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Racism in Australia has been documented since the arrival of Europeans in 1788. As the diversity of cultural and racial backgrounds within Australia increased, racism has remained an important local issue.


Indigenous Australians

At the time of first European contact, it has been estimated the absolute minimum pre-1788 population was 315,000, while recent archaeological finds suggest that a population of 750,000 could have been sustained.[1]

With the establishment of European settlement and their subsequent expansion the indigenous populations were progressively forced into neighbouring territories. Violent conflict between Indigenous Australians and European settlers described as the Australian frontier wars arose out this expansion, by the mid-late 1800s, populations were forcibly relocated to land reserves and missions. The nature of many of these land reserves and missions enabled disease to spread quickly and many were closed as resident numbers dropped, with the remaining residents being moved to other land reserves and missions into the 20th century.[2]


Stolen Generations

The Stolen Generations is a term used to describe children of Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent who were removed from their families by Australian Federal and State agencies and church missions, under acts of parliament.[3][4] The removals occurred in the period between approximately 1869[5] and 1969,[6][7] although in some places children were still being taken in the 1970s.[8] Historians such as Henry Reynolds have argued that this constitutes genocide.[9][10]

In April 2000, the Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Herron, presented a report in the Australian Parliament that questioned whether there had been a "Stolen Generation", arguing that only 10% of Aboriginal children had been removed, and they did not constitute an entire "generation". The report received media attention and there were protests.[11]

On 13 February 2008 Prime Minister Kevin Rudd presented an apology for the "Stolen Generation" as a motion in Parliament.[12][13]

Native Title

Native title is a concept in the law of Australia that recognises in certain cases there was and is a continued beneficial legal interest in land held by local indigenous Australians which survived the acquisition of title to the land by the Crown at the time that the Crown acquired sovereignty of Australia.

Early Asian Immigration

The Australian colonies had passed restrictive legislation as early as the 1860s, directed specifically at Chinese immigrants. Objections to the Chinese originally arose because of their large numbers, their religious beliefs and the view that they habitually engaged in gambling and smoking opium. It was also felt they would lower living standards, threaten democracy and that their numbers could expand into a "yellow tide".[14] Later, a popular cry was raised against increasing numbers of Japanese (following Japan’s victory over China in the Sino-Japanese War), South Asians and Kanakas (South Pacific islanders). Popular support for White Australia, always strong, was bolstered at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919 when the Australian delegation led the fight to defeat a Japanese-sponsored racial-equality amendment to the League of Nations Covenant. [15][16]

Contemporary Australia

Public planning to counter cultural racism was ahead of its time in Western Sydney, a suburban region with a long history of industrial production and migrant settlement.[17] Many of its attempts to build an inclusive "cultural foundation" have been picked up by state governments, including council-funded social clubs for seniors, the provision of community services in major community languages, and the securing of places of worship through rezoning. All of these initiatives are aimed at public involvement rather than antiracist "integrating" strategies.

Institutional racism is also seen in Australia within institutions, corporations, universities, etc. Government institutions are often cited racist with Indigenous people[18][19][20] Racial abuse and vilification is commonplace in Australian sport, according to a new report by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC).The report, What's the Score? A survey of cultural diversity and racism in Australian sport, says Aboriginal and other ethnic groups are under-represented in Australian sport, and suggests they are turned off organised sport because they fear racial vilification.[21][22]

Since the end of World War II, Australia has had a programme of mass immigration that has led to an increase in the cultural diversity of its people. Some academics have argued that since the 1970s a policy of multiculturalism have played an important role in the relative peacefulness of Australian society. [23]

Pauline Hanson and One Nation

Pauline Hanson was elected to the Australian Parliament in 1996 and subsequently formed the One Nation Party, which in the 1998 Queensland State election won 11 of 89 seats in the Queensland Legislative Assembly. In her maiden parliamentary speech, Hanson said that "a multicultural country can never be a strong country" and supported this assertion with a number of widely publicised remarks about Asians' not assimilating and living in ghettos, and more recently, Africans bringing disease into Australia. [24] Hanson was critical of Australia's immigration policy and of multiculturalism. She was widely accused of racism.

