Non Anglo-Saxon Australians deserve an apology


Last week the Federal Government re-embraced multiculturalism. Meanwhile the Opposition was dealing with a leak from Shadow Cabinet which suggested some support for a modern form of the White Australia Policy. The White Australia Policy refers to legislation that intentionally restricted 'non-white' immigration to Australia from 1901 to 1973, when it was replaced by multiculturalism.

Around a decade ago, both sides of politics lost interest in, or departed from multiculturalism. A range of factors, including John Howard's 'One Australia' policy, Hansonism, and post 9/11 security fears, had all but defeated multiculturalism.

But on Wednesday evening, Immigration Minister Chris Bowen delivered a key speech at The Sydney Institute that coincided with the release of Labor's surprise new multiculturalism policy.

Using the word 'respect' to capture the essence of multiculturalism, Bowen acknowledged this was lacking in the excesses of the post 9/11 attitudes towards Muslims in Australia. He said it is counter-intuitive to assume migrants want to change Australia, and also 'to cast all Islamic migrants [as extremists and therefore] unworthy of their place in our national community'.

Hazaras, who make up a large percentage of asylum-seeker boat arrivals, have fled religious extremism in Afghanistan, and 'like previous groups of migrants' are attracted by Australia's values.

His speech could be seen to be laying the ground for a formal apology to Australians of non Anglo-Saxon background whose dignity was eroded by disrespect from fellow Australians who took their cue from official government policy, or from the discriminatory attitudes of political leaders.

The obvious models for such an apology would be the Apology to the Stolen Generations of February 2008, and the Apology to the Forgotten Australians of November 2009. The parallels are striking.

As with indignities suffered by the Stolen Generations and the Forgotten Australians, policy and attitudes offensive to non-white Australians have a long history. They have been well documented in the recent SBS TV series Immigration Nation, currently being rescreened on SBS Two and online.

The summary of the first episode notes that monoculturalism — disrespect for non-white Australians, and the cruel treatment that implies — was enshrined in the White Australia Policy, which was virtually an article of faith for the new nation.

When the Commonwealth of Australia was founded in 1901, the very last thing the nation wanted to be was multicultural. The measures taken to ensure this would be the case … caused great human suffering.

Subsequent episodes dealing with post-war migration show how disrespect for those identifying with non Anglo-Saxon cultures was encouraged and fostered by the policy of assimilation that continued until the mid 1970s. Many white Australians up to and including the present generation have acted in a way that offends the dignity of 'ethnic' Australians.

Bowen's speech should be taken as a wake up call to all white Australians, that they have wronged their fellow Australians of a different ethnic background, and that a formal national apology might be a fitting acknowledgement of past wrongs and a help towards securing a fair go for all Australians.

Michael MullinsMichael Mullins is editor of Eureka Street. 

Topic tags: Chris Bowen, Immigration minister, apology, white australia policy, stolen generations, forgotten



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Existing comments

Here we go again! It seems that the “Guilt and Sorry” industry is trying to find a new income stream. Is a country able to rectify its mistakes and go on or does a country have to repent forever? It seems that so-called Christians have the least forgiveness and the biggest hunger for ongoing apologies and sorry-saying. Should Italy say “sorry” about the Roman invasion of Britain and other countries? Should France pay compensation for the damage done by Napoleons soldiers? Should Turkey pay compensation to Austria for the siege of Vienna? Racism and intolerance have been swept to the outer fringes of our society and most people demonstrate tolerance, acceptance and support for people from different ethnic groups. I am sure it has been noted that some ethnic groups demonstrate a level of intolerance and hatred towards other religions, races and fail to respect the right s of woman. I am sure that the real challenge is not to have more chest beating and sorry chanting but trying to achieve real respect amongst all.

Beat Odermatt | 21 February 2011  

Thank you Michael. I have just felt compelled to resign from a group which is committed to promoting understanding between women from different backgrounds but at the same time sees no problem in reproducing in its newsletter an article which dismisses "peace loving Muslims" as irrelevant. For my own peace of mind I am struggling as a migrant to Australia myself to understand why the contradiction is not seen.

