Debates in Ireland over Australian policies on detention

rc-am rcollins at
Sun Mar 26 23:28:27 PST 2000


Let me try and put things as briefly as possible:

First, I have no idea how you or anyone else might have arrived at the impression that the White Australia policy was discrimination practiced through formally written or explicit laws other than through an historical revision; or indeed what excerpts you might be referring to as having read. I assumed the character of the White Australia policy was common knowledge.

The White Australia policy is the name we give to the Immigration Restriction Act, 1901. It did not constitute formal discrimination; but it was acknowledged to be a result of the White Australia policy conservative republicans campaigned for in the years before Federation. That is, under its provisions for a dictation test, it provided the means for discrimination: migration officers could pick and choose the language in which the test was given in order to exclude anyone other than western europeans and those of this background from places like S Africa, the US, Canada. The same applies to the DIMA blacklist: it is discrimination practiced by the administration, and indeed formally written administrative rules (unlike the White Australia policy), of the Migration Act. Like the 1901 Immigration Restriction Act, the Migration act grants certain provisions that, by themselves, appear unconditioned by any explicit racism. If today, govts prefer to disavow the racist character of such policies, that is a question of deniability rather than substantive differences. However, unlike the Immigration Restriction Act where discrimination was granted to the discretionary power of the migration officer, the DIMA blacklist does not quite trust that current migration officers will do the work: it therefore specifies by way of age, sex and nationality those for whom visas will be refused.

Second, I think you might do well to explore the extent to which official definitions of whiteness have been narrower than that of the US and Britain, in part because of that White Australia policy: More Briton than Britain, whiter than white; much closer to the hierarchies of S Africa, but informal, as indeed they were for most of SA's history in any case. If you can pass as western euro, you're white: otherwise, it's a hierarchy of tones of derogation, and in which pigmentation is not the key, but racialisation is. Check out also the anti-russian riots at the beginning of last century; the rates of incarceration of eastern euro migrants now; the absence of black skin as the marker of indigenous self-identity; et cetera.

Thirdly, I'm not sure how it's possible to keep reading the phrase "racism is endemic in Australia" as a prompt to challenge the phrase (which has appeared nowhere) "Australians are racist". Endemic means prevalent, not everyone -- so, I have no idea what insisting against "generalisations" or "characterisations" is meant to accomplish here. Nor can I see how it's possible to read "xenophobic and opportunistic politicians enjoy widespread support" as an occassion to insist that many Australians do not support Hanson. Why is it so difficult to simply acknowledge that racism_ is_ endemic without trying to finesse that? Who's honour is defended by that? Certainly not anyone subjected to it. It should be unecessary to insist that 'people change' -- of course, they do. But, I fail to see the relevance of that pleading.

Moreover, the politicians referred to aren't reducible to Hanson. The anti-Hanson campaigns were a dud exercise and a distraction for anyone who wanted to feel good about themselves before snoozing off again, for the precise reason that current policy exceeds even what the Hansonites thought utterable; much of it was in place _prior_ to the emergence of Hanson; the Democrats and Greens embraced malthusian zero population-growth policies prior to Hanson; the ALP are responsible for beginning and putting in place the first stages of those policies which the Liberal-Nationals simply tightened. The Minister for Immigration under the ALP govt has worked as an adviser to the Ruddock (the current Liberal Minister) on how to tighten the legislation he introduced. Since many of those were loudest in denouncing Hanson, I'd have to say it was either a delusional thing happening, or just plain cynicism.

You're not asking questions and upacking, you're putting forward a position. I disagree with that position and its assumptions. Example: you keep 'asking' whether or not "all illegal migrants are refugees". You want a basis on which the state can screen in good conscience. I don't that's possible. It's that simple and that complex: as difficult a terrain as the discussion on freedom of speech and on which my position is the same. In other words, this is not a discussion capable of moving forward if you disavow that there is even disagreement.

I could go on; but as I feared, we're going round in circles, in part, because you don't seem to me to be very familiar with the terrain, but more inclined to pretend familiarity in order to understate the extent of the problem and indeed make a number of false and unfounded claims in order to do so. I don't think you're looking for new ways to describe anything (and you keep excising anything I write in that regard in any case).