Cronulla riots

The Cronulla riots of 2005 [25] were a series of racially motivated mob confrontations which originated in and around Cronulla, a beachfront suburb of Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. Soon after the riot, ethnically motivated violent incidents occurred in several other Sydney suburbs.

On Sunday, 11 December 2005, approximately 5000 people gathered to protest against alleged incidents of assaults and intimidatory behaviour by groups of Middle Eastern looking youths from the suburbs of South Western Sydney. The crowd initially assembled without incident, but violence broke out after a large segment of the mostly white [26] crowd chased a man of Middle Eastern appearance into a hotel and two other youths of Middle Eastern appearance were assaulted on a train.

The following nights saw several retaliatory violent assaults in the communities near Cronulla and Maroubra, large gatherings of protesters around south western Sydney, and an unprecedented police lock-down of Sydney beaches and surrounding areas, between Wollongong and Newcastle.

UN report

The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in its report SMH released in 2005 was complimentary on improvements in race-related issues since its previous report five years prior, namely:

  • the criminalising of acts and incitement of racial hatred in most Australian States and Territories
  • progress in the economic, social and cultural rights by indigenous peoples
  • programmes and practices among the police and the judiciary, aimed at reducing the number of indigenous juveniles entering the criminal justice system
  • the adoption of a Charter of Public Service in a Culturally Diverse Society to ensure that government services are provided in a way that is sensitive to the language and cultural needs of all Australians
  • and the numerous human rights education programmes developed by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC).

The committee expressed concern about the abolishment of ATSIC; proposed reforms to HREOC that may limit its independence; the practical barriers Indigenous peoples face in succeeding in claims for native title; a lack of legislation criminalising serious acts or incitement of racial hatred in the Commonwealth, the State of Tasmania and the Northern Territory; and the inequities between Indigenous peoples and others in the areas of employment, housing, longevity, education and income.[27]

Attacks against Indian students

On 30 May 2009, Indian students protested against what they claimed were racist attacks, blocking streets in central Melbourne. Thousands of students gathered outside the Royal Melbourne Hospital where one of the victims was admitted. The protest, however, was called off early on the next day morning after the protesters accused police of "ramrodding" them to break up their sit-in.[28] On 4 June 2009, China expressed concern over the matter - Chinese are the largest foreign student population in Australia with approximately 130,000 students.[29] In light of this event, the Australian Government started a Helpline for Indian students to report such incidents.[30] Australian High Commissioner to India John McCarthy said that there may have been an element of racism involved in some of the attacks on Indians, but that they were mainly criminal in nature.[31] The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, termed these attacks "disturbing" and has called for Australia to investigate the matters further.[32]

Legislation relating to racism

One of the first Acts after the federation of Australia in 1901 was the Immigration Restriction Act 1901, to prescribe where migrants to Australia were accepted from. This in part became the basis for the White Australia Policy. This policy also stemmed from resentment of Chinese immigrants that had developed on the Australian gold fields from the 1850s.[14] Fear of military invasion by Japan, the threat to the standard of living presented by the cheap but efficient Asian labourers, and white racism were the principal factors behind the White Australia movement. In 1901 the Immigration Restriction Act of Australia effectively ended all non-European immigration by providing for entrance examinations in European languages. Supplementary legislation in 1901 provided for the deportation by 1906 of the country’s Kanakas.[15]

The Immigration Restriction Act was progressively dismantled post WWII until it was rescinded in 1973. The Racial Discrimination Act was introduced in 1975.

