Sunday 2 June 2024

Australia is now less than twelve months away from a federal general election and we are being warned of what is to come in the 2025 election campaign

Construction site in Melbourne
ABC News, 3 April 2020

Neo- Nazis marching in Ballarat, December 2023
The Age, 3 December 2023

The Saturday Paper, 1 June 2024:


In defence of Laura Tingle

The statement from Justin Stevens is eight sentences long. If crabs could write, their words would be as chinless and scuttling.

Nowhere does the ABC’s news director attempt to support his political reporter. Nowhere does he try to engage with the truth of what she said the weekend before.

Laura Tingle’s remarks, he claimed, “lacked the context, balance and supporting information of her work for the ABC and would not have met the ABC’s editorial standards”. Those standards, he said, served a vital role. “Laura has been reminded of their application at external events as well as in her work and I have counselled her over the remarks.”

Tingle had made the mistake of saying what is obvious: Australia is a racist country. It was settled on the racist fiction of terra nullius. It federated over racist concerns. It developed policies unique in their racism and was horrifyingly late in dismantling them.

Race has defined most elections in the past three decades. It is an ever-replenishing anxiety, an excuse for policy failures and a salve for lost primacy. The Voice referendum was lost to racism and the racket was so old and familiar that campaigners were told they couldn’t mention it.

We’re a racist country, let’s face it,” Tingle said last weekend. “We always have been and it’s very depressing and a terrible prospect for the next election.”

That last point is important and the reason for the backlash that has followed. Right-wing politicians and the right-wing press are preparing for an election fought on race. Peter Dutton has never campaigned on anything else. He does not know how.

The purpose of the attack on Tingle is to license what will be said once the campaign is under way. It is a warning about what will happen to people who stand up against what will be an ugly and vicious attempt to win office through fear. Dutton’s budget reply speech was an opening salvo. He had no qualms about linking migration to the housing crisis, despite limited evidence to support this. He added on schooling and childcare and queues at the doctor. Migrants were also the cause of congestion on roads.

Almost all these lines once belonged to John Howard. He saw the double benefit of racism: the creation of an other you could campaign against and who you could blame for all your own failures. Underfunded healthcare stopped being his problem and became the fault of refugees. Traffic on the M4 became an issue of border security. His strawman wore blackface.

Tingle’s statement last weekend made another point about Australia: racism is almost never punished, but the people who name it almost always are. This is especially true if they are women or if they are not white.

The status quo depends on an agreement not to mention what is obvious. Racism is too central to the project of Australia. For people such as Dutton and those in the Murdoch press, it is too big to fail. That is the truth behind what Tingle said and it is the reason it needed to be said.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on June 1, 2024 as "His strawman wore blackface".



Australian society was not always so shy of admitting its racism. The last slave known to have been sold was an Aboriginal house servant in northern Australia, a fact admitted by the then Minister for Home & Territories in 1927.

While more than one Aboriginal female child was human trafficked and sold as a house servant as late as the beginning of the 20th Century. Along the Australian east coast sea route from south-east Queensland to Tasmania and from Tasmania to the southern coast of mainland Australia.


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