Margaret | 21 February 2011  

I am with Beat Odermatt. Another round of apologising is a waste of time. The hard question that needs to be asked is do newcomers to Australia have values that are mutually exclusive with ours? The issues with Muslims is that in many Musim majority countries minorities are discriminated against. Religions other than Islam do not have the same rights. You do not have the right to change your faith or to have no faith. Further to this women are restricted to second class status. Homosexuals face persecution and even death. If Muslims come here and are willing to accept our tolerance, and our secular democracy, then I have no problem. However, if they start to lobby to make us change our ways, so that we start to resemble the Islamic land that they left, shut the door!

Patrick James | 21 February 2011  

"All white Australians...have wronged their fellow Australians of different ethnic backgrounds". What a silly thing to say.

Apologies of this type are historically meaningless and pointless. The apology to the "Stolen Generations" was a nonsense because, as Keith Windschuttle has shown, there were no stolen generations. As for the "Forgotten Australians", well, I'm sorry, but I've forgotten who they were supposed to be.

Father Mullins calls for an apology to "non-Anglo-Saxon" Australians. Does this mean that the "beneficiaries" of this projected apology will include the Irish, the Germans, the Croatians and the Lebanese, all non-Anglo-Saxons who did very well out of the White Australia Policy, migrating in large numbers well before the 1970s.

The White Australia Policy was not based on disrespect for non-European peoples. It was based on the preference of the Australian people and their leaders at the dawn of Federation - rightly or wrongly - for the preservation of the then existing national culture and, consequently, for the exclusion of cultures that were perceived to be inconsistent with it. To change the ethnicity of a people is to change the culture, as is evident in modern Australia after 40 years of multiculturalism.

The White Australia Policy was not so much "against" non-European peoples. The Lebanese, for example, who migrated to Australia in large numbers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, are not European. Rather, the White Australia Policy was "for" something - for the maintenance of the kind of Australia that then existed.

As for the present, people who do not like the kind of country that Australia is and do not want to share its values should not want to come here and, if they do want to come, they should be told that are not eligible. All sorts of peoples and cultures have for the most part successfully integrated into Australian society - British, Irish, Italian, Greek, German, Polish, Maltese, Lebanese, Indian, Chinese, Vietnamese, Filippino, Latin American. The same applies to all sorts of religions - Protestantism, Catholicism, Orthodoxy, Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism. The one, glaring exception is Islam. Lebanese immigration is a case in point. Lebanese of Christian background have settled in very well. Lebanese of Muslim background have not. Witness the arrogant and intolerant behaviour of Muslim Lebanese youths at Cronulla Beach which provoked the riots. Islam cannot, by definition, integrate into Australia because it has no notion of the separation of church and state. It is dogmatically theocratic. Muslims, very naturally and properly according to their own lights, will want to change Australia into a Muslim country - just as Christians will want to evangelise. This should not be a problem while Muslims remain a tiny minority but tensions and friction arise when they become a substantial minority, as in France and the UK. It then becomes a numbers game and political parties pander to minorities as a vote-buying exercise, often contrary to the national interest - as the ALP does in Western Sydney.

People who believe in theocracy are not suitable for settlement in Australia and should be encouraged to go to countries where they will be happier.

Sylvester | 21 February 2011  

That is right! "Here we go again" more apologies. Michael Mullins, migrants that have assimilated to the Australian way of life do not need an apology Australia is their home. They are loyal abiding citizens. There is no need to re-embrace multiculturalism. We all know that our society is multi-racial and multi-national and enjoy the freedom we have in Australia.There is no need to promote multiculturalism, people have the right to eat what they want, to entertain in their own national way to worship whatever religion they belong. We already have a culture the Judeo-Christian culture. But I do believe there is a need for an apology to all Anglo-Saxon and Non Anglo-Saxon Loyal Catholic parents from dissenting-catholics who have done so much harm to our Holy Catholic Faith.Loyal Catholic parents are huting to see their young ones drift away from the Faith after having been influenced by dissenters.

