Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Legacy of Nelson Mandela in Australia

At the end of 2013 society can reflect on the passing of Nelson Mandela, revered anti-racism activist and founder of post-apartheid South Africa. Shortly after he died an ABC television interviewer asked a former Australian parliamentarian what Mandela’s legacy might be. He answered that it would never again be acceptable for people to be discriminated against on the basis of race, language, colour or creed. There was no mention of class or the increasing  economic  inequality which now exists between nations and within nations. Yet many would argue that the struggle against increasing economic apartheid and social disadvantage based on class and race is far from over in Australia.

Instead we find an impoverished class of people, up to 40 % of the population, subsisting in precarious employment. Australian Bureau of Statistics data show that they are involuntarily trapped in part-time or temporary casual jobs, dead end vocational training, underemployed or unemployed. This 'flexible' workforce forms a Third World sometimes described as a fourth world, co-existing uneasily within a First world. But rather than discrimination being based purely on skin colour now there is evidence of a type of postcode rascism depending on where one lives and exacerbated  by race. People denigrated as 'Westies' or bogans for example are denied jobs and other opportunities because they come from the western suburbs of  Sydney.

This reached its nadir when the former Federal government picked on poorer suburbs throughout Australia to extend Northern Territory Intervention measures to non-Aboriginals. Reminiscent of South Africa's dreaded Pass Laws, jobseekers from disadvantaged communities such as Bankstown in Sydney were to be issued with dehumanising ration cards otherwise known as the Basics card until there was stiff resistance. More marginalised Aboriginal communities in Northern Territory however still suffer this form of discrimination and recent frontpage headlines in the Sunday Telegraph vilifying disabled citizens as “bludgers” show that Australia still has a long way to go before we can claim to be a diverse, inclusive society.

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