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Tuesday, 7 December 2004
Page: 156

Senator TCHEN (11:09 PM) —I rise tonight to speak about Mr Keith Windschuttle. I do not know Mr Windschuttle. I know of him, of course. If not yet famous, he is certainly well publicised as the antithesis of the black armband school of Australian history. I do not know Mr Windschuttle's work either, never having read any of his books, of which I understand there was just one of note: The Fabrication of Aboriginal History, published in 2002, in which Mr Windschuttle apparently asserted that white settlement was not responsible for the disappearance of the Tasmanian Aboriginals since only 120 were killed and thus, ipso facto, there was no genocide.

As I have no personal knowledge of either Mr Windschuttle or his work, I make the point that nothing I say tonight about Mr Windschuttle or his work should be taken personally. It appears that Mr Windschuttle has just completed another book, called The White Australia Policy. As it was only launched last night, I could say that I remain in a blessed state of ignorance about Mr Windschuttle's work. Not quite, however. In advance of the public launch of his new book, Mr Windschuttle wrote an opinion piece in the Australian newspaper on the same day but published in the morning. It was a very astute bit of publicity, actually. As I said, he is a very well-publicised scholar.

Mr Windschuttle's piece in the Australian is entitled `White Australia's myths' and is about 1,200 words in length. I have read it. On the very safe rationale that scholarship is directly proportional to the number of words used to put across an idea, I assume that everything that Mr Windschuttle has to say about the White Australia Policy, including its rise and fall and the myths it created, in his no doubt substantial book has been equally well presented in this piece in the Australian. So I read it very carefully. It seems that Mr Windschuttle does not dispute that the White Australia Policy existed. Well, nobody would. Nor, it seems, does Mr Windschuttle dispute that the purpose of the Restrictive Immigration Act 1901—the legal face of the White Australia Policy—was to close Australia to the migration of the so-called `coloured' people for the next 65 years. Again, nobody would. What Mr Windschuttle does dispute is the belief that the White Australia Policy was an expression of racist social values. That is what Mr Windschuttle thinks is the great White Australia Policy myth.

To make it plural—two myths—Mr Windschuttle also asserts that the kidnapping of South Pacific Islanders to work the Queensland sugarcane fields did not happen. I am no student of Pacific history, so I will not comment on the historic truth of blackbirding. But I must confess that I am rather interested in Mr Windschuttle's take on the White Australia Policy and the impact it had on its principal victims—the Chinese Australian community—which between the 1850s and the 1890s was, as Mr Windschuttle acknowledges, the `second biggest foreign-born population in Australia, exceeded only by those born in the British Isles'. I suspect that many Irish Australians would be affronted by Mr Windschuttle's casual lumping of them together with others under British Isles. But I digress.

To be fair to Mr Windschuttle, it is quite obvious that his main purpose is to attack those academics who are his ideological opposite. These are the black armbanders, as he names them—Henry Reynolds, Andrew Markus, Richard Broome and Richard White, whose theses compare Australia at Federation `with the “master race” nationalism of Nazi Germany', which is a plainly ridiculous thesis. One is almost grateful that Mr Windschuttle would take them on. But in the process of getting to his enemies, Mr Windschuttle goes way over the top to silliness.

Let me give just two examples. Mr Windschuttle asserts that the White Australia Policy could not have been racist, because `from 1788 onwards, the Australian colonies were always multiracial, with Maoris, Tahitians, Indians, Ceylonese, American negroes, West Indians, and Africans,' and, of course, a plenitude of Chinese, not to mention the Irish. But who says a multiracial social would not be a racist society? Even Mr Windschuttle is not so rash as to assert this, but he implies it. And that is a flimsy foundation to build on.

As a second example, Mr Windschuttle asserts that mainstream Australian nationalism at Federation was not based on race because:

Australians ... owed loyalty to the British Empire, which specifically rejected the notion of hierarchies of race.

The British Empire rejected the notion of hierarchies of race? I wonder which British Empire Mr Windschuttle means? What would Mahatma Gandhi, James Connolly or Lee Kuan Yew say about that? The reality is that the White Australia Policy was not only racist in discriminating against the so-called `coloured' races, but it also discriminated against other European races. As late as the outbreak of World War II, the White Australia Policy was invoked as the ideal of keeping Australia: `Forever the home of the descendants of those people who came here ... to establish in the South Seas an outpost of the British race.' That quote came from a speech by the then Prime Minister, Mr John Curtin.

The reality is that the Australia of today is entirely different from that of 1901. It is different from the Australia of the 1950s, when `two Wongs did not make a white'. It is different from the Australia of the 1970s, when the White Australia Policy had already seen the last of its days but multiculturalism—the idea of shared respect, shared fairness, shared benefits and shared responsibilities—was still an exotic concept. It is even different from the Australia of the 1990s, when Mrs Hanson could profess to misunderstand this idea of multiculturalism and still gain a following.

As long as Mr Windschuttle's only interest is to have a public stoush with his ideological enemies, I say good luck to him. However, if he has another agenda—to question the importance and relevance of multiculturalism to modern Australian society—then he should beware, because the truly egalitarian and civilised society that he tried to paint Australian society as being at the time of Federation has in fact been achieved today. But it is still a work in progress. And with Australia continuing to rely on immigration for growth and with a wider source of immigrants, we will continue to need to follow this process of mutual respect, mutual fairness, mutual sharing and mutual responsibility to ensure that our society can grow in prosperity and equality. The only danger we face is if people like Mr Windschuttle misunderstanding that. For what we cannot see in the mirror, we cannot see face to face either.