Ron Cini | 21 February 2011  

Please let me enlighten Sylvester on the Forgotten Australians. We are the 500,000 Australians who grew up in orphanages, children's Homes in Australia and foster care. We're known as Wards of the State, Home child, Wardies , Homies and Care Leavers. Senate Inquiry called us Forgotten Australians. We suffered the loss of our parents, siblings, a decent education, made to feel like second class citizens.Many of us are still searching for our families, our records and the reasons we were put into "care" Tens of thousands of us Homies suffered terrible use and neglect and crimes were committed. The State, all Churches and Charities have a responsibility for what happened to us on their turf. I for one was so happy that my country Australia apologised to me.Our family of 7 went into 26 Victorian orphanages /Homes! This sort of childhood does not set you up for a stable adulthood. If you would like to know more about this part of Australia's history, check out the national support and advocacy network CLAN's website. for any readers, the book Orphans of the Living" -growing up in care in 20th century Australia written by Joanna Penglase the co founder of CLAN.

Leonie Sheedy | 22 February 2011  

Australian history emphatically reveals an intent to destroy the indigenous race through hunting people onto reserves,in other words,as animals.The original people were classified as Flora and Fauna (NSW)and managed under the Dept. of Fisheries and Wildlife (WA).The truth is we removed them from their family lands,through massacres,disease, internment and isolation.There is a law even now that protects people from eviction if they are living more than 15 years.The White Australia Policy is real and was embedded in the culture of this country as a hallmark to new federation of states.
Early Chinese ,Aghani,Lebanese and Turkish migrants were here in small numbers,and WE are still a small population in global terms.The fact that we were founded as a penal colony mainly from England,Ireland,Scotland and Wales seems to be a thorn in our side.Australia was founded on persecution of people and it seems we want to inflict the same and history repeats.

Catherine | 22 February 2011  

Thank you, Leonine Sheedy, for your "enlightenment". You will have to bear with simple people like me because we find it hard to keep up with the apologies which seem to be coming out at the rate of one a week and we easily lose track of the number of disgruntled and aggrieved people queueing up to tell the rest of us how tough life has been for them. The fact is that practically everyone has had hurtful and damaging experiences of one sort or another. I am not an orphan but I was raised in a family headed by an abusive and alcoholic father who terrorised his wife and children for years. My family has been permanently scarred by the experience but the last thing we would expect is that "society" should apologise to us. Maybe teachers, parish priests, police, friends and relatives should have intervened. But they didn't. Maybe they didn't know about it. The only person who should apologise has gone to his eternal reward. To expect any person or group to apologise for harm done other than the ones personally and directly responsible is immature and self-indulgent. To ask "all white Australians", for instance, to apologise for "harm done to their fellow Australians of a different ethnic background" is ridiculous, if not Orwellian. The fact is, life hurts, but it is also beautiful. I suggest, Leonine Sheedy, you get over it and move on. You will never be free while you cling to your demons. It will help you to make the break if you can acknowledge the huge amount of good that has been done by "the State, Churches and Charities" - even in the midst of harm - and say "thank you".

Sylvester | 22 February 2011  

Australian history emphatically reveals an intent to destroy the original people through hunting them onto reserves as animals;they were classified as Flora and Fauna (NSW) and managed under the Dept. of Fisheries and Wildlife( WA).They were removed from their family land and internment destroyed culture,along with massacres and disease.There is a law even now that protect people from eviction if they have lived in a place for more than 20 years.So it seems we make the rules to protect anglo-saxon people and no one else.
Chinese,Afghani,Lebanese,Turkish and eastern and western european people came in small numbers in earlier times and helped this country prosper.The truth that Australia was founded as a penal colony for England,Ireland,Scotland and Wales seems to be a deep torn in our side and we perpetuate the intolerance and persecution with a grab land and resources for the strongest as 'bounty'. Australia does not support the victims of injustice as our forebears fought for their rights.History is repeating ...the shoe is on the other foot and Christianity means anglo-saxon freedom at the cost everyone else.Religion and state have long been bedded in together in 'western' countries too.

History also states Muslim spirituality and science influenced western european thinking in the 14th century when they arrived in Spain and lived peacefully for some time.Surely we are a better world if we can harness the gifts God gave all people to benefit all people.

We all know we must work for peace to survive.Divide and conquer is so old hat and sows seeds of destruction.Indigenous people live with the philosophy of what's mine is shared with everyone.True Christian living.

