When talk of racism is just not cricket
December 16, 2005
NOW that the rancid old race dog is out of the kennel for another trot around the block it is timely to see just where the wretched hound is going to take the man holding the lead, John Howard.
Howard said at the beginning of the week that he doesn't accept Australia is a racist country. Nor does he think we should "overcomplicate" the violent situation on the streets of Sydney.
If it's treated simply as a law and order issue then we can "more readily get back to a situation we all want" - presumably an undisturbed summer in the banana chair at Kirribilli House with the cricket droning on the telly.
The trouble is that every time John Howard says something about race all sorts of dark shadows fall out of his mouth. He is a man whose pronouncements on the topic invariably have been wreathed in opportunistic circumlocutions.
Even before Howard got into trouble over his Asian immigration remarks of 1988 and beyond, there was South Africa.
In 1985, as deputy leader of the opposition Howard was fighting the softies in the Liberal Party who wanted to support economic sanctions against the apartheid regime in South Africa. Ian Macphee was the opposition's foreign affairs spokesman at the time and he gave an interview to The Age published on July 30, 1985 which left the way open for the opposition to support economic sanctions. Howard fought the move, declaring: "Sanctions will inevitably hurt the poor blacks in South Africa more than any other section of the South African population."
They would also hurt the large corporate interests that Howard has made a life long habit of enthusiastically stroking.
Later in 1995 Howard, by then opposition leader, said he didn't regret his opposition to economic sanctions against the white supremacist government of South Africa. He thought he was in good company because anti-apartheid campaigners Helen Suzman and Alan Paton both opposed sanctions.
Even earlier, in 1981, when Malcolm Fraser's government adopted the position that aircraft carrying the Springbok to New Zealand could not refuel in Australia, Howard let the Prime Minister know that he was most unhappy about the prohibition.
On August 1, 1988 Howard, as opposition leader, threw a Molotov cocktail into the political desert. Talking about Asian immigration he said: "If it is in the eyes of some in the community too great, it would be in our immediate term interests and supportive of social cohesion if it were slowed down a little so that the capacity of the community to absorb were greater."
The Hawke government saw an opportunity in a flash and proposed a motion to the parliament opposing the use of race to select immigrants. Howard fought desperately against the motion, but could not contain divisions in his own party. Ian Macphee, Steele Hall and Philip Ruddock (yes Philip Ruddock) crossed the floor to support the motion. Michael MacKellar and Ian Wilson, two other Liberals, abstained. The deputy leader of the opposition, Andrew Peacock, flew to Melbourne for an important meeting.
Later Howard sought to redefine what he'd said about too many Asians spoiling our "social cohesion" by talking about curtailing the family reunion policy.
By September 1988, with the polls showing strong support for his position, he was rehearsing the lines he was to use so successfully years later in the Tampa election: "I don't think it is wrong, racist, immoral or anything, for a country to say 'we will decide what the cultural identity and the cultural destiny of this country will be and nobody else'."
He then proceeded to say how "vulgar and demeaning" it was for the Hawke government to be "grovelling and apologising" to our Asian neighbours over the immigration "debate".
On August 31, 1989 Howard told the Federal Council of Polish Associations, "I don't have a prejudiced bone in my body."
In 1998 when Pauline Hanson was bagging Aboriginal welfare and Asian immigration, Howard said he would never call One Nation supporters "racist".
So with all this context is it any wonder, for a man who has spoken out of both sides of his mouth for 30 years on race, that he wouldn't detect just the tiniest hint of racism in the land he leads, and moreover not lift a finger to do anything about it?