RSP members challenge Australia's racism

On January 26 two members of the Revolutionary Socialist Party, Van Rudd and Sam King received international notoriety for a stunt highlighting Australian racism where they wore Ku Klux Klan (KKK) costumes with “racism made in Australia” written on them. The action was held outside the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on what is officially designated as “Australia Day” — commemorating the arrival in Sydney Cove on January 26, 1788 of the “First Fleet” of 1332 British colonial settlers (half of whom were prisoners).

Since the 1930s, the Australian capitalist class has promoted January 26 as a national holiday to “celebrate” the establishment of the British penal colony in Sydney as the beginning of its rule in the continent. Within the political left and among Indigenous Australians, January 26 is referred to as Invasion Day or Survival Day — the anniversary of white colonisation and its accompanying dispossession of Australia’s original inhabitants.

Beginning in 1980, January 26 has been promoted by the federal government as a day to promote the idea, as Sir Asher Joel, a member of the newly-created National Australia Day Committee put it, of “an Australian identity which will unite each and every one of us, surmounting all the borders, imaginary or real, of race, creed or class status”. The reality of a society divided by racial discrimination and class inequality is supposed be forgotten in an orgy of nationalist flag-waving.

The protest action staged by Rudd and King sought to highlight the hypocrisy of the Australia Day celebration, when overtly racist policies continue to be implemented by Australian governments. Since 2007, the 1975 Racial Discrimination Act has been suspended by the federal government in the Northern Territory so that the government can dictate to Aboriginal people living in remote communities what they can and can’t spend their welfare payments on.

In the wake of Rudd and King’s proest action Radio 3AW presenter Derryn Hinch denied that racism exists in Australia posing the question on air “name a country less racist then Australia”. Given that Australian Aborigines have the second shortest life expectancy of any indigenous group in the world. Meanwhile, 1400 Asian asylum seekers are currently incarcerated in the remote Christmas Island immigration prison under the policy of mandatory detention of “unauthorised” arrival by boat — a policy that is in violation of Australia’s obligation under the 1951 UN Convention on the Rights of Refugees. Australia has also faced international scrutiny recently over its treatment of Indian students who are paying exorbitant fees to study here and are being physically assaulted 2.5 times more often then the general population.

Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard is one public figure who has no problem reinforcing racism. Late last year, Gillard defended the use of “black face” (painting white people’s faces black to parody non-whites) on television as “harmless humour”. However when the Indian newspaper Mail Today displayed a cartoon in response to physical assaults on Indian students in Australia depicting the Victoria Police as KKK-like (saying of the racist assaults on Indian students: “We are yet to ascertain the nature of the crime.”), Gillard found the cartoon “deeply offensive”. A 2008 survey conducted by a team at the University of Western Sydney led by Professor Kevin Dun found that 46% of Australians believe some ethnic groups should not be in the country. But Gillard would have us believe no such views exist among police officers.

The homage to the Mail Today cartoon organised by Rudd and King created shockwaves within the Australian media as it disrupted the Australia Day celebration of national chauvinism and pointed out how the national pride it promotes is a tool to cover-up the systematic racial inequalities that exist in Australia. Despite the anti-racist stunt being a completely peaceful protest, Rudd and King were taken away by police and were issued fines of $234 each for “offensive behaviour”. Rudd and King are planning on disputing these fines. They were also contacted by EKM Legal on behalf of Australia Made Campaign Ltd, owner of the “Australian Made” logo, demanding that the two activists make an undertaking not to use the logo for any future protest.

Australia Made Campaign Ltd, like Hinch, Gillard and the Victoria Police claim not to support racism. According to the letter from EKM Legal, “Our client abhors racism in any form”. The Australian Made campaign exists solely to encourage Australians not to buy goods made by foreign workers. By some definitions that could be regarded as “racist”. The Australian government’s own Racial Discrimination Act, for example, defines “racial discrimination” as engaging in “any act involving a distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, colour, descent or national or ethnic origin which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of any human right or fundamental freedom in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life”.

The fact that so much of the establishment has reacted in such a hostile manner to such a small demonstration of opposition to Australian racism reveals just how much they are trying to hide. Racism in Australia is perpetuated because it is sugar-coated in “national pride” and Rudd and King’s protest stunt momentarily punctured that illusion.