It is very disappointing to see Australians reluctant to accept a levy to help even other 'aussies' ,victims in recent floods.We are all in one way or another affected by other people's suffering. Are we simply 'fair weather friends or not really friends (mates) at all?

Catherine | 22 February 2011  

The following report from the Mail Online, shows why David Cameron said that multi-culturalism in England has failed. "Four men launched a horrific attack on a teacher in which they slashed his face and left him with a fractured skull because they did not approve of him teaching religion to Muslim girls. Akmol Hussein, 26, Sheikh Rashid, 27, Azad Hussain, 25, and Simon Alam, 19, attacked Gary Smith with a Stanley knife, an iron rod and a block of cement. Mr Smith, who is head of religious education at Central Foundation Girls' School in Bow, east London, also suffered a fractured skull. " ( He was not proselytising. He was teaching the a course on comparative religion. Must we in the West make allowances for men like these? I hope no one would say yes. They are the very sort that we should never let in.

Patrick James | 22 February 2011  

Please let me enlighten Sylvester on the Forgotten Australians.

We are the 500,000 Australians who grew up in orphanages, children's Homes in Australia and foster care.
We're known as Wards of the State, Home child, Wardies , Homies and Care Leavers. Senate Inquiry called us Forgotten Australians. We suffered the loss of our parents, siblings, a decent education, made to feel like second class citizens.Many of us are still searching for our families, our records and the reasons we were put into "care" Tens of thousands of us Homies suffered terrible use and neglect and crimes were committed. The State, all Churches and Charities have a responsibility for what happened to us on their turf.
I for one was so happy that my country Australia apologised to me.Our family of 7 went into 26 Victorian orphanages /Homes!

This sort of childhood does not set you up for a stable adulthood.
If you would like to know more about this part of Australia's history, check out the national support and advocacy network CLAN's website. for any readers, the book Orphans of the Living" -growing up in care in 20th century Australia written by Joanna Penglase the co founder of CLAN.

Leonie Sheedy | 22 February 2011  

Sylvester, your response to Leonie Sheedy was both ill-informed and disrespectful. (You could at least make an attempt to spell her name correctly). The issue for many Forgotten Australians is that they were placed in institutions by the State, churches and charities for care and protection and then abused, violated and neglected by the very people charged to care and protect these most vulnerable children. Do you really think it would help a child who was raped by a nun or a priest to forget that traumatic experience, say "Thank you, that was charming", and get on with it? Do you really expect a child who was separated from loved siblings lost to them still now decades later to say "Thank you. I don't miss them"? Do you really expect a child who was whipped, locked away in a dark cupboard, or starved to say "Thank you, you were wonderful to me"? Do you really expect young children who were incarcerated in adult mental facilities to say "Thank you, I'll never forget your kindness"? Do you really expect children whose vulnerability was exposed by scientists using them without parental consent as human guinea pigs in medical experimentation to say "Thank you, I'm enjoying my herpes"? How about reading the Senate report "Forgotten Australians"? It's not too late to learn.

Frank Golding | 23 February 2011  

Regarding my spelling of Leonie Sheedy's name (apologies Leonie!), have you, Frank Golding, ever heard of typographical errors? There is at least one in your own text. Your series of rhetorical questions caricatures my position so egregiously that I think you must have done so deliberately. Obviously, I would not expect someone who suffered abuse in an institution to thank the abusive staff member for the experience, but nor would I expect such a person to blame another staff member who had done no harm. It would not be unreasonable to think that such a person might thank a staff member who had treated him or her with kindness and care at that or another institution. If anything your flippant response proves my point, which is that it is unreasonable to expect heads and other staff members of state, religious and charitable bodies who are innocent of abusive behaviours to apologise for the guilty. They may - and should - express regret and sorrow and a resolution to repair and compensate but not apologise which implies direct, personal agency, fault and responsibility. An apology can have a point only if made by a culpable individual. While I am having a look at the "Forgotten Australians" report, I'll assign a much less burdensome homework to you, Frank Golding: spend some time with a few dictionaries. The upsurge of apoligising - without consultation, let it be said - on behalf of groups of people, and sometimes entire nations, who have not actually done anything wrong debases the language and manipulates the pain of those who have been victimised by abuse.

