If It's Not Broken, Smash It


You’ve got to admit one thing about Pauline Hanson she’s tenacious. Not content with her lot as a quasi-celebrity in John Howard’s Australia, she keeps coming back for more shots at political glory, despite her ignominious failures of the past five years.

I’ve written elsewhere about Hanson’s disturbing impact on Australian life through her unwitting role providing cover on the far-Right flank while Howard and his culturally imperialist cronies launched their long-planned attack on Multiculturalism. There’s honestly not much left to say about what has surely been one of the ugliest developments in Australian public life since the death of the White Australia policy.

It is worth noting, however, that Hanson now resorts to the kind of openly racist language that even she shied away from in 1996, telling the Ten Network last week that she wants to ‘know why Black South Africans with AIDS are being allowed to come to Australia’.

Such nasty stuff is the only way she can now distinguish herself from the emboldened band of assimilationists that have gained legitimacy in Australia after Howard’s decade long campaign to destroy what has been the most successful multicultural nation in the world.

Since Multiculturalism was introduced to Australia by the Whitlam Government, and then entrenched as bipartisan policy by Malcolm Fraser, it has met the trenchant opposition of those who are determined to misrepresent it as a policy of cultural relativism.

Much as Multiculturalism was bipartisan policy until the election of the Howard Government, so the opposition to it crosses traditional political divides to be espoused by critics from both the Right and Left. In fact, the only commonality between most of Multiculturalism’s critics is that they are all older men from English speaking backgrounds (except for Hanson and Janet Albrechtsen, who, we can only hope, are in a category all of their own).

So it came as no surprise when Parliamentary Secretary for Multicultural Affairs, Andrew Robb, confirmed recently that the Howard Government is looking to scrap the ‘M’ word altogether. Howard has never been happy with the word, or the policy it describes, and refused to even utter it during his first two terms of government. But Robb presented the shift as entirely his own, acknowledging his ‘frustration that the term is not often helpful because different people give different meanings to it’.

Certainly there is some confusion as to what we mean when we speak of Multiculturalism today, but this merely reflects the extent to which the concept has been sullied by the misinformation of cultural regressives.

Despite the repeated assertion by the likes of Terry Lane and John Stone   that Multiculturalism holds cultural difference to be an unassailable right, overriding all other rights, Multiculturalism in Australia is, and always has been, defined in terms of reciprocal rights and responsibilities. Australian multicultural policy confers upon citizens the right to maintain a distinct personal cultural identity balanced by the specific responsibilities of Australian citizenship.

Under Multiculturalism, the overriding commitment of each Australian citizen, no matter what their cultural or racial background, is to the key elements of Australian society namely, the rule of law, parliamentary democracy, freedom of speech, English as the national language and equality of the sexes. While not every immigrant progresses from residency to citizenship, these responsibilities are demanded from any resident of Australia and do not excuse or allow cultural practices that contravene them.

Thanks to Sharyn Raggett

Australian Multiculturalism has always recognised that cultural diversity is not a fad or a fashion, or a political construct, but a human reality, and was designed to engage with this reality. Hass Dellal, Executive Officer of the Australian Multicultural Foundation, knows this, and isn’t too concerned about the Government’s recent backtracking from the term: ‘Australian Multiculturalism will always be a permanent feature of Australian Democracy, whether the word is used or not,’ he says.

But others, such as the recently disbanded Council for a Multicultural Australia’s Yasser Soliman, believe that abandoning the word implies a retreat from the concept, at exactly the time when it is needed most.

At a time when we are seeing the re-emergence of fundamentalism on a massive scale and the escalation of centuries-old conflicts between religious cultures, we must hold on to a core set of values that unite us in our common humanity. Multiculturalism is a policy to help us do this, and should be vigorously defended by those who understand its contribution to Australia’s social cohesion over the past 30 years.

Unfortunately, while Malcolm Fraser recognised that ‘Multiculturalism is about diversity, not division, it is about interaction not isolation’, and Paul Keating understood it as ‘the promotion of individual and collective cultural rights and expression on the one hand, and on the other the promotion of common national interests and values’, John Howard has always resented the progress of Australian society away from its colonial past to the inclusive and independent future that Multiculturalism represents. He and his more regressive supporters have deliberately undermined the concept of Multiculturalism in Australia, often referencing irrelevant international debates, to the point that they now believe it can be abolished with little resistance.

As long ago as 1993, the deposed Liberal Party ‘wet’ and Immigration Minister in the Fraser Government, Ian MacPhee, acknowledged that his more conservative colleagues simply didn’t, or didn’t wish to, understand multiculturalism, saying ‘the Liberal Party is made up of people whose profile is mostly over 60 of a White Anglo-Saxon Protestant background, mostly retired, mostly living in the 1950s.’ Keating summed it up when he accused Howard of wanting to be back with his Astor radio. ‘That is the problem.’

But it should be hard to argue with a policy that promotes social cohesion through mutual respect, and has succeeded where the opposing policy of assimilation, as practised in France and the USA, has spectacularly failed. In fact, those who claim to oppose Multiculturalism are opposed to cultural diversity itself, and hope that, by creating fear and confusion among Australians who have grown up with, and accept, our multicultural society, they might undo more than three decades of progress towards a cohesive and culturally diverse Australian society.

We must not allow it. Australia’s reliance on Multiculturalism to manage and promote social cohesion has been a spectacular success, and must not be derailed by the backward thinking and cultural imperialism of a few old, White men.

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