Mellor, D., Deakin University and Firth, L.A., University of Melbourne, Australia
In our work with immigrant and indigenous people in Australia we have shown that the behaviour of the dominant members of society is perceived by minority group members to have a strong racist component. However, it is repeatedly argued by political leaders that Australian society is tolerant multicultural society which accepts and supports diversity. In recent months, two events have highlighted this contradiction. In one, after requesting the Norwegian freighter the Tampa, to pick up some hundreds of refugees from a sinking boat just outside Australia's international waters, the government refused to allow the ship to bring the refugees ashore. This incident very much shaped the campaign leading up to the general election in which the government was returned. Many accused the government of playing the "race card" to arouse fear in the population. The other "event", the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United Sates witnessed a fear that Islamic people living in Australia would be targeted in revenge attacks. The government and other political and religious leaders responded by appealing to the tolerant and diverse nature of Australia. In this paper we consider how these events fit within the jigsaw of race relations in Australia, and how the psychology of fear has shaped the nature of Australian society.