Sylvester | 23 February 2011  

Reading Beat Odermat (really?), Patrick James and the ubiquitous Sylvester (the cat?) Ron Cini's comments, I thought that I had mistakenly opened News Corp's on-line. There will always be defenders of the White Australia Policy (memories of the Nuremberg Laws) and detractors of the sorry day (resounding echoes from the Reichstag of the 30s). Never mind giuys, you have the support of the majority of your fellow Aussies on matters of race, immigration, indigenous people etc. etc.

Perhaps you might like to migrate to Sweden? You'll find like-minded people over there who more or less believe in your stance on race relations, refugees etc. As sure as hell freezes over or words to that effect, the Australia I adopted is no place for you! Birthright, if that's your claim, does not exempt you from being intolerant, xenophobic or racist. By the way, even Windshuttle would agree that the first Australians are the very same people he denied.

Alex Njoo | 23 February 2011  

My dear fellow ubiquitous one, Alex Njoo (eh?), have a had quick look again at the responses of Beat, Patrick, Roncini and myself and, nope, can't see anything intolerant, xenophobic or racist there. I suspect you think you are finding what you want to find. As to the White Australia Policy, it is not question of defending it but rather of understanding what it was and why it was adopted instead of indulging knee-jerk reactions. Purr, purr.

Sylvester | 23 February 2011  

To my detractors: 1) I don't hide behind pseudonyms. If you had to hide behind one, you've forfeited your right to be part of any discussions, public or private; 2) the White Australia Policy was purely based on colour and race, no more and no less. Its aim to preserve the integrity of a 'white' nation based on cultural homogeneity was a South Pacific version of the famous Nuremberg Laws in reverse. Nothing "knee jerk" in that. 3) Yes, "you find what you want to find", all the world's dictators, Hitler, Stalin, Idi Amin, Mao, Kim joong-il, have employed that strategy. And 4. Why am I wasting my time responding to all that?

Alex Njoo | 23 February 2011  

This is not the first time that I have had to explain my use of a pseudonym on "Eureka Street". I am a member of a religious institute, the rule of which stipulates a time-consuming process when its members express their views in the public forum in a way that is likely to involve the institute. If I used my own name I would be unable to participate in the kind of quick-response debates found on the internet. Like the assorted tyrants he lists, Alex Njoo would like to silence people he doesn't agree with. With or without a pseudonym, Alex Njoo, I do not need your permission to be part of the "Eureka Street" community.

Sylvester | 24 February 2011  

Ah yes. The ALP introduced the White Australia Policy.
I couldn't have come here in 1955 had I not a 'white' husband and our two children to prove that my blood too was red. Then the ALP introduced Multiculturalism. Lampooned by many critics and considered as a form of apartheid. Multiculturalism may now fare better, although subtle discrimination will quite possibly exist for a wee while longer.

Joyce | 25 February 2011  

My parents fled the communist regime of Vietnam. In Australia they found a country, despite one or two intolerant idiots, that welcomed them. It gave them and their children, including me, opportunities that we could never have dreamed of as Catholics in Vietnam.

I agree with Patrick James that we should accept people into our community if they accept the Australian way of life. The Hazaras will find Australia a place that does not accept religious extremism. However, there are other Muslims who are not so keen as their so called co-religionists to accept religious plurality. Europe is a sad example of this “ghettoism” that some Muslim clerics openly encourage. They advocate a form of clerical totalitarianism. They interpret Allah's will and the people must obey. Democracy is anathema to them.

My parents fled a similarly oppressive system decades ago. Australia has every right, even duty, to ensure that all who come here will participate and contribute to our democracy, not try to overturn it.

Nguyen Duy | 26 February 2011  

NGUYEN DUY, well put

Freddy | 27 February 2011  

to ALEX NJOO: Ok, if YOU want to apologise to "Non Anglo-Saxon Australians" you can do so and I will accept. If you want to give money to "Non Anglo-Saxon Australians", pass it on to people in great need, like in the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea.

