Despite living on the same land under the shared concept of a nation, there are different rules for ‘other’ people in Australia. People from ‘other’ cultural backgrounds. People who are ‘other’ genders, and select partners based on another sexuality. People with ‘other’ bodily characteristics. People with ‘other’ lives.
Ex-Prime Minister Kevin Rudd formally apologised to Aboriginal Australians in 2008, yet just last year the United Nations condemned the Australian government for continuing the Northern Territory Intervention – a government initiative to implement a set of laws targeting Aboriginal communities.
As the UK, New Zealand, Sweden and France legalise same-sex marriage, the Australian government has faced criticism for not doing the same.
Overseas conflicts over the last few years such as the War on Terror, ethnic cleansing in Burma, and civil wars in Africa and Sri Lanka have caused people to flee their countries to seek asylum in Australia – only to become the subject of public debate and political point scoring.
The National Disability Insurance Scheme – now Disability Care – was historically signed earlier this year, which will now provide ongoing support for people with a lifelong disability and their carers.
But who are ‘the other’? And who is ‘mainstream’?
It was less than a decade ago that the Howard government introduced a proposal to teach children Australian values, heritage and national identity. The plan was called the National Values Framework.
Then-Education Minister Brendan Nelson was quoted to say: “We want them to understand our history and our culture”.
Critics of the proposal were concerned the framework would be exclusionary. It was about the language politicians used. Us and them. We and our. Australian and unAustralian.
History academic Dr Anna Clark called this style of language “dog-whistle politics” – where political statements sound inclusive, but mask an underlying divisiveness.
Dr Clark’ s essay Flying the Flag for Mainstream Australia (2006) argued that the language around mainstream Australia and Australian values was politically motivated.
At the time of the National Values Framework proposal, Australia was fighting the War on Terror, it was one year after the London bombings, and the Apology to Australia’s Indigenous Peoples was two years away.
“I think John Howard’s belief in ‘mainstream Australian values’ was both a political strategy to capitalise on voter anxiety about multicultural Australia,” Dr Clark said, “as well as a genuine belief in the power of so-called Australian values (democracy, mateship, fair go) to generate social cohesion”.
Australia’s turbulent history of colonisation, migration and an ancient Indigenous history has left the legacy of an ambiguous national identity.
The Australian population counter ticked over to 23 million on April 23 this year and the Australian Bureau of Statistics attempted to define all 23 million of us in in their Australian Social Trends report.
The average Australian is a married, Catholic 37-year-old-woman with two children who lives in her own home in the suburbs. She holds a Certificate in Business Management and works 32 hours per week as a sales assistant.
However, the study concluded that nobody in Australia fits all of these attributes, indicating the diversity of the Australian population.
Dr Clark is currently embarking on a research project taking her around Australia to ask individuals about their thoughts on the national identity.
“Australia is unable to agree on a cohesive national identity because everyone interprets and understands their national history and identity so personally,” Dr Clark said. “In my current research project, what comes through very strongly is how people identify with the ‘Australian story’ through their own family and community perspectives and experiences (including where they come from, cultural identity, and so on). This is why debates over Australian identity and history are so contested–because they are so personal.”
This megastory is about “The Other”. The stories are about people in the community who are not ‘mainstream’ Australians but nonetheless are one of ‘us’.
Continue through to the megastory here.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported.
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