First France, Now Australia

On Dec. 12, mobs of young white Australians battled Lebanese and South Asia immigrants on a popular beach in Sydney, Australia, resulting in scores of injuries and the arrest of 164 people.

Like last month's rioting in France, the violence in the seaside suburb of Cronulla and other towns has provoked verbal clashes among commentators. As in France, the issues are national pride, racism and multiculturalism.

The violence is the result of Australia's abandonment of "sound multicultural policies" in the 1970s and 1980s, writes professor Allen Patience in the Sydney Morning Herald. Those policies generated low rates of inter-ethnic violence and high rates of intermarriage, he says. But in recent years, "neoconservative elements" in the federal government and "shock-jocks on talkback radio" have repudiated multiculturalism.

"The ugly consequences of these opportunistic politics are evident," Patience concludes. "There is a crimson thread of racism still running through Australia's hard culture."

"Racism is repulsive but so is self-loathing," replied columnist Janet Albrechtsen in The Australian, flagship of Rupert Murdoch's conservative media empire. She quotes a friend who says most people "have no idea what it is like to have one's suburb regularly inundated with large groups of young Muslim men from the western suburbs who proceed to shoot people [as has happened in Brighton], intimidate people, regularly threaten people within their vicinity with violence, drive around in large groups screaming abuse at people from cars with their music blaring, regularly brawling, etc."

"There is so much more to this than racism," Albrechtsen said. "Multiculturalism has been synonymous with a rights agenda -- addressing minority grievances -- rather than a framework for talking about responsibilities. The violence that has been brewing in Cronulla, culminating in the disgraceful rampages in recent days, is a pointer that if we're serious about social cohesion, it's time we all demonstrated social responsibility."

The Canberra Times came down somewhere it between: The riots are "not primarily a story of multiculturalism gone bad, or about the racist undercurrents that flow around parts of Sydney and of Australia, although there are disturbing elements of both involved," said the editors of the capital's daily newspaper.

The rioting "is more about gang cultures, tribalism, underclasses and testosterone than it is about fundamental social breakdown."

A Sydney Morning Herald Poll published today found Australians are worried about their image: "59 per cent of respondents believe the violence at Cronulla and other Sydney beaches would damage Australia's international reputation. Only 38 per cent think Australia's image has not been tarnished."

Meanwhile, a new poll for The Age of Melbourne found that "three-quarters of people disagreeing with [Prime Minister Howard's] that there is no underlying racism in Australia."  According to the paper's write-up, "the poll also found that 81 per cent of voters supported the policy of multiculturalism." 

The findings promoted this reaction from The Age's editors:  "Our history, and everything that this country has achieved since European settlement, is built on migration. We cannot afford to ignore the lessons presented by Cronulla nor to overlook the goodwill expressed by most Australians, as revealed by today's poll. Instead of denying the problems, Mr Howard would do well to examine them with an open mind and work out a way to fulfil his promise to govern for all of us."

By Jefferson Morley |  December 19, 2005; 6:05 PM ET  | Category:  Asia
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But then, what could one expect of Howard, who, to the disgust of his countrymen, blindly followed Bush into the dead-end that is Iraq?
Australia's PM is well practised in denying reality.

Posted by: Sri Demetrius | December 19, 2005 10:45 PM

>As in France, the issues are national pride, racism and multiculturalism

And social exclusion.

There is a notable exception though: rioters anger in France was targeted at symbols of state and property, not people.

Posted by: Christophe A. | December 20, 2005 07:51 AM

Australia's famed White Policy of many years ago exposed the racism that has been a serious issue in Australia for a long time. At the time the White Paper came out Australia was compared to South Africa on a regular basis, and Australia dug it's heels in wanting only White settlers.
How has Australia worked with it's own people to resolve the racism that was exposed after their,"White Policy" was released. How can the Prime Minister say that Australia is not racist when we heard the rednecks yelling taunts and losing all control in the presence of non whites.

Posted by: SpeakoutforDemocracy | December 20, 2005 08:32 AM

Easy to label "rednecks", isn't it, while you "Speak Out For Democracy"?

To think there are also thugs and hooligans amongst the "non-whites" just isn't politically correct.

It's also a complete and total fantasy, the pillar of the see-no-evil, denial of personal responsibility apologists whom dominate the current multicultural agenda.

Instead of getting the facts on why the people, all of them, acted the way they did, you drag out the old "reverse racism is impossible" cliche, then break it yourself with the glib "redneck" term.

Or should we think of a new, colourful prejorative name we could use for the "non-white" thugs?