Beat Odermatt | 03 March 2011  

I've read the speech by Bowen (or at least, the edited version linked to Michael's article) and can't see any problem with it. I can't see anything in Bowen's speech that might offend Beat, Patrick, Sylvester, or Ron. Nor can I see any any suggestion by Bowen that any general apology is called for. In my view, Michael has misread Bowen if he thinks that Bowen is foreshadowing a general apology. So what's the problem for those who have reacted so passionately? Is it Bowen's address, Michael's comments, or just the concept of 'multiculturalism' that is the problem? I actually agree with Beat that the 'real challenge is... trying to achieve real respect amongst all'. I also think that Sylvester has a valid point in saying that the 'White Australia Policy was "for"... the maintenance of the kind of Australia that then existed', although I think that desire was driven to a large extent by fear of the 'other' where race and culture in the other were inextricably entwined. As for Patrick' comments, I acknowledge that he says 'if Muslims come here and are willing to accept our tolerance, and our secular democracy, then I have no problem', but I suspect from his other statements that he doesn't think that is possible for the great bulk of Muslim immigrants. As for Ron's call for an apology from 'catholic dissenters', I could to refer him to Sylvester's suggestion that he should just 'get over it and move on' but as Frank has noted, that would be unkind. But where does that leave us with shadow minister Morrison who, if he has been correctly reported, urged the Coalition to capitalise on electorate fears of "Muslim immigration", "Muslims in Australia" and Muslim migrants' "inability to integrate"? Or the sundry shock-jocks and (mostly Murdoch) journalists who, it seems to me, are already working on and pandering to those fears? I am old enough to remember when all the things that are currently being said about Muslim Australians were being said about Catholic Australians - that their religion was strange (and therefore false), that their loyalty was in doubt, that they kept to themselves, ran their own schools, and only married their own community, that they regarded the rest of us as unbelievers (and therefore damned), that they had taken over the public service, and so forth. And I remember some of the so-called newspapers (the Rock?) and politicians (their names escape me at the moment) that pandered to and encouraged that attitude. Thankfully, the nation has by and large got past that point with respect to Catholics. Hopefully, we'll do the same in respect to Muslims, but it is not helped by the sorts of proposals attributed to Morrison or the performance of the shock-jocks and gutter press.

Ginger Meggs | 06 March 2011  

Ginger Meggs, I do not think that your comparison between the Catholics of the past and Muslims of the present is valid. This is so because whatever differences existed between Catholics and Protestants (mainstream Australians) were not as profound as those that separate mainstream Australians and Muslims. Catholics and Protestansts believed in differing versions of Christianity. But it was still Christianity. They also shared a common European cultural tradition, with free elections, free speech and the separation of Church and State. Such is not the case with Islam. I again cite the example of many Muslim clerics in Europe. They openly preach against the West. The West's ways are evil and corrupt. They urge their congregations not to integrate. Many openly talk of Islam becoming supreme and supplanting Western liberal democracies with sharia law. The demographics show that the Muslim population in European countries is going to continue to rise, becoming an ever larger proportion. What happens when Muslims start to push for the blasphemy laws of Islam to be the laws of the land? Would we accept that it is reasonable to execute an artist who draws a cartoon deriding Mohammed? It is so much the performance of the shock jocks that concerns me, but rather the actions of Muslims worldwide. For instance the murder of the Shahbaz Bhatti, the Christian Pakistani minister for minorities, and the lack of condemnation by the authorities in Pakistan makes me think that we should not assume that significant Muslim migration to Australia will be trouble free.

Nguyen Duy | 09 March 2011  

As a person of partial Wiradjuri descent, I must say I find this article divisive and shortsighted in the extreme. Surely any attempt at building a colour blind Australia is bound to fail if white Australians of the 'chattering classes' keep telling other white Australians that they are guilty of things that they probably - individually - had no hand in. All this does is creates justified anger at these people - the 'black armband brigade' - and lend support to the more blatant of those who are genuinely racist. Sorry Michael, I know you mean well but there can be no real reconciliation til we leave behind the 1970's tendency to put everyone in a racially/ethnically defined basket. The worst offenders in this regard are the <1% who are truly racist and the cosmopolitan latte set who ostensibly oppose them.

jingelic | 21 February 2015  

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