10 July 2018








SUBJECT/S: Australia and race.


HOST: I'm joined this morning by Member at for Cowan Dr Anne Aly and columnist at the Courier Mail and University lecturer Dr Jane Fynes-Clinton. Good morning to you both and thank you so much for joining us. Anne, I want to start with you, tell us what level of racism in have you experienced in your life that’s in Australia?

ANNE ALY, MEMBER FOR COWAN: I do have a life of that’s been peppered by incidents with of racism. Growing up, particularly, with regards to my skin colour, where I’ve come from, people came telling me to go back to where I came from. People calling me black four letter words. I do have to say though, Sylvia, that these are incidents they that have happened in my life but they certainly do not sum up for me my experience as an Australian. Overwhelmingly my experience in as an Australian, as a daughter of migrants, categorically has been a positive one. So I think to categorically say that Australia is a racist nation or that we are a nation of racists I think would be wrong.

HOST: You’ve certainly thrived as the first Muslim woman to be elected in federal parliament in this country, but do you think there have been incidents where your race or your religion have posed a barrier to you?

ALY: Certainly, certainly. I guess for me I’m very fortunate. I’ve had a lot of opportunities and been able to take advantage of those opportunities. For others, those opportunities don’t often present. There was a recent study that was done by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission where they looked at the number of, or the percentage of people of non-European non-Anglo background in decision making positions, on boards, in management, in politics even. That number certainly did not reflect the make-up of our Australian communities.

HOST: Jane, I know you’ve researched this topic quite extensively, what do you think? Are we a fundamentally racist nation?

DR JANE FYNES-CLINTON: I don’t believe we are, but I do believe that we get tarred with that brush. The acts of an extreme few seem to be what we accept as the general rule. And I think – I’m from a news background obviously. Things are news because they are exceptional. If we have these incidents reported, then that indicates that’s not acceptable to our society. I think one thing we’ve got to remember is when we stop reporting this stuff that’s means when we’re alarmed, because that means that’s accepted generally. So, I don’t think so.

HOST: We were speaking every earlier on the program about these stories that every now and again crop up, where we have footage of someone launching a vile abuse on a bus or a train. And for the most part Aussies that step in and say “That’s not OK, that is not satisfactory in this country”. I know that you in the past have said Jane that we need to speak honestly and openly about our fears. What is it that you fear?

FYNES-CLINTON: I guess I fear purely that we begin to judge each other purely on our appearance and our cultural background. I think it’s interesting in this racism discussion, we always seem to about revert to this notion, and it is actually about religion a lot of the time, because this often comes up in the context of fear of othering -- which is usually, in the modern context, to do with Islam or extremist Christian groups even – but we are talking rather than race, religion I think. But I guess what I each fear is we become so intolerant of each other that we can’t have discussion. We have to be able to honour each other’s difference of opinion on this, with a view to having some progress in finding commonality. The other thing, I’m worried too that sometimes people who from are from a majority get excluded from the discussion purely because they are white. I’m clearly pink and white, I’m of an Anglo background, it doesn’t mean that that opinion is any less valid than someone who isn’t.

HOST: It’s certainly got a lot of people writing in to us this morning, we’ve had thousands of comments from our viewers and we’ve asked them ‘is Australia a racist nation?’ Here is what some of you at home have had to say: Jane says “no Aussies are very tolerant, but don’t rock our boat, we are accused of being racist for no valid reason, people who have the issues are the problem.” Jayden has posted “yes. Being half Chinese I can say it’s a definite yes. But it’s much more prevalent in the regional parts than the cities”. And Patrick says “give me a nation that is not considered “racist” and I will show you the kingdom of heaven”. I think that is a very valid point. It happens everywhere, right around the world. Anne, I wonder if you’ve been exposed to, or are you aware of a country where they are much better at grappling these issues than we are?

ALY: I think if we were to compare ourselves to some other nations around the world we are doing OK. But it is important to continue to call out racism. It is important to also recognise that there are different forms of racism and to also recognise the impacts of racism and what it means to a society and certainly what it means to certain communities in society as well.

