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Playing the game

By Mirko Bagaric - posted Wednesday, 9 January 2008

Doing something bad is always a lot worse than merely saying it and life is a lot easier if you follow the rules. It’s because these two basic tenets have been broken that the test series between Indian and Australia is in turmoil.

It’s outrageous that cricket fans will be denied the opportunity to watch Indian spinner Harbhajan Singh ply his talents in the last two tests because he called Andrew Symonds a monkey. At the same time, Indian officials have no right to be critical of Symonds for not walking when he nicked one through to the keeper while on his way to an unbeaten knock of 160.

No one likes being verbally abused. Racial abuse can be particularly cutting because it is directed at a trait that is defining of an individual’s make-up - a characteristic that cannot be changed. Hence, cricket authorities are right to try to stamp it out.


But as with all things in life, perspective and proportionality can’t be ignored. Australia on the basis of its actions is among the most racist countries in the world. We can talk the talk all we like, but when it comes to showing our true blue colours by reference to what we actually do in terms of judging and accepting non-Australians, we are morally deficient.

Australian government policy dictates that the ease with which people are allowed to grace our opulent shores is principally determined by one criterion: a person’s nationality. We give preferential treatment to people that look and behave like us and place often insurmountable barriers for the rest of the world to come and visit our land.

Thus, potential tourists and students from “nice” western countries are effectively given an automatic right to come to travel to Australia. The only thing that people from places like the US and Western Europe need to do to come to Australia is swan down to their local travel agent and buy a Qantas ticket.

It’s a vastly different for people from “povo” or black-skinned countries. All people from these countries are tagged by our migration department as being inherently unlikely to observe the conditions of their visas (especially how long they are allowed to stay). In order to visit or study in Australia they have to satisfy a number of, often impossible, requirements.

These relate to proving that they have amassed wealth or other resources in their “miserable” country of origin. Thus, a Lebanese national who is socially and economically identical in all respects to a US national will normally be prevented from visiting Australia, while the US national will be welcomed with open arms.

It is not because there is anything wrong with people from Africa, the Middle-East or Asia. It is just that the migration department refuses to consider each person on their merits and assumes that a whole race of people is likely to be lying when they state they will not overstay their visas.


The racism got a whole lot uglier recently following the decision to limit refugee numbers from Africa.

Now if you had a choice between being called a monkey on the cricket field or (in the case of refugees) being prevented from travelling to the life-saving shores of Australia because of your skin colour, which would you prefer?

None of this justifies what Harbhajan said, but it does put the issue into some perspective. Harbhajan should have been dealt with by way of reprimand thereby clearing the way for all Australians to watch his intriguing battle with his new bunny - Rick Ponting, who for the first time in a nearly a decade is having his immense batting skills tested.

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About the Author

Mirko Bagaric, BA LLB(Hons) LLM PhD (Monash), is a Croatian born Australian based author and lawyer who writes on law and moral and political philosophy. He is dean of law at Swinburne University and author of Australian Human Rights Law.

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