In January 2007 the then Prime Minister, John Howard officially scrapped multiculturalism. In 2012 there are those that would endeavour to embrace a multicultural Australia and those who continue, viciously, to oppose it as Howard intended. Today, I have seen both. I will talk first about the efforts of those to embrace an multicultural Australia.
The recently established Joint Standing Committee on Migration has commenced an inquiry into multiculturalism in Australia. Some of the key issues to be addressed will be: the role of multiculturalism in the Government’s social inclusion agenda; the effectiveness of settlement programs for new migrants, including refugees; how Australia can better utilise the skills of migrants; and incentives to encourage small business development.
The Joint Standing Committee on Migration shall inquire into the economic, social and cultural impacts of migration in Australia and make recommendations to maximise the positive effects of migration. The inquiry shall examine and report on:
Multiculturalism, social inclusion and globalisation
- The role of multiculturalism in the Federal Government’s social inclusion agenda; and
- The contribution of diaspora communities to Australia’s relationships with Europe, the UK, Middle East and the immediate Asia-Pacific Region.
Settlement and participation
- Innovative ideas for settlement programs for new migrants, including refugees, that support their full participation and integration into the broader Australian society; and
- Incentives to promote long term settlement patterns that achieve greater social and economic benefits for Australian society as a whole.
National productive capacity
- The role migration has played and contributes to building Australia’s long term productive capacity;
- The profile of skilled migration to Australia and the extent to which Australia is fully utilising the skills of all migrants; and
- Potential government initiatives to better assist migrant communities establish business enterprises.
With over 6 million immigrants since the end of WWII, Australia is one of the most successful culturally diverse societies in the world. The Inquiry into Multiculturalism in Australia provides a framework for strengthening community harmony and promoting the economic, cultural and social benefits of Australia’s cultural diversity for all Australians. Australian multiculturalism embraces the heritage of Indigenous Australians, early European settlement, our home-grown customs and traditions and the experiences of new migrants coming to this country, and promotes mutual respect and equality, aiming to enhance social cohesion.
Our multicultural policies also affirm that all Australians have the opportunity to be active and equal participants in society, and are free to maintain their religious and cultural traditions within Australian law. There are other benefits of multiculturalism for Australia – we are not only considerably richer in experiences, but we enjoy much closer economic and social links with other nations as a direct result of our diverse multicultural population.
However, some people do not recognise the richness of a diverse Australia and it is perhaps no coincidence that they have raised their voices at the time the government announces an inquiry into multiculturalism. They long for a return to Howard’s way and support their argument with hand-picked data that conforms with their opinions.
. . . we pretend culture doesn’t count. And we import refugees who always would struggle to fit in.
First it was the under-educated Lebanese Muslim refugees we took in from the Lebanese civil war. Then it was the often parentless Vietnamese and Cambodian refugees, many rejected by other countries.
Later still it was refugees from poor Muslim nations – and Muslims and Christians fleeing Somalia and Sudan.
Consider now the consequences of our willful blindness to the culture of those we brought in.
Look at the high crime rate among those born in Lebanon and Vietnam. At the 20 Muslims jailed on terrorism-related charges. At an unemployment rate among Muslims that’s between two and four times higher than our average.
Consider now the brawls in the Sudanese community, or the young Somalis returning “home” for jihad.
The Howard government’s last immigration minister, Kevin Andrews, did warn in 2007 of the violence among African refugees, only to be howled down by the usual screams of “racist!”.
So has our fervent desire to seem nice – and not racist – again overwhelmed our responsibility to be wise? How smart was it to give 20,000 such people a home in Australia, so remote in so many ways? How fair to them, and to us?
No, Andrew, it is only unfair on them if we don’t provide a country that promotes multiculturalism in the Government’s social inclusion agenda, such as the effectiveness of settlement programs and how Australia can better utilise the skills of migrants and to provide incentives for them. The latter, of course, has gone unannounced in the media.
Multiculturalism is certainly on the agenda; those for it, and those against it. And those against it are making the most noise.