Posted by: gordonx | December 20, 2005 11:10 AM

The most ominous element of the Australian riots is the influence of talk radio in driving the violence.
It is very easy to drive up ratings on radio by appealing to and inflaming base impulses. From Hitler's Germany to the Rwandan genocide, the hot medium of radio has been the driving force for fanning latent hostilities into open acts of violence.
No other medium works the same way. Reading a newspaper is conducive to analysis and intellect, while television watching is a passive act that inclines the viewer toward doing nothing - for better or worse. But radio is different. Someone like Hitler who looks ridiculous on TV with wild gestures, etc., instead sounds passionate and forceful on radio.
The United States will learn just how dangerous the knee-jerk reactionaries of right-wing radio are, but not until the economy heads south and scapegoats are needed.

Posted by: troutcor | December 20, 2005 12:39 PM


Your post is indicative of the wide gap between the effete left and the majority, those that comprise the bulk of talk radio listenership. My guess is that if right-of-center views were prevalent in the print media or on the three major U.S. TV networks, but not radio, you would be touting the nuance and intellect of talk radio.

In any case, your theory that talk radio is to blame for the developments in Australia is as shallow as it is biased and misinformed.

Kind regards,


Posted by: Aussie | December 20, 2005 01:26 PM

I don't quite get how this story is being spun as "Australian racism". The complaints of the white Australians seem to be simple and reasonable: we don't like the violent crime and asocial behavior of a non-trivial number of Muslim youths in Sydney.

The bad behavior of a significant percentage of these youths doesn't seem in dispute: rapes, unprovoked insults and attacks on the beach at Cronulla, robberies, etc. Why don't the Muslim youths who are behaving badly simply change their actions?

This doesn't seem to require any "soul-searching" or "rooting out of racism" on the part of white Australians. It just require those Muslims who are committing crimes to stop doing so.

Posted by: DCdude | December 20, 2005 01:48 PM

When a bunch of white people beat up a bunch of non-white people for being well non-white. It's racism pure and simple. The acts of even a "significant percentage" of any ethnic group do not justify violence against all people of said ethnic group. By DCdude's logic because a bunch of white guys decided to beat up every Muslim they could find on the beach then Muslims would be justified in beating up any white guy they felt like.
My image of Aussies as an easygoing, open, friendly lot (based on those I've met both in the US and abroad though I've never been Down Under myself) is forever shattered. This looks just like the South in the US 50 years ago.

Posted by: Norm | December 20, 2005 03:28 PM

From Mr. Patience's comments, I had the impression that under multiculturalism there was an attempt to micromanage the immigrant into the dominate culture at an accelerated pace. Acculturation in America sometimes takes two or three generations. I think the immigrant has to go at his or her own pace into the new culture, be treated with respect, get help with jobs or education, and be received into an inclusive society.
Neoconservatives developed in America, and conservative talk radio has long been a staple in here. But, while nasty, I don't know if I would describe them as shock jocks. In fact, conservative talk radio predated neoconservatism. I sure Murdoch brought Australia up to speed on all these concepts.
Richard Perle and company, in their "Clean Break" paper, while intended for Israel, would later be reflected in the Bush foreign policy. You even have the "Axis of Evil" there. They also attack the Israeli Labor party. It is on the web, directly under "Clean Break".

Posted by: P. J. Casey | December 20, 2005 05:56 PM

"Racism?" Aren't Arabs white people, too? Get back to the barbie, mates!

Posted by: Clayton R. Bullrohr ( | December 20, 2005 06:32 PM

We have a real Lebanese gang problem here in Sydney. I've been bashed at the hands of these hooligans in their unprovoked attacks. Speak to any bloke in Sydney and he'll either have been bashed himself or know someone thats been bashed. These gangs are ruthless, they carry knives, guns and baseball bats and have no qualms about inflicting serious injury on bystanders minding their own business. I've seen a group of 20 or 30 of them using a man's head for soccer practise. I don't know if he lived.

Stop calling this racism, all we want is to be safe walking outside at night and be able to have fun on the beach without being accosted by these dimwits.

Posted by: Alan | December 21, 2005 12:41 AM

It is funny, two female friends recently returned from Australia and their big complain was how red necked and violent white Australian men were. They said it made them appreciate their guys at home. They called them white boors and said they discussed this with a few female Australians who agreed totally. They made no mention of problems with any other Muslim gangs in Australia and they were in Sydney for six weeks. Mmmm wondrer what is going on?

Posted by: SpeakoutforDemocracy | December 22, 2005 09:04 AM

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