By Joe Montero
The usual suspects are now chorusing that multiculturalism has failed Australia. It is curious that every horse in the Murdoch stable has come out with this one at the same time.
Perhaps it’s something to do with backing one of News Corp’s favourite sons, Tony Abbott, and his campaign to cut immigration and population growth. Or it’s to do with getting other issues of the headlines. Australia is heading to a series of by-elections that might prove to be bit of a defining moment.
There is a sound argument for limiting the growth of Australia’s population. This is the driest continent on the planet and most of the land is not particularly fertile. This means that our water and food security are not limitless. And there is the matter of our collective impact on the environment.
These are worthy topics. They deserve comment elsewhere. The focus here is on multiculturalism. To come out and boldly state that the campaign against multiculturalism is stupid, is a good way to start. It is stupid, because it pretends that multiculturalism is some sort of policy that has been forced on Australia. It was never a policy, but a description of the reality of Australian society.
Multiculturalism is a term that came into common usage during the movement that emerged in the 1970’s among Australian born, or whose parents were born overseas. It sought to overcome barriers to full participation in society. For many, English was a second language. It was hard to negotiate the prevailing social norms, deal with institutions and discrimination coming from some quarters. They fought for a range of services to help level the playing field and recognition of their contribution to Australia. They fought for a more inclusive Australia. Most of the population was no longer of “British” heritage. This is the time when the word multiculturalism came into common usage.
This does not mean that the Anglo-Celtic tradition should disappear. It is also part of who we are as a people and should be valued. But it exists within a context, and this too must be recognised.
In fact, Australia has been a society of mixed cultures since the First Fleet arrived and made contact with those who were already living here. The first settlement was built in a multicultural setting. Even among the Indigenous people there were a range of tribal and language groups, with their own cultures and traditions.
Diversity continued to expand. By the time of the Eureka rebellion, the mix had become far more complex. Irish, Italians, Chinese, Northern Europeans, and even a group of African American former slaves were there.
Sometimes it is a challenge to accept difference and change. But looking over the sweep of history, it is not hard to see that we are all the richer for it. I have not met too many complainers ready to knock back a pizza, kebab, or refuse to go out for a bit of Chinese. Most of us are quite happy to have a coffee, glass of wine, or a stubby of Heineken or Sol. The benefits go much further than what we put in our stomachs, to provide a much greater cultural and social depth.
Migrants have been the backbone of the Australian workforce, providing us with those things that define our standard of living and quality of life. Migration has built Australia.
Outcomes have not always been positive. The bad treatment of the Indigenous population is obvious. Fear gave rise to the “White Australia Policy,” which came to an end in the 1970’s. There were once complaints about too many Chinese, to many Irish, to many Catholics, too many Greeks and Italians, too many Bolts, too may Vietnamese. Now there are complaints about too many Muslims and too many Africans. Each in turn, was supposed to bring about the destruction of the Australia way of life. Guess what? Australia’s way of life still hasn’t been destroyed.
There may have been some difficulties along this journey, but say multiculturalism has been a failure, is to suggest that Australian has been a failure. And it denies the important contributions made by those who shared in the building of this nation.
It is curious to see that those who campaign against multiculturalism neglect to mention any of this, and harp on going back to a past that never really existed. They need to open their eyes, have a look around, and realise that the mix they see before them is who we are, and, unless more than half of the population is deported, their dream of an Anglo only Australia is not going to happen.
They would do much better to appreciate the strength of what we have, in our still emerging and unique and multifaceted Australian culture.
Those who seek out to manipulate insecurity and fear, and use the term multiculturalism as a weapon for division, deserve top be condemned for it. They are the real threat.