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Recession driven rise in xenophobia

By Stephen Hagan - posted Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Late last year federal treasurer Wayne Swan grappled publicly with the dreaded R word in response to questions from the media about the state of the economy. So difficult was the public relations task for the usually unflappable treasurer that he chose to avoid saying the word recession.

Treasurer Swan took the more popular “glass half full” approach, speaking up the economy to allay public unease, after releasing an impressive stimulus package of $10.4 billion in December for pensioners and low income families. The Treasurer went a step further in February to thwart a recession by announcing a supplementary community sweetener of $42 billion for all salaried workers, due in their bank accounts next month.

Despite the doom and gloom forecasts, made by well paid social commentators to the first stimulus package, that welfare recipients would spend the money on over-sized plasma television sets and on poker machines at their local club, most beneficiaries hastily disposed of their windfall within their community and in so doing injected life into the economy.


Indigenous people, not by design, featured prominently in the category of pensioner or low income earners who received the maximum grants on offer and gladly paid outstanding bills or acquired essential household appliances to replace those that had seen better days.

The one saving grace for the public at this crucial time in our economy is that we didn’t have opposition finance spokesperson Julie Bishop in the treasurer’s seat: she irresponsibly prescribed the official opposition policy of a “wait and see” approach with “no action” to the encroaching fiscal storm.

If the government had followed Ms Bishop’s lead they could now be seeing an escalation in foreclosure signs on homes and business around the nation, not to mention the thousands of retail and small business employees who would’ve been laid off before Christmas.

Fortunately we didn’t have to “wait and see” for too long into the new year to see Ms Bishop relieved of her shadow finance portfolio, by Joe Hockey.

However, as a global perspective, our $42 billion incentive package pales into insignificance when compared with President Barack Obama’s finance rescue plan of US $1.5 trillion, which many commentators say may rise to US $3 trillion, to restore the United States economy to its former pre-recession glory.

Sadly for the Australian government the expected national account figures released recently showed the gross domestic product drop 0.5 per cent in the December quarter - the first negative result in eight years. Technically a recession occurs when governments encounter successive quarterly drops, for example, six successive months of costs outstripping income. The recession declaration is expected to occur officially after the next quarter.


As boring as these national account figures appear they will, however, play a major part in shaping the destiny of many Indigenous Australians in the months and years ahead.

When the economy is strong and unemployment is low the broader community feels less threatened by Indigenous people and their demands for a fair go. At times some civic leaders are overcome with empathy - some might argue that past guilt is a more apt narrative - to the extent where benevolence to the Indigenous cause is a practical consequence.

However, when the economy is in decline and the job queues at Centrelink get longer, mainstream society assumes a less tolerant stance to minority groups and their plight - irrespective of their merit in the national scheme of things.

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About the Author

Stephen Hagan is Editor of the National Indigenous Times, award winning author, film maker and 2006 NAIDOC Person of the Year.

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