federal election
A True Blue Crew and United Patriots Front rally in Melbourne, 2016 (Image: AAP)

The lead-up to Saturday’s poll was marked by pockets of desperate candidates running on platforms of fear and hatred in our communities. Now, with the election results in and the campaign over, we can properly reflect on the harm this has caused.

Lalor, in the heartland of Melbourne’s western suburbs, is home to some of Australia’s most marginalised communities, including mine: the South Sudanese community. It’s a long-time Labor electorate, but the campaign always dredges up new wannabe politicians capitalising on racist rhetoric in the hopes of gaining cheap votes. 

Last week I came across a campaign flyer from Lalor’s Australia First candidate, Susan Jakobi. The flyer used a photograph of two of my fellow South Sudanese and criminalised them as migrant gang members; their image appeared atop a “gang terror” infographic from Seven’s “African gangs” segment which was found to breach accuracy guidelines. It used this to claim “Sudanese” were terrorising and “swamping” my community. 

A similar section on Australia First’s website.

I’m highly offended by the constant weaponising of my community; it is appalling and is putting people’s lives in danger. Of the two young men from South Sudan pictured, one man hasn’t even stepped foot in Australia. He is a renowned local musician in South Sudan, while the other man is an actor who only recently moved to Melbourne from Nairobi. Both are fine, outstanding, law-abiding young men going about their lives, working to find better opportunities for themselves and their families. 

This kind of negative, dehumanising political rhetoric (that is frequently also found in media coverage) has really impacted my life. I constantly live in fear of this rage — in shopping centres, train stations, most public places. The youth from my community are being made to feel unwelcome wherever they go. In some cases they’re even being denied space to run their sports tournaments; last year the South Sudanese Australian National Basketball Association were left without playing courts, claiming “the actions of a few teenagers in the community are being unfairly used to stereotype the vast majority that are doing the right thing”.

So much damage has been done and the community is trying to repair it, but politicians continue to trot out callous rhetoric — weaponising our differences and using people of colour as scapegoats for their political gains. This is of significant impediment to our social inclusion and any possible integration. These actions are not in line with Australian values.

For years now we have been subjected to constant demonisation and race-baiting by members of right ideologies, News Corp media platforms and their supporters. Following the November Victorian state election, I thought that a lesson may have been learnt; the fear-mongering of the Victorian Liberal Party was rejected in a landslide defeat. With the federal election results now in, I’m not so optimistic. Jakobi might not have won the seat or even come close but with over 4% of the vote in Lalor these far-right elements aren’t disappearing anytime soon.

The South Sudanese community in Victoria and right around Australia is outraged over the rising negative rhetoric that was used during the election campaign. South Sudanese Australians are making immense and indelible contributions to this great country and such cheap propaganda will not stop us from excelling and striving to make our communities a better place to be. It’s not just us either; this election saw a notable amount of racist sentiment towards Indigenous Australians, Muslim Australians and more.

Politicians from both ends of the spectrum need to show leadership on this. They need to embrace the diversity between people, between races, between religions that makes Australia great. And, if they don’t, we must send them packing.

Did you see much overtly racist campaigning over the past few months? Send your thoughts to [email protected].

Deng Lual DeNuun is an activist and a member of the South Sudanese community in Victoria.