Culture in Australia's Criminal Justice System

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4) 'Culture is always present – be it in courtrooms or in the mass media. It can be defined in various ways, hidden or highlighted, attributed to some people and not others.’

Critically discuss this proposition in relation to representations of crime and criminals.

Culture is an ever-present element of all societies. The term ‘culture’ has evolved over time and continues to be used to describe various aspects of humanity such as farming, the arts, high society as well as traditions and ideological beliefs amongst different nationalities and social groups. When describing people, culture is best defined as a living manual, of values, ideologies and other characteristics belonging to a society (CLC Materials Book, 2009). During this essay I will attempt to explore the intricacies of Australian culture whilst relating it back to the representations of crime and criminals. In addition, I will discuss the role the media plays in the portrayal of criminality and further examine the effects of culture in the criminal justice system.

Historically Australia has had close links to crime and nationalism, as it was built on a large contingent of British convicts whom were sent to Australia as a form of punishment. Though these convicts did not consider themselves Australians, but gathered together under the British banner and saw Australia as a new, improved Brittain. Free of the social ill and class structure of the mother land. It was not until Australia’s love affair with Ned Kelly, a larrikin bushranger who out smarted police at every turn and was seen to be an ‘Aussie battler’, that Australia had a folk hero to call their own. Many see Ned Kelly as a true Australian and highly culturally significant, in fact more people could name Ned Kelly then our first Prime Minister, Sir Edmond Barton (Tranter, Bruce and Donoghue, 2008)

Australian culture is a fairly new concept and can be rather allusive and difficult to highlight in society, however there have been glimpses in recent events over the last decade. According to Australia’s largest flag manufacturers, Evan Evans, there has been a surge in private flag sales over the past five years (Kissane, 2006). This would suggest that more and more people are identifying with Australian patriotism. This is more evident in the traditional, white, Anglo-Saxon Australians who are grasping for a national identity. In many cases this has created a strong bond among those whom fit the description, but it may leave others out labelling them ‘un-Australian’. An example of this was the Cronulla race riot in Sydney, where typically white Australians of British decent, draped themselves in the Australian Flag and called themselves “Sons of Anzacs” (Kissane, 2006). They used this identity to challenge the ‘un-Australian’ Middle Eastern youths on the beach that day, engaging in violent clashes and taunting them with racial slurs. Despite Australia being seen as a culturally diverse, tolerant, egalitarian society it appears racial tensions have been the increase in recent times.

While most condemn the criminal actions of the youths in Cronulla, another culture has raised its hand to be regarded as typically Australian and that is the ‘bogan’. In the past, referring to someone as a bogan would be taken as an insult, claiming they were uneducated, lazy, dishevelled and engaged in hooning and petty crime. However, many Australians label themselves bogans, using it as a reference to being proudly Australian. These new age bogans do not necessarily see themselves as uneducated or unhygienic, but as typical Australians, who enjoy stereotypical blue collar activities (for example: cars, barbeques and sport) (Bartolo, 2008). A Herald Sun article titled, ‘Proud bogans revolt – City mayor scolded’ was sparked by radio statements Lord Mayor Robert Doyle made directed to people he labelled as ‘bogans,’ stating they should remain at home rather then coming to the city violating laws and generally...
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