KASAMA Vol. 10 No. 1 / January-February-March 1996 / Solidarity Philippines Australia Network

OPINION: Is Australia Experiencing a Racist Resurgence?

by Dee Dicen Hunt

On March 2, 1996 Australians of non-Anglo/Celtic ethnic background intently watched the results of the Australian Federal elections. At issue were policies that specifically affect migrant communities of non-English speaking background. The decisive victory of the Coalition (Liberal/National) parties' candidates can be seen as a mandate for the reversal of certain legislation deemed unfavourable to Australia's majority, such as indigenous land rights, the anti-discrimination laws, and immigration regulations - a new White Australia Policy.

A cold shudder ran along my spine as I assessed the high returns of the candidates who flaunted their racist beliefs. One was even elected as an independent despite having been dis-endorsed by her party for her remarks. Another, who referred to "slanty-eyed, tight-mouthed wowsers" taking offence at his colleague's dubbing of citizenship ceremonies as "de-wogging" exercises, was re-elected with an increased vote.

You could pardon me for taking such remarks personally. I suppose you could also describe as "slanty-eyed, tight-mouthed wowsers" the Filipino participants of last year's study tour to the Philippines that looked into Australian business involvement in sex tourism. A "wowser", by the way, is defined in my Shorter Oxford English Dictionary as an Australian word meaning "a Puritanical enthusiast or fanatic." I didn't have to look up the word "wog", I know from bitter experience what that means!

Ethnic communities were not the only targets of electioneering insults - the worst of them were directed against Aborigines and Islanders. Candidates who expressed anti-Native Title sentiments and opinions about the indigenous peoples of Australia getting "too much out of the system" were received favourably by the electorate. This worries me, for it makes about as much sense as Filipinos voting Imelda Marcos into the Philippine Congress.

There is a resurgence amongst politicians in the Philippines too - a resurgence of militarism. Under the guise of anti-terrorism measures, the Ramos government is laying the legal grounds to repress the activities of those whom it believes seek to undermine its program of fast-tracking industrial development.

Former prime minister of Britain, Lady Margaret Thatcher visited Manila for four days in January for a series of lectures sponsored by Citibank. Mrs Thatcher was nicknamed the "Iron Lady" for her government's free enterprise economy and privatisation policies that require development undisrupted by dissent and problems of law and order. During her courtesy call on President Ramos in Malacañang they discussed international terrorism which she described as a "phenomenon of recent times." She urged Mr. Ramos to make a "strong response".

How ironic that in this year of commemorating the 100th anniversary of Philippine independence, which is also the 10th anniversary of the EDSA "revolution", Filipinos should be drinking the old poison of martial law from new bottles labelled "Philippines 2000".