Cheers, Angela _________

> although this subject line seems to be running out of puff, and has been
> expanded by a parallel discussion on 'becoming-stateless', i'd like to
> reply to just a couple of the issues raised-
> 1.
> >>You don't believe Australia has returned to the White Australia Policy?
> >
> >No not quite insofar as the White Australia policy was a public statement
> >about the shared identification of Australians, while this is a racist
> >immigration policy by stealth, pretending it makes no specific division in
> >terms of 'race'. I think that is very different.
> I'm inclined to agree with Catherine on this one. We probably need new ways
> of describing what is happening in Australia now. I have read only
> occasional extracts from the White Australia Policy, but I would think that
> what we are looking at is not so much a return to that established routine
> so much as a modified technique of persecution. New measures of exclusion
> which authorise racial discrimination.
> Further (and out on my own here) I would want to ask, for instance, how a
> 'White Australia' policy could reject people who bear white-skin privilege,
> which surely some of those on the 'BlackList' do (e.g.Eastern Europeans)?
> Doesn't this indicate that the prejudices which are being established
> through this selection principle have taken on a further complication than
> skin colour? Or am I misunderstanding what is meant by 'white' Australia
> 2.
> >>...Racist ignorance _is_ endemic in Australia; extremist and
> >>opportunistic anti-immigrant politicians _do_ enjoy a lot of support, as
> >>evidenced by every election since 1992
> >
> >yes, but...
> I think it's very difficult to characterise a large populatio/nation in
> this way without falling into generalisations. I would agree that everyday
> we are constituted as raced bodies, and here it has a foundation in the
> settler moment when the indigenous culture and its people were pretty much
> destroyed. We have a history of invasion, genocide, and patterns of racism.
> This is inscribed history, and one that fashions many of the divisions and
> often unspoken resentments between communities. But this has different
> effects. I think that many Australians are ignorant of some of the specific
> forms of racial prejudice that government policy might produce (some of
> which have come to light in this discussion). Many white Australians
> perpetuate racism through micro-fascisms of disenfranchisement, the
> 'blindness' to their own privilege. And then there are also conditions of
> explicit, violent, and seemingly shameless racism. On the other hand, I
> think credit should also be given to the ways in which most Australians are
> required on a daily basis to negotiate racial and cultural difference and
> often do so with positive results. I think it's more complicated than
> saying a racist form of ignorance is endemic - although that's true -
> because that sounds too static. People shift their positions around race
> and difference throughout their lives and the way they articulate those
> changing opinions and feelings are important markers of social and cultural
> growth. The anti-Hanson movement was just as important as a site of
> cultural articulation as the Hanson supporters, and might even claim a kind
> of success. But I would agree that there are problems with any assumption
> that Australia is somehow happily and un-problematically 'multicultural'.
> (and now i fear i'm generalising and shall cease trying to describe
> Australians...)
> 3.
> I said:
> >> How do states protect without reinforcing their
> >> territorially defined statehood?
> Angela replied:
> >Correct me if I'm wrong, but in the case of refugees, states don't
> >protect, they grant a secularised version of sanctuary. The concepts of
> >asylum and refuge used to indicate a space of non-applicability of state
> >authority, as its origins in churches suggest -- those given sanctuary
> I'm looking at a current OED that says sanctuary provides 'shelter, refuge,
> protection'. So this is an interesting point of departure - as I asked in
> my above question - how is protection to be offered without boundaries? I
> don't say this merely to contradict you - if it is a contradiction, which I
> don't think it is, it's a problematisation - I ask because I am actually
> interested in how states might offer refuge if they were not constituted as
> bordered territories. Which comes back to the model of 'open borders' which
> you put forward in the earlier post. I'm very curious to know how open
> borders could work in relation to existing conditions of violence.
> >>countries which initially refused to take in Jewish refugees from
> >>Germany -- they're "rich" appparently, so switch off the empathy meter.
> >
> >That's a very good point Angela. I'd like to know what Deborah makes of
> I guess I'd need more information, dates, places, etc.
> D.

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