SOCIETY: by Geoffrey PartingtonNews Weekly
How different are Britain and Australia?
, October 13, 2012
It is often fascinating to compare similarities with differences. It is often argued that Britain and Australia have become so different from each other over the last half century that it makes no sense that they should still be linked by a shared monarchy or any other special constitutional ties.
At first sight, the demographics seem to bear this out. In 1945 over 90 per cent of Australians were descended from peoples of the British Isles and Ireland, whereas now it is only about 60 per cent.
But the same process has taken place in Britain: only about 70 cent of the population has indigenous ancestry and the percentage falls each year.
The composition of the immigrant populations is very different, however: the proportions of continental Europeans are not very different, whether Germans and Dutch from Western Europe, Italians and Greeks from the Mediterranean, or Poles and Baltic peoples from Eastern Europe, although the periods of their migration differ somewhat.
But the big difference is that the dominant role of West Indians in British immigration is paralleled in Australia by Chinese, Vietnamese and other Asians. Soccer teams of all codes in Britain field large numbers of black British, but few Asians feature in the corresponding Australian teams.
In terms of wealth earning and creating, Australia has benefited much more from its immigrants than has Britain: several non-Anglo groups are well above average in earnings, whereas the main groups of “disadvantaged” in Britain, apart from the aged, are non-Anglo.
The most interesting contrast relates to racism. In Australia there is still some debate about the meaning of “multiculturalism” in terms of the extent that immigrants can be expected to adapt to mainstream ways and to master the English language.
The key divider concerns Aborigines, or indigenous Australians as many prefer to be called. In Britain there is no benefit to be gained by claiming indigenous ancestry. In fact, any English people who assert a right to superior consideration to the descendants of later-comers are regarded as redneck racists.
Countless sermons and secular admonitions are given to any British citizens who are so mistaken as to believe that their traditional way of life that they valued has been mortally disrupted by immigrants. The idea that indigenous English, Scots, Welsh or Irish should receive concessions in tax, education, employment or health services simply because of their place of birth is risible in Britain. And with the advances of Scottish and Welsh nationalism, the questions of who is indigenous, for what purposes and where, becomes ever more tricky.
In Australia, the opposite is the case. Anyone who opposes special rights for persons deemed indigenous is likely to be branded as a racist. It is true that some Aborigines were dispossessed over the last two centuries, but the claim for special status as an indigene is made for all who allege that they have some degree of Aboriginal ancestry.
This is tricky, because several people of other non-white origins, whether from Afghan camel-drivers, South Sea island cane-cutters or West Indian whalers, have, naturally enough claimed to be of Aboriginal stock, since there are financial gains if successful. This contrasts markedly with the 19th century when many Australians with “a touch of the tarbrush” tried hard to appear as complete 100 per cent white Australians.
About 60 per cent of persons classified as Aboriginal marry non-Aborigines, so that the number of eligible persons of aboriginality increases each year.
Perhaps the most entertaining aspect of it all is that it is people who fervently held that race should not be a factor in treatment by governments or courts of law who are now demanding not only special concessions, but protection in the constitution, of their racial distinctiveness and privilege.
This might well come about. After all, when I came to Australia in 1976, it seemed unlikely that almost every public function in Australia should start with an acknowledgement and thanks to whichever Aboriginal people once roamed on its grasslands before houses or shops were built.
Those are perhaps relatively trivial matters. One ought to end, however, on a more serious note. For many decades, enlightened Australians, including many Aborigines, tried hard to eliminate some of the most appalling features of traditional tribal life.
One of the most important of these was child-marriage, in which pre-pubertal girls were forced to become extra wives to men old enough to be their grandfathers, let alone their fathers. Some highly “progressive” Australians now countenance the continuation or restoration of such practices, on the grounds that they are part of a long tradition.
In Britain, a comparable regression is the revival of forced marriages, especially among Muslim girls, and the mutilation of girls, including female circumcision. In Britain there is increasing evidence of abuse of children in “witchcraft” rituals.
Meanwhile, in Australia, protection of children in remote areas is weaker than it was during the 1950s — the heyday of attempts to integrate or assimilate Aborigines into the general Australia population. The policy of integration is now denounced as “cultural genocide” by some radical academics.
A final shared problem between the two countries is that it has become increasingly dangerous to criticise arrangements made under the slogan of racial equality.
Ray Honeyford, the courageous English headmaster who wanted Muslim girls in Bradford to be spared forced marriages to adults in Pakistan they had never seen and who was consequently dismissed from his job as a racist, died last month. But the problems about which he warned have not gone away.
In Australia, a leading journalist, Andrew Bolt, was recently fined and came close to imprisonment for challenging the Aboriginality of some persons with very pale skins and only a small percentage of Aboriginal genes.
It has become dangerous in both countries to discuss openly and honestly questions that require the most thorough and open consideration.
Dr Geoffrey Partington was born in Lancashire and currently lives in Melbourne. He has academic degrees in history, sociology and education.