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Coronavirus fears unearth ugly colonial racism



February 9 · Issue #29 · View online
Your weekly wrap of national affairs, society, culture and politics, published by UnionsACT.

From the editor
In this issue, we take a look at how the coronavirus panic has emboldened racist sentiment and the ways that bigotry is weaponised by the establishment. We also dig into political donations, Barnaby’s bad week and the relentless march of renewable energy.
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Enjoy the issue!
Guy Mosel, editor

Coronavirus fears unearth ugly colonial racism
by Guy Mosel
We’ve seen this movie before: a virus breaks out in Asia or Africa, the racists crawl out from under their rocks, and the media dutifully stirs the pot.
It played in 2002 and 2003 during the SARS outbreak that killed nearly 800 people (mostly in China and Hong Kong); and again from 2013 to 2016 when the Ebola virus ravaged west Africa, claiming more than 11,000 lives.
And it’s happening all over again with the coronavirus, an epidemic that has so far infected 34,000 people and killed more than 700.
So we should be angry but not surprised when the Herald Sun incites racist sentiment with its “Chinese virus” fear-mongering; and we should be ashamed yet not astounded to hear stories of our fellow citizens abusing people of Asian appearance (who, in all likelihood, are also our fellow citizens), or cafes and nightclubs peddling a bit of casual Sinophobia to promote their businesses.
This turn towards anti-China sentiment is not new. Over the past year or so fears of China’s influence in the region, its interference in Australian politics and its appetite for Australian land and infrastructure have seen people’s trust in China fall.
With the smell of “yellow peril” in the air the Fraser Anning/One Nation/“Fuck off we’re full” corner of Facebook has become an especially grubby place, enabled by a political and media class that’s been very quick to issue dire warnings about China’s “insidiousness” and “human rights record”.
Such alarmism and concern for human rights seem to be absent in any commentary about America’s long history of dubious interventions in Australia’s affairs, mind you.
The fragility of white supremacy
But the coronavirus and Chinese people buying cattle stations don’t make people racist. That’s not how that works. There are deeper roots.
In her excellent essay for Overland Melbourne-based community organiser Ella Shi argues that this strand of racism is “symptomatic of the deliberate and anxious need to justify the existence of Australia as a colonial state and the dominance of an Anglo-European Australian identity”.
Shi continues:
“In the post-colonial, post-Enlightenment Western world, white supremacy is a silent but pervasive premise. Today, because that logic is increasingly challenged and this sentiment cannot openly be expressed, it seeks reasons to manifest in a way that seems grounded in science, reason, morality – and a virus is the perfect excuse.
"This exertion of control grounded in ‘immoral’ behaviour evokes an idea that it is crucial to the sustenance of the nation state – that there is an ‘us’ and a bad, dangerous ‘them’ that we need to be protected from. Because who is ‘us’ if there is no ‘them’?”
Racism – historical, structural – might be baked into the Australian pie, but the media remains especially welcoming to those of our countrymen and women who are skilled at exploiting racism as a content vertical.
News Corp, home to w̶h̶i̶t̶e̶ ̶s̶u̶p̶r̶e̶m̶a̶c̶i̶s̶t̶ ̶h̶a̶t̶e̶ ̶m̶e̶r̶c̶h̶a̶n̶t̶s̶ brave truth-tellers like Andrew Bolt, Tim Blair, Miranda Devine and the late Bill Leak, is particularly adept (although not alone) at identifying hot-button racial issues and concocting incendiary tales of “African gangs” and “queue-jumpers” to foment reader outrage and generate sales and clicks.
Yet racism as a business model is not only directly profitable, it also serves a broader and more important function: to divide the working class and pit identity groups against each other.
International solidarity is a threat to capitalism, so the establishment – represented by corporate media organisations and the pliable governments they prop up – will do all it can to ensure that the working classes of China and Australia view each other as foes.
But we’re not foes. Our interests are the same. And the fight against this deadly virus is our battle as much as it is theirs.
The week in review
👎🏽 Dirty money
Stephen Mayne’s deep dive into the AEC’s political donations data is as good a report as you’ll find on the subject. It’s the usual suspects, with the big miners, gambling companies and banks splashing the most cash. All told, the Liberal Party pulled in $165 million in the year leading up to last year’s election, $40 million more than Labor.
In total Australian political parties banked a record $430 million in total receipts, a 54% increase on the previous record year of $279 million in 2013-14. Although as Mayne points out, “Australia has one of the world’s weakest disclosure systems where an estimated 20% to 40% of all private donations are never disclosed.”
👍🏽 Renewable energy marches on
It was a big week for big wins in the renewable energy sector. Let me count the ways:
  • a study by the CSIRO and the Australian Energy Market Operator confirmed that wind, solar and storage are cheaper than coal, gas, carbon capture and nuclear, and are likely to dominate the global energy mix for decades;
  • from July the City of Adelaide will power all of its operations and facilities with 100 per cent renewable energy;
  • Canberra’s switch to 100 per cent renewables is paying off with predictions that household electricity costs could fall $100 a year; and
  • India has locked in some of the world’s cheapest prices for solar energy and storage in what has been called the world’s largest “firmed renewables” auction.
The fossil fuel industry is dead; it just doesn’t know it yet.
👎🏽 Just increase Newstart already
A new report from the Melbourne Institute has found that income inequality has increased despite more than two decades of unprecedented growth, putting the blame squarely on reforms that have made the tax system less progressive. The report concludes: “These findings point to the need for more, not less, redistributive tax-transfer policies in Australia. Such policies should aim to boost the social safety net – starting with the level of the Newstart Allowance – and make the tax system more progressive.”
In short: increase Newstart now you utter, utter bastards.
👍🏽 Bye-bye Barnaby?
Are we witnessing the beginning of the end of Barnaby Joyce’s political relevance? After failing at his tilt to unseat Michael McCormack as leader of the Nationals the human beetroot swore he wouldn’t challenge again, but true to form couldn’t resist a childish sledge. Although it seems unlikely that he won’t have another go at the leadership (as Paula Matthewson puts it, “Just like that other old school wrecker, Tony Abbott, Barnaby Joyce will not rest until he is leader again”) you have to wonder how much longer the party will put up with his flailing vindictiveness.
👎🏽 Big Finance won’t save us
While it’s tempting to find hope in the decisions of banks, super funds and insurers to walk away from fossil fuel projects and investments, we shouldn’t be too quick to anoint them our saviours. As David James in Eureka Street points out, capitalism is in peril and the combination of historically low interest rates and historically high debt means it’s running out of levers to pull. Climate change presents an opportunity to create new ways to extract wealth from people, including potentially linking “the monetary system to changing the population’s climate-related behaviour”.
The money behind Trump’s money
When “anti-populism” makes the far right mainstream
For your bookshelf
Griffith Review 67: Matters of Trust
A Planet to Win: Why We Need a Green New Deal
"What a unionist looks like" t-shirt
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