Thursday, January 26, 2006

Australian history and our national identity

John Howard’s recent “ claiming of victory in national culture wars” is yet another example of his penchant for denying both our historical roots and Australia’s current position on national identity and the appalling circumstances that many indigenous Australian’s live in.

He is also divisive and narrow-minded in his use of language by “claiming victory” in a referring to “a war” and labelling considerations about our national psyche and identity as a “phoney debate”.

The Australia I live in is still a colony of Great Britain with a British Queen as the head of state, when I and a clear majority of Australians believe it should be a republic.

Indigenous Australians are discriminated against by Government policies. They suffer low employment, low life expectancy, high substance abuse, very poor health and often appalling housing conditions. They have no treaty, and their attempts to gain native title have been treated with contempt. Equating seven generations of white Australian residency with over 40,000 years of indigenous occupation is a bit rich. But I do agree that there should be better recognition of and education about indigenous Australians, who did lead truly sustainable lives.

With the Cronulla riots, we are also faced with the recent re-emergence of racism, and a level of denial from John Howard. Well John, denying racism it won’t make it go away.

I am not sure exactly how John Howard thinks that changes to the way children are taught about Australian history will improve matters, or what his speculation is based on. Is the Howard Government going to start rewriting our history books based on their neo-conservative and revisionist philosophy? Will they mandate these for state and private school curricular? Will compliance to this be policed?

The way forward to building a more cohesive and forward looking Australia is to acknowledge our true history, make a treaty with indigenous Australians, give them title to their lands and work with them to improve their health and housing. We should also become a republic with an Australian head of state. And we need to counter emergent racism with improved education and by building consensus between all Australians, whatever their origin, rather than a continued focus on division and revisionism. Our national values and character need to be built and embraced by all Australians, not just on the jingoism of neo-conservative politicians. They need to be reflected and protected by a bill or rights.

Our young people are at risk of being served up an education diet of selective and biased claptrap proscribed by a ministry of propaganda, then being scared and frightened by the increased threat from terrorism that the Howard government’s policies have exposed Australia to. Let’s work together to make sure this does not happen.

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