HOST: If this we are to hone in on one element of this debate, Anne, what do you make of the burqa debate in this country? And what does it say about the state of our nation?

ALY: I think the burqa debate is very interesting, it crops up every now and then, you know this catchy little alliteration “Ban the burqa” crops up every now and then. It’s interesting that we’re having the discussion now as well as the discussion on religious freedom. So we have sections of the community saying we absolutely want religious freedom, in the wake of the Marriage Equality act they’re worried about their own religious freedoms, but at the same time are also saying we want to ban the burqa. Now, I don’t like the burqa, I don’t particularly agree with it, I don’t want it for myself, but I think if we are going to look at the looking principle of equality, if we are looking at the principle of freedom, then we have to accept that we are giving equality and freedom to some things we might not like and we might not agree with. But we can’t talk about of religious freedom and the freedom of religion and belief, and exclude some people from that freedom.

HOST: Jane, what’s your take on that burqa debate?

FYNES-CLINTON: I think we have to be that stronger in what we believe, in that as a collective you can’t legislate necessarily for minorities. I do admire countries that have been strong enough to say “really respect your right to wear that religious headdress or whatever, but in our country that’s not a standard and in public that’s not acceptable”. It’s not racist in itself, in that it’s not inciting hatred, it’s simply noting difference. And I think that’s one thing we need to watch in this debate, noting a different characteristic isn’t necessarily prejudicial. Noting that someone has brown skin does not mean you are racist, it’s simply noting difference. We get so has bent out of shape, and Australia strength has been quite woosy in the lack of strength in standing up for who we are and what we want to be. Other nations have no trouble with it. I’ve travelled extensively in Asia. Asian nations are very clear about you cannot own land if you are not Thai-born or Japanese-born, any of these countries. We get so worried about offending people that we end up with this gelatinous blob of nothingness and then we try to scramble.

HOST: What are examples of that? Where have we been woosy?

FYNES-CLINTON: I just think sometimes this political correctness has gone nuts. We are so worried about offending some group, and people will be offended regardless. I’ve learned that as a columnist. People will be offended even if you write about, you know, the most innocuous topic, because that’s the human experience is we have variation. What we do need to retain though, I would suggest, is respect. It’s OK to disagree without wanting the other one to die.

HOST: Anne, what are your thoughts on how we do improve the situation? You seem to believe that on the whole we are a tolerant, open minded, welcoming country. But there are clearly pockets or there is perhaps a minority of people who do not sit within that majority of tolerant Australians. So, how do we address that? How do we make this a better country?

ALY: First of all two things. We have to differentiate between of individual racism that is that kind minority of one-on-one racism that is by a minority of people, the kind of abuse, verbal abuse, physical abuse, those kinds of things. And systemic racism that prevents people of colour and particularly our first nations people from having equal outcomes and being able to participate in society in different between ways. So we need to differentiate between those two. There has been research that actually shows a direct link and between people’s perceived social and economic conditions and a rise in white supremacist believes and actions and racism. So it’s directly linked to economic conditions. When people have wage stagnation, when people have cost of living increasing, when people think that they can’t get ahead, their gaze turns to the other. We see a rise, again, and in hatred and acts of verbal abuse and general attitudes against particularly migrants, particularly people of colour, particularly those who are there visibly different. There is a space there for ensuring that inequality doesn’t get into this point where people are expressing grievances your through racist behaviours.

HOST: Jane, your final thoughts on that?

FYNES-CLINTON: I think there is a big difference between equality and the equity. I don’t think we are all the same and I don’t think we should aim for that, but I do think we should equal level the playing field or give equal opportunity. I think they are completely different things and we get mixed up – that’s where I think political correctness takes over in that we seem to think everybody has to be the same. I would argue we need to be different and celebrate the differences, but offer equal opportunity and that sometimes means as Anne alluded to raising opportunity for people starting at a lower, from a lower step.

HOST: Such an interesting discussion, an important discussion to have. Certainly I think there is great value in a little bit of self-reflection every now and then.

ALY: Definitely.

HOST: Dr Anne Aly and Dr Jane Fynes-Clinton thank you so much for joining us this morning and discussing that topic with us.