The following Australian Federal and State legislation relates to racism and discrimination:

See also


  1. ^ 1301.0 - Year Book Australia, 2002 Australian Bureau of Statistics 25 January 2002
  2. ^ Grey, Jeffrey (2008). A Military History of Australia (Third ed.). Port Melbourne: Cambridge University Press. pp. 28–40. ISBN 9780521697910. 
  3. ^ Bringing them Home, Appendices listing and interpretation of state acts regarding 'Aborigines': Appendix 1.1 NSW; Appendix 1.2 ACT; Appendix 2 Victoria; Appendix 3 Queensland; Tasmania; Appendix 5 Western Australia; Appendix 6 South Australia; Appendix 7 Northern Territory.
  4. ^ Bringing them home education module: the laws: Australian Capital Territory; New South Wales; Northern Territory; Queensland Queensland; South Australia; Tasmania; Victoria; Western Australia.
  5. ^ Marten, J.A., (2002), Children and war, NYU Press, New York, p. 229 ISBN 0-8147-5667-0.
  6. ^ Australian Museum (2004). "Indigenous Australia: Family". Retrieved 28 March 2008. 
  7. ^ Read, Peter (1981) (PDF). The Stolen Generations: The Removal of Aboriginal children in New South Wales 1883 to 1969. Department of Aboriginal Affairs (New South Wales government). ISBN 0-646-46221-0. 
  8. ^ In its submission to the Bringing Them Home report, the Victorian government stated that "despite the apparent recognition in government reports that the interests of Indigenous children were best served by keeping them in their own communities, the number of Aboriginal children forcibly removed continued to increase, rising from 220 in 1973 to 350 in 1976" (Bringing Them Home: "Victoria").
  9. ^ Tatz, Colin (1999). "Genocide in Australia". AIATSIS Research Discussion Papers No 8. Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies. Archived from the original on 8 August 2005. Retrieved 13 September 2007. 
  10. ^ Bain Attwood, Telling the Truth about Aboriginal History. (2005) online edition.
  11. ^ No stolen generation: Australian Govt, 7:30 Report ABC TV 3 April 2000, retrieved 19 February 2008.
  12. ^ "The words Rudd will use to say 'sorry'", ABC, 12 February 2008.
  13. ^ "Rudd says sorry", Dylan Welch, Sydney Morning Herald, 13 February 2008.
  14. ^ a b Munns, Cec F.; A. McLay, J Sparkes, W. Logue, S. Paul and B. Short (1987). The way we were. Volume 3 (2 ed.). South Melbourne, Victoria: Brooks Waterlook Publicaters. pp. 250. ISBN 0855685077. 
  15. ^ a b "White Australia Policy". Encyclopædia Britannica. 2009. 
  16. ^ Northedge, F. S. (1986). The League of Nations: Its life and times, 1920-1946. Leicester University Press. ISBN 0718511948. 
  17. ^ Dowling, Robyn; Fagan, Bob (March 2005). "Neoliberalism and Suburban Employment: Western Sydney in the 1990s". Geographical Research 43 (1): 71–81. doi:10.1111/j.1745-5871.2005.00298.x. 
  18. ^ [1]
  19. ^
  20. ^,25197,25754251-5006787,00.html
  21. ^ Foxsports
  22. ^ The Australian
  23. ^ Borowski, A (July 2000), "Creating a virtuous society: Immigration and Australia's policies of multiculturalism", Journal of Social Policy 29: 459-475 
  24. ^ SMH - Hanson turns on 'diseased' Africans
  25. ^ Racist violence in Cronulla beach, Sydney, Australia
  26. ^ The term white in this context typically refers to Australian people of West European ancestry whose first language is English, see White people.
  27. ^ Wikinews
  28. ^
  29. ^
  30. ^ Helpline Thrown to Indian Students: The Age
  31. ^ Australian envoy admits attacks on Indians racist: IBN Live
  32. ^ [2]

Further reading

  • Justin Healey:Racism in Australia,Published by Spinney Press, 2003 ISBN 1-876811-89-7 [3]

External links


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