The Race Issue 'Down Under': While President Barack Obama's Election Seems to Have Broken Down Racial Barriers in America, on the Other Side of the World, "Egalitarian" and "Multicultural" Australia Is Still Trying to Find Its Groove on the Issue of Race, Reports Anthony Mukwita from Perth

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From outside its borders, Australia is marketed as the "next best thing" as far as affordable international education, skilled migration and equality are concerned. In reality though, this is an illusion marked with several shades of grey as attested by recent developments involving race relations in the country.

One only needs to read headlines in some Australian newspapers: "Imprison the great diseased and unwashed and throw away the key"; "Australia has now become a target for people smugglers"; "Re-open the detention centtes", the headlines scream.

And some official decisions do not help either, such as a government decision last year calling for a reduction in the number of African refugees enteting Australia in preference for those from the Middle East and Asia, allegedly because the Africans are "slow at integrating and like to get involved in criminal activities".

Another issue has been the introduction of an English and citizenship test for prospective migrants, some of whom have spent years in Australian refugee camps. The refugees, many of whom cannot speak a word in English, are expected to know among other things, when the first British settlers came to Australia.

One African student said in an interview: "Racism starts from the moment you apply for an Australian visa in your country, but most of us pay little attention or no notice at all because all we see are the dollar signs and the prospects of a better life in the midst of Koala, bears and kangaroos."

He added: "Our visa grants are subject to receiving a clean bill of health specifying that we have no communicable diseases such as TB while the bank statements that are required to support our applications exceed earnings of an average Australian, and yet we are supposed to be from poor countries. Applicants from the United States, Britain, and China are excluded from rigorous and expensive health tests."

In fact in December 2006, Pauline Hanson, a right wing politician and leader of the One Nation party openly asked the government to stop Africans from entering Australia because, all they brought was Aids. "I want to know why black South Africans with Aids are being allowed to come to Australia," Hanson said during an interview on the highly-rated Ten Television Network. "Why are they being allowed to come here and put a strain on our medical facilities?"

Hanson is also on record for calling on the government to ban Asian migrants, saying they could out-populate Caucasian Australians who do not "breed" children as much as Asians do. Shockingly, her extreme views have been widely publicised in the national media.

While Hanson's racist views cannot be considered to be reflective of official Australian policy, some people think she may have some support in influential circles, both public and official. Not only does she receive wide media coverage, she is also a member of the Australian Senate.

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The government's reaction to this former fish-and-chip shop owner is that the public should ignore her rantings. But the government's own actions on race relations leave much to be desired, especially with reference to Africans. Recently, the government decided, without due explanation, to cut down to 30% (from 70%), the number of Africans allowed to enter Australia. The widely known, but unofficial, reason is that Africans take longer to assimilate because of their lack of fluency in the English language. But the "English problem" is not uniquely African. Immigrants from Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Asia, who are better welcomed than Africans, have a similar, if not worse problem with the English language.

The citizenship test that asks tough randomly computer-generated questions about Australia (most Australians cannot even correctly answer them themselves) is one other point giving credence to the argument that Australia is not an inclusive country after all. …