Defending Oz

“Compared to any other English-speaking people, Australians (or a great many of them) are openly, astoundingly racist,” writes Gwynne Dyer, a Canadian newspaper columnist based out of London, in his latest commentary. “You’d have to go somewhere like Russia or China to find people expressing their racial prejudices in such an unselfconscious, almost naive way.”

“And here’s a clue: New Zealanders, similar to Australians in so many other ways, don’t talk like that at all.”

That last sentence might not sound so bad to Canadians, who rarely give much thought to either country. But in the context of the traditional (but generally good-natured) rivalry between Australia and New Zealand, neither side appreciating being unfavourably compared to the other, those are fighting words.

Yet the comparison to Russia and China is perhaps the more unfair one.  The following table shows the results from the most recent wave of the World Values Survey on a question which asked people around the world who they would not want to have as neighbours.

Who people of various countries would not as neighbours. (Source: World Values Survey)

Who people of various countries would not want as neighbours. (Source: World Values Survey. Click to enlarge.)


Only five percent of Australians — who do tend to be fairly direct in saying what they think — said they would not want people of a different race as neighbours. This is comparable to other English-speaking democracies.

By contrast, Russians were significantly more likely to say that they would not want a neighbour of a different race (17%), though even then this seemed to be a less common sentiment there than it was in France (27%) or South Korea (36%).

Likewise, on having immigrants or foreign workers as neighbours, Australians (6% of whom would consider this undesirable) were on par with their Canadian and New Zealand peers. Furthermore, Australians were slightly more accepting of immigrants next door than the survey’s British or American respondents, and considerably more charitable once again than the French and the South Koreans.

Immigration does occasionally come up as an issue in Australian politics, and even prompted a soul-searching documentary series on race relations on Australian television, called Drunk, Dumb and Racist. But immigration also comes up as an issue in Canada sometimes, just as it did 20 years ago when the Reform Party campaigned vigorously on a less-immigration platform, and more recently when academic-turned-broadcaster-turned-activist David Suzuki called Canada’s immigration policies “disgusting” and “crazy”, declaring that “Canada is full” in the process.

Contrary to Dr. Suzuki’s opinion, there is a more convincing case to be made that immigration makes countries like Canada and Australia better places to live, and benefits the originating countries as well. Good thing then that, despite the occasional intemperate remarks, citizens of both countries are relatively comfortable having people from different backgrounds as neighbours.


About theviewfromseven
A lone wolf and a bit of a contrarian who sometimes has something to share.

3 Responses to Defending Oz

  1. TRex says:

    Is it possible that people respond to polls differently than when confronting reality? The NIMBY effect for example? There is no denying what the Australian government is attempting is a cold blooded reading of the publics will. Whether it helps or hurts in the next election will show how Australians really think.

  2. theviewfromseven says:

    It could be an attempt to win support in some “marginal” constituencies, which could go either way in an election.

    Another possibility is Australia’s long-standing feeling of vulnerability, the same feeling that has made Australia an even more dependable U.S. ally than Britain even when it’s politically controversial to be so — as if ever mindful that Australia might someday need the favour returned. (The more remote New Zealand for example, located as far away from potential trouble spots like Papua New Guinea and Indonesia as Winnipeg is from Greenland and the Bering Strait respectively, has tended to be more independent-minded.) While military invasion from the its northern neighbours is extremely unlikely, Australian governments might feel compelled to see international criticism for their detention policies as easier to deal with than the alternative.

    For example, witness the issues that the U.S. has had with its Mexican border and the role those issues have played in America’s descent into political insanity. Much of this is driven by wealth gap between the two countries, on a GDP per capita basis, of about 3-to-1. In the case of Indonesia, the gap with Australia is 8-to-1, and with Papua New Guinea it’s 15-to-1.

    With a combined population between Indonesia, PNG and Timor-Leste of nearly 260 million people (compared to Mexico’s 112 million), many with a much stronger economic incentive to try the 100-to-500 kilometre ocean crossing than the Mexicans have to try their luck in the desert, it’s possible that Australian civil servants in Canberra have already prepared estimates of the death toll and demands on military and border patrol resources if even 0.1%, 0.5% or 1% of those 260 million attempted the crossing, perhaps not fully understanding the extreme danger of the sea or of being stranded in the Outback. Their political masters might have decided to just send a “don’t even try a crossing” message instead.

  3. TRex says:

    That’s an interesting take. But it’s still a very dangerous game that the Australian government is playing regardless. A couple rapes, a couple murders or worse and international opinion will make Gwynne Dyer look mild in comparison.

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