Interesting article by Richard Woolcott, “former senior Australian diplomat, ambassador to the United Nations and secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade”:
“Australia today is not the country I represented with pride for some 40 years. This country of such great potential risks becoming a land of fading promise.

We have seen Australian democracy diminished by government hubris and arrogance, opposition weakness and a curious public detachment and apathy. Our national self-respect has also been eroded by our excessively deferential attitude to the Bush Administration’s foreign and security policy, especially in Iraq. … Moreover, truth in Government has yet to be restored.
“Our nation’s standing abroad has never been higher,” John Howard said in his New Year message. Australia is quite widely regarded overseas as a tolerant, generous and egalitarian society.”
Really? In my experience, people increasingly regard Australians as racist rednecks. I was living in Amsterdam when the Tampa thing was going on, and people used to ask me, puzzled, “why are Australians so racist? We thought you were nice”. I used to defend Australia but now I’m not sure it’s defensible.
The article goes on, “I travelled extensively in 2005 and I observed how our standing has been undermined in much of the international community and some important countries in our own region. Our standing is suffering because of a recrudescence of those atavistic currents of racism and intolerance that we have inherited from our past. Given the history of the White Australia policy and the colonial dispossession of the Aboriginal population, opposition to racism and intolerance requires strong and continuous political leadership, rather than any hint of opportunistic, politically motivated tolerance of such prejudices. Multiculturalism, which is irreversible, should be promoted by the Coalition Government; not simply tolerated.

The health of Australian democracy is being threatened by such obscuring of the truth, by the discrediting of individuals who do not agree with particular policies, by the myth that the Prime Minister is the sole repository of wise judgements and sound decision-making, by a largely compliant public service and a strangely apathetic wider community.

Howard has said there is “no underlying racism in this country”. The truth is that there are currents of racism, which our political leaders should have recognised much earlier and acted decisively to resist.”
(The Age)
I used to think Australia was on its way to being a truly multicultural nation, but in Howard’s Australia, multiculturalism is reduced to the availability of takeaway food from many nations.
We will be haunted by our history until we deal with it – saying ‘sorry’ is a start but we need to deal with the underlying racism. Howard might have created a public culture that permits its expression, but it must have always been there to emerge as it has done now.