National identity and what it means to be Australian has again become a hot discussion topic leading into this weekend Big Day Out concerts in Sydney and Melbourne. Reacting to reports that some patrons had used the Australian flag as a ‘weapon’ of hate at the 2006 Sydney BDO, organizers encouraged concert goers not to bring national flags to the Sydney BDO, held on Australia Day.
Following an opportunist chorus of condemnation from Labor and Liberal politician’s, hopping on the patriotic bandwagon, organizers retracted from the original statement, but should be praised for opening up a discussion on the rise of nationalist sentiment amongst Australia’s youth.
During his term as Prime Minister, John Howard has consistently played the race-card in times of need, with his contemporary expressions of racism reflecting the notion of nationhood and its incompatibility with a multi-cultural society that Australia has become. Howard has been the master at reinforcing Anglo customs and beliefs as the norm, which are followed by ‘real’ Australians.
The Cronulla riots weren’t a freak event of nature and came on the back of a multitude of social problems that ‘dog’ Australia. What of the people that gathered at Cronulla’s foreshore to protest the bashing of a lifeguard, are they all racists? Of course not!
Many simply went to Cronulla to express anger at what they perceived to be a social issue in their community, only to be drowned out by Neo-Nazi thugs. Any serious social researcher can’t walk away from the fact that ethnic gangs exist and that at times they’ve been responsible for anti-social behavior, which includes racial vilification.
Many theories have been espoused as to how and why racially motivated violence has hit the streets of Australia, but few take up the social makeup of a society that has the most disaffected young people since the great depression of the 1930s. Compare the economic boom of today, to that of the 50s, and one sees a boom created on the back of lower living standards and decreased workplace security.
The feature of the Howard years has been the rise of the working poor and substantial underemployment, as the gap between rich and poor continues to rise in what was once dubbed the ‘Lucky Country’.
Official unemployment rates may be at 20 year lows, however since 1996, 35 per cent of all new jobs created have been casual with two thirds of new jobs between 2000 and 2003 paying less than $600 a week. At the same time executive salaries have risen at a staggering rate, executive pay was on average 22 times greater than average weekly earnings in 1992, by 2002, it was 74 times greater.
Nationalist sentiment in itself isn’t responsible for the racial intolerance currently gripping Australia; however it has been used to divide a country at a time when the movement of people, goods and capital between nations is irreversible.
By Andrew Calleja