“Stop White Flight” Is Just Another Attempt To Blame Migrants For Australia’s Failures

Those at the top will always try to blame those at the bottom.

White flight

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In an interview with the Daily Telegraph, where his face appeared below a headline decrying suburbs that have been “swamped by Syrian and Iraqi refugees”, NSW Labor leader Luke Foley today invoked the spectre of “white flight” as being a repercussion of immigration policy.

Listing western Sydney suburbs Fairfield, Guilford, Sefton, and Yennora, Foley asked “what about that middle ring of suburbs that have experienced, if anything, just a slow decline. In terms of employment, in terms of white flight — where many Anglo families have moved out?”

Foley’s interview with the Telegraph was praised by none other than Pauline Hanson, who felt that two decades of orientalist propaganda and racist agitprop depicted as subversion had ultimately been vindicated — and by a member of the Labor party no less.

Dog Whistle Politics

What Foley and Hanson now share, beyond this moment of high-pitched dog whistling, is the undisguised reassignment of blame meant to cause xenophobic upheaval and whip white voters into a frenzy.

Foley, seemingly unsatisfied with his initial statement to the Telegraph, took to the airwaves to reaffirm his initial sentiment. Phoning in to radio station 2GB, the member for Auburn attempted to make a case for the reduction in the state’s migration intake.

“Sydney’s groaning under the weight of congestion,” he complained. The congestion argument is just another symptom of the national discourse on immigration, refugees, and the overall composition of what an Australian is. The media landscape is saturated with talk of “changing demographics”, and warnings of unrecognisable neighbourhoods, all intended on inflating the victim complex of many white Australians who see the nation as their rightful place — their settlement of it a manifest destiny — now mired by a foreign “invasion”.

Foley has now apologised for using the phrase “white flight”, but not for the overall sentiment of his words — that migrants are to blame for the decline of poorer suburbs.

This Isn’t New

Foley, a Labor member whose own suburb has suffered at the hands of devastating poverty, is not simply a one-off, crank politician, but a mirror that reflects the state of the country.

He is echoing what Australian policy has long intended, which is to systematically shift the blame away from state policies that destroy the lower class, and onto marginalised communities who are resettled in suburbs and already suffering, like their Australian neighbours, at the hands of surging housing prices, rising living costs, and underfunded social services.

The barring of non-Europeans from Australia’s shores under the White Australia policy, which was officially deserted in the early 70s during the Whitlam era, remains as much a part of the Australian psyche now as it was decades ago under the guise of familiar threats that immigrants are said to pose: a rejection of and incompatibility with ill-defined national customs, language barriers, and the collapse of the white population.

Charging refugees and immigrant communities with the “slow decline of suburbs”, as Foley articulated, is meant to position limiting the migrant intake as a solution. When talk of failing infrastructure is coupled with a tide of hysteria directed at cultures and peoples categorised as alien and inferior, the repercussions include the hardening of public attitudes against asylum seekers and non-white Australians.

Regardless of how often communities assimilate and summon the allegiance to the green and gold, there is a lingering conviction that, legality aside, they will never truly be Australian. It is why self-described Aussie patriots threatened Father Rod Bower for his church’s Ramadan billboard — even this expression of solidarity is spurned as tacit approval for a class of undesirables who are said to be eroding the Australian ‘way of life’.

The latest conversation about immigration cannot ignore that Australia’s militaristic response to asylum seekers — think “boat people” and “Operation Sovereign Borders” — has churned out a myriad of political sloganeering full of nationalistic alarmism about outsiders ‘making Australia home’. Foley is just a part of the systemic politics of fear that must be confronted.

What we are witnessing is the manifestation of hostility and institutionalised prejudice. After centuries of instilling national pride in defense of historic and ongoing crimes of occupation and settlement, the blame will continue to go around.

What Foley, Hanson, and others are proselytising is not rebellious or some quietly held belief, despite how hard the sentiment has been canonised as unspeakable or revolutionary. It will always be The Other that is condemned for the state’s calculated failings. These are the words of those at the top, who have long pleaded with constituents in the middle that those at the bottom are to blame.

Roqayah Chamseddine is a Sydney-based writer for Daily Life. She is on Twitter @Roqchams