieg heils and wearing replica SS helmets. Neo-Nazis publicly demonstrating is shocking yet unsurprising. Many of their beliefs and much of their rhetoric are staples of our social and political culture.
Consider in this context Andrew Bolt’s infamous article lamenting our ‘invasion’ by migrants who ‘refused to assimilate’. In this penny dreadful, Bolt is the vanguard defending our purity from the perils of cultural and racial intermixing as we struggle to keep our head above a ‘tidal wave of immigrants’. Likewise, what was remarkable about Blair Cottrell’s interview on Sky News was not that a Sky thought it acceptable to stage the interview in the first place, but that the content of the discussion were the same stale talking points about national unity and pride that we expect from career politicians. Though it was embroidered with the white genocide trope, even this tenet of neo-Nazism is somewhat quaint. By the time the interview aired, savvy actors like Abbott and Dutton had already cashed in on the fabricated News Corp narrative about white South African farmers, of white people brutally murdered by black people en masse.
It is unfathomable that Hanson, with her paranormal instinct for the power of words, was ignorant of the meaning in her it’s okay to be white motion. It is similarly unbelievable that Anning’s ‘final solution’ speech was an innocent gaffe. The condemnation which followed, though, was an exemplary gambit. The Senate denounced the speech and Turnbull and Shorten shook hands like good sportsmen, but the pantomime rang hollow. Many of those who recoiled with horror from the mention of the Final Solution have, for years, dogmatically supported interning non-white and non-Christian refugees in cramped offshore camps. Many have died, and many more continue to suffer. Pacific Solution indeed.
This double standard reveals how the political class use far-right extremists as a smoke screen. The presence of fanatically racist and Islamophobic politics makes all other positions milder by comparison. Legislators who ply race rhetoric, support internment, visa restrictions, and exclusive citizenship tests can, in the next moment, decry a call to end Muslim immigration. However, whispered animosity is no less fraught. The unavoidable fact is that any rhetoric which incites hostility will always, eventually, lead to violence. Such violence might be systemic and hidden like the silent rise of racist hate crimes after the recent Victorian election. Or like in Christchurch it can be abrupt, brutal and horrific.
The Christchurch manifesto speaks volumes about us. It revels in everyman status and the superiority of whiteness, venerating our European heritage and reviling an alien other. At the same time, it perversely reimagines immigration as invasion, conquest which threatens the virtue of whiteness. It identifies difference as a threat and violence as the solution. What is crucial to recognise is that these beliefs did not emerge ex nihilo, we have heard them many times before. They were promoted, encouraged and supported by decades of rhetoric and deafening column inches. It is not that the abhorrent actions in Christchurch do not represent our civic culture but that they embody it too well.
Fear is employed to consolidate political power but it has consequences. Violence was a predictable consequence from the beginning. In 2001 it was children overboard, in 2007 it was paedophile rings, in 2013 it was boat people, and in 2018 it was African gangs. Since 9/11 we have lived in an age of compulsory and increasingly ferocious Islamophobia. Each new panic reinforces our fear of ethnic, cultural and religious difference, and further, the use of violence in our defence. Ad nauseam. What great and perilous wave will the next election conjure to our screens? Who will ultimately pay the price?
Surrendering to pessimism is uncomplicated but it is also deleterious. Corruption, exploitation and systemic sexual abuse have damaged the prestige of political institutions, banks, and the Church, contributing to a perception of malaise and breakdown. The reflex is to retreat further into the familiar, but this is a mistake. Though serial agitators dominate public discussions they cannot excise our proud diversity. The chauvinist bloc has proved small and fickle, while the broader community continues to welcome multiculturalism, mass migration and Indigenous sovereignty. Our past, simply put, is not our destiny.
To refuse the simple comforts of ethnonationalism means mediating our sense of self. We can begin by locating ourselves outside the constricting borders of Anzac identity and acknowledging the crimes of the state. Of course, criticism of our history often proves unpopular. Those with a vested interest in an unjust status quo accuse critics of self-hatred, of wearing black armbands, of being unAustralian. The straw-man is unfair. We can feel shame for the wrongs of our country only insofar as we identify with it and care about the future of its peoples. It is impossible to invest oneself in a country and be blind to its faults. Reconciling our past means acknowledging the astounding achievements of Indigenous peoples before colonisation, the violence of settlement and the continuing trespass of the state. Makarrata is the aspiration and truth-telling and substantive policy are the way forward.
We must grapple with the fact that the state demands extraordinary concessions because it imagines that we are at war. However, there is no limit on which freedoms can be pawned to pay for our safety. The war on terror is a war without end. It has already waged longer than both World Wars combined. Undoubtedly, after 9/11 new laws were needed but that does not mean what we have is fit for purpose. Quite the contrary, many powers of detention, search, and surveillance are contrary to the public interest. De- escalation is urgent and we must tailor the anti-terror apparatus to measure.
We should dismantle Home Affairs into its constituent parts to remedy this brazen and unjustified concentration of power. We must put an end to offshore internment, forever prohibiting its use. A tool of human suffering such as this cannot be justified. To achieve this, we need also to abolish the Border Force and replace it with a properly civilian agency. The human cost of Australia’s often illegal border policies is untenable, and demilitarisation is the key. To that end, a bill or charter of human rights which we could employ to challenge the arbitrary extension and abuse of power would be a practical first step.
Finally, much that needs changing in our political and media discourse. Politicians and pundits must be held to account for dog whistles, for explicit and implicit anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, anti-Aboriginal, and anti-difference sentiment. Such a project is no small task given that jingoism and intolerance saturate our culture to the extent that their expression is acutely routine. We require media institutions with less of an interest in a false sense of neutrality but, instead, a radical commitment to justice. The press must abandon euphemism and verbatim reportage, preferring instead to identify prejudice and plainly challenge bigoted claims. This change is not only ideal but imperative.
Our communities are the many fountains of a tremendous Australian watercourse with none more important than the others. We tell stories of our history to remember who we are and imagine whom we might become. Our stories are fluid and never finally resolved. It is time we revisit our history and recognise that the fear of difference fuels an unsustainable and violent politics. We could, if we desire, change our relationship with difference. In so doing, we can negotiate a less fearful sense of ourselves and our place in the world.
Joshua lectures in philosophy at Deakin University and is a research assistant at the Alfred Deakin Institute.