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Queenslanders are still okay, mate!
     

You are at the bus stop waiting to get to the city. An elderly lady walks up and sits next to you. She greets you in typical Australian fashion and a 10-minute conversation follows. A few others join in. The crowd grows as we wait for the bus, fuelling our conversation. It begins with how beautiful the day is, moves from news about a neighbour's big win at the Casino on to Pauline Hanson and racism.

The bus arrives, you board the bus and the driver says hi and gives you a big warm smile. Upon arriving in the city, you bump into a university security officer and he says, "Good day, mate! How are you?"

That's very much a typical day here in Brisbane, capital of Queensland, the state that endorsed Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party during the last state elections. Nearly a quarter of Queenslanders voted for her One Nation Party.

Since the rise of Hanson, a former fish-and-chips shop owner, racism in Australia has become a hot topic indeed. Hanson favours a ban on Asian immigration and an end to Aboriginal rights amongst other race-based policies. Her weakness in economics cost her her seat in Parliament however although her party did secure 8 per cent of the popular vote during the recent federal elections.

When I call home, invariably I get asked if I have had any racist encounters.

I have not experienced overt racism personally. However, there is no dearth of news reports about racist incidents. The ones I find appalling are the stories of Australians spitting at Asians in the streets.

Queensland University of Technology (QUT) student Timothy Ang says it's a minority, which spreads the disease around. He says that not everybody feels this way about race.

One Australian-born Chinese civil servant, 30, who prefers to remain anonymous says that a couple of people at her workplace have passed pretty nasty remarks, like "Go back you immigrant". She said, "I have been here all my life and this is first such episode. It seems this Hanson phenomenon has given many the license to be racist."

Reports of racist incidents may have caused a drop in the number of Asian students coming to Australia for further education. International students inject $275 million into the Queensland economy annually.

Federal Government figures show the number of student visas issues in 1997 - 98 in Indonesia fell 10 percent, Korea down 44 percent, Malaysia down 21 percent and Thailand down 27 percent.

Then again, the fall could also due to the Asian economic crisis. But whatever the reason, it has prompted the government to launch a $200,000 marketing campaign aimed at helping Asian families feel safe in Queensland.

Some are sending missions to Asia to boost intake, others are relying on word of mouth and graduating students as ambassadors.

Communication Design student Simon Quah is ready to do his bit as far as addressing post-Hanson racism is concerned. He reckons the townsfolk are pretty nice but it's in the rural areas where you have to watch your step and maybe have a thick skin. "Abuse can be hurled at you or at times on the roads, drivers scream at you for no apparent reason," he said.

QUT student Sii Kiat Hee, who has been there for the past six years, agrees about the rural area being more racist but feels that we must be careful not to fall into the racist mindset ourselves. He says that we should not view the issue as 'us' against 'them', but rather how we can effectively combat such attitudes.

Attitude is indeed important. Start out with a "racist" mindset and you can find racism in many situations even when there is none. Each of us has prejudices towards others due to our diverse upbringing. I have heard my share of horror stories about working with foreigners and how unfriendly Aussie classmates can be. So far, I have not found that to be the case.

Ben Connolly, an Anglo-Saxon Aussie, says, "Most Australians are friendly and I personally enjoy chatting with international students. They give you a different perspective to things. It's important to have a little cultural exchange and besides, I think racism is evident in each place where there are minorities."

Personally, I believe someone has to make the first move and lower his guard. When that happens, a more friendly relationship is formed. I don't know how the myth about Australians keeping to themselves originated.

In fact, I find that they are more than willing to share their culture and opinion. I have learnt so much just from a simple conversation, whether in class or on the streets.

Equally, I have also cleared up many misconceptions about Singapore. It's amazing what a little exchange of information can throw up. Many still think Singapore is a communist state, a Mandarin-speaking nation and is part of China or Malaysia. I hope I have done my share in debunking these myths.

As always, I have found attitude is everything. A positive attitude and a willingness to tolerate differenced in culture, lifestyle and opinions go a long way to make life more pleasant.

I know that I am having a great time here, Pauline Hanson notwithstanding, because I am willing to see that there are many Australians who are not like her and who do not subscribe to her ideas.

The writer, 22, is a third-year Journalism student
at the Queensland University of Technology.

     

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