Watts points to the much-needed reforms he believes are essential for Australia to become the golden country.
Cover image (detail) adapted from artist Nikki Lam’s Falling Leaf Returns to its Roots, HD video, (2014), itself a response to Max Dupain’s Sunbaker (1937).
Tim Watts is the Labor MP for Gellibrand, a Federal Government electorate in the western suburbs of Melbourne in which two-thirds of constituents were born overseas or have a parent born overseas. He mentions that his diary is filled ‘with events from around our region like Tet, Lunar New Year, Fiesta, Thai Pongal, Holi, Diwali and Ramadan.’ Watts’s ancestors arrived in Australia in the 1840s, while his Hong Kong-born wife arrived here in the 1980s. Inarguably, this background qualifies him as an observer of Australia’s multiculturalism at this time.
Watts has written this book in order to point out the much-needed reforms he believes are essential for Australia to become what he refers to as a golden country – a country free of racial bias at all levels.
In order to give weight to his suggestions, Watts traces the history of Australia’s paranoia about immigration. He reminds the reader that the Immigration Restriction Bill (which formalised the White Australia Policy) was the first piece of ‘high policy’ legislation discussed by the newly formed Federal Parliament in 1901. He is of the view that in spite of the abolition of the White Australia Policy, we still suffer from its residual effects.
Watts gives an insightful account of how Simpson and his donkey, of ANZAC fame, were lauded, while his contemporary, Billy Sing, a part-Chinese trooper, was ignored in spite of his remarkable achievements. Sing’s commanding officer said he was ‘a good hearted, well-behaved fellow and a braver soldier never shouldered a gun.’ Watts describes him as ‘the living embodiment of the Australian Legend’.
It is unfortunate, though, that Watts examines no examples of the bias against Australia’s First Nations People. And while his recommendations for further reforms acknowledges Indigenous Australians, they are largely absent from his historical references.
Not unlike some other gifted politicians, Watts uses individual examples to bolster his generalisations, acknowledging by name a number of Asian-Australians who have broken through the bamboo ceiling. He goes on to point out that a job applicant ‘with a Chinese name would need to submit 68 per cent more job applications than an applicant with an Anglo name and an identical CV to get the same number of interview opportunities.’ He also quotes meaningful statistics which, although publicly available, may come as a surprise to many readers. For example, Watts mentions there are now 2.3 million temporary-visa holders in Australia, ten times more than in 1996. He says ‘around 354,000 people have been living in Australia temporarily for more than a decade.’
Overall, Watts delivers convincing arguments in favour of a multicultural non-racist immigration policy. He acknowledges how far Australians have come to accept and enjoy a multicultural environment. But the bamboo ceiling is firmly in place as evidenced by the very few non-white people who are leaders in our community or members of parliament. He believes a better understanding of our history and a better understanding of the conscious and unconscious biases in our society are part of the solution. The Golden Country is a worthy contribution to that end.
3.5 stars out of 5 ★★★☆
The Golden Country: Australia’s Changing Identity by Tim Watts
Publisher: Text Publishing
Categories: Non Fiction, Australian, Politics
Release Date: 17 September 2019