PNG Post-Courier

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (Jan. 24) – There’s a popular belief that last year’s ethnic violence in Sydney was a passing outburst.

Not so, it would seem.

New South Wales Premier Morris Iemma is now warning that more than 800 policemen will be on duty to deal with any racial violence that may be displayed this Thursday, Australia Day.

It appears that a far-right organization, the Australia First Party, is canvassing supporters to rally once again at Sydney’s Cronulla Beach on Australia’s national day.

Such situations pose real problems for democracies.

On the one hand, national constitutions of countries such as Australia guarantee freedoms of speech, press and assembly.

Australians rightly pride themselves on having a country in which individuals can express their most strongly held views with impunity.

Everybody, at least in theory, can say what they like.

In practice of course, there are laws of defamation and libel, and those who go too far are likely to find themselves in court on serious charges.

But what happened last year at Cronulla was very different.

Australians awoke to a full-scale race riot, involving Australian citizens of Middle Eastern ethnicity, and their largely Anglo-Saxon Australian counterparts.

There’s no doubt that some of that animosity stemmed from the deepening suspicion of Islam held by a surprisingly large number of Australians.

The destruction of the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York, although half a world away, sent negative echoes reverberating throughout our southern neighbor.

Later attacks that included the Bali bombing and other incidents, which claimed a rising number of Australian victims, and even the low scale bombing in London all added to this perception among some Australians that people from the Middle East were not wanted in Australia.

Our southern neighbor has managed to incorporate several waves of migrants without a great deal of apparent strain.

These have included the immediate post-war numbers of Britons, Italians and Greeks who made Australia their adopted home.

They were followed by Eastern Europeans, many of them displaced by World War II.

Later, groups of Turks and Lebanese arrived in Australia.

Next came numbers of Vietnamese and Cambodians.

Some of these migrants have proven less acceptable to many Australians.

Young Australians of Middle Eastern background have shown themselves less inclined to submerge themselves in Australian society, and in turn have been less welcomed by Anglo-Saxon Australians, and those former migrants and their descendants who now consider themselves as an integral part of Australia.

The advent of Pauline Hansen and her success as a politician shocked many Australians.

But the fact was that she tapped into a particular type of Australian, those that felt marginalized by the migrants, and ignored by successive federal governments.

They were more than ready to give their votes to a party that openly discouraged migration, and that sought to preserve the "Australian way of life".

That political movement sounded the warning trumpet.

Many have not listened.

For although Ms. Hansen may no longer be a political force within Australia, the people whom she briefly represented are very definitely still there, and their numbers have been augmented by more recent events that have made even moderate Aussies look askance at some of the newer Australian migrant communities.

What is the relevance of these matters to Papua New Guinea?

It is not so long ago that foreigners in PNG were almost exclusively from Australia, New Zealand or the United Kingdom.

That is no longer the case.

In terms of our total population we have an increasing number of Malaysians, of Filipinos, Singaporeans, Chinese and other Asian and sub-continent racial groupings.

Many of these newcomers are not Christians, and many are Muslims.

With this modest influx has come growing suspicion on the part of some of our citizens, and a good deal of superficial resentment. Negative stories about Asians appear in the press, and our constitutional guarantees of freedom of worship are increasingly criticized.

Marriages between Papua New Guineans and Asians will grow, and the potential for our country to face situations such as those experienced in Sydney could also grow.

We need to make sure now that such disruptive social confrontations never become a part of PNG life.

January 25, 2006

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