Racism in Australia has a History

In a post on OHPI’s page a user commented: “So many Australian residents are either too young to know or haven’t lived here long enough to know what a racism free Australia felt like 30 or so years ago. I feel we imported the racism and put up with it for a long time but now it’s got to a point where Aussies are hitting back”. The user was banned under OHPI’s “no platform policy”. Even ignoring their comment, they were a supporter of a range of hate pages and people supporting such hate pages are not welcome on OHPI’s Facebook page. The comment, however, also deserves a more detailed response.

The attitude expressed in the comment is not new to Australia. In 2012 Jonathan Swan, a journalist for the Sydney Morning Herald, wrote that, “In a museum that exhibits dead children’s shoes and photographs of skeletons piled in holes, it was an Australian that angered me most.” He was reflecting on a visit to Yad Vashem, Israel’s national Holocaust Museum, and a quote made by an Australian Government Minister to an international conference in 1938 which is prominently displayed in the Museum.

The quote is from an address to the Evian Conference in 1938 by Australia’s Minister for Trade and Customs, T. W. White. He said, “…as we have no real racial problem, we are not desirous of importing one by encouraging any scheme of large-scale foreign migration”. This was said three years after Hitler passed the Nuremberg Laws stripping Jews of their rights as German citizens. At this point in time one in four German Jews has fled Nazi persecution. Kristallnacht, the night of broken glass, occurred just a few months later.

The Minister said Australia didn’t have a “racial problem”, yet this was 1938, the White Australia Policy was still in force. Australian Government policy was in fact institutionally racist. The refusal of aid to save Jews from Nazi persecution, a persecution that three years later developed into Hitler’s Final Solution to commit genocide against the Jewish people, was itself a deeply racist act. This is why the quote is displayed so prominently in the museum and why it causes such disgust.

The poster on OHPI’s page said there was no racism 30 or so years ago. It is only in the last 30 years or so that laws against racism, and Government agencies to combat racism, have existed in Australia. The argument the post put forward is in fact a blatant inversion of the truth. For a brief history of racism in Australia see the Racism No Way campaign by the NSW Government.