Response to Multicultural Australia: the way forward

This submission was made in 1997

The submission directly addresses the questions raised by the issues paper. 

Should governments have active policies on cultural diversity? 

AMES and ACTA support the view that governments should have a proactive approach to managing cultural diversity to the advantage of all citizens. The success of the bipartisan policy National Agenda for a Multicultural Australia is clearly described in the issues paper, and the advantages accruing to the community are noted.  In the case of the State of Victoria, the active promotion of a policy of multiculturalism from the highest level of government has led to positive portrayals of diversity in the media, and raised community awareness of the benefits of multiculturalism. In particular, the economic and social benefits of a bilingual society need to be promoted and capitalised upon. 

What role should Australian political and community leaders play in this area?

Political and community leaders should actively promote and support a reaffirmed National Agenda for a Multicultural Australia. It is arguable that it could become a National Celebration of a Multicultural Australia. The issues paper itself notes that there is wide acceptance of multiculturalism as a defining and positive characteristic of contemporary Australian life. It is crucial that our leaders reaffirm this, and reject the attempts of a small but vocal minority to undermine the achievements of the policy of multiculturalism. 

Representatives of AMES and ACTA recently attended a DIMA consultative forum on the immigration intake where the Minister, the Honourable Philip Ruddock, provided a model for leaders in the promotion of diversity. The purpose of the forum was to seek feedback on the department's proposals for the composition and number of the migration intake. During the forum, the Minister made it very clear to the audience that the kind of racist statements that were being made by a small minority of forum participants were not acceptable in a pluralist society.  Even more importantly, he was able to lucidly and calmly present the case for the contribution of immigrants to Australian society and the way in which the nation benefits from its multiculturalism. Perhaps one aspect of celebrating Australia's multiculturalism should be training for political and community leaders in understanding government policy and in presenting it in a persuasive manner. 

How can the role of institutions of Australian democracy be
best acknowledged in any multicultural policies?

The National Agenda for a Multicultural Australia sets this out very clearly, and the relevant sections are reproduced in the issues paper. 

How can the achievements of earlier generations of Australians be best acknowledged in any multicultural policies?

This question implies that achievements of earlier generations are not acknowledged in the current multicultural policy, and also implies that Anglo Celtic origin Australians are not part of multiculturalism. (Or does the question refer to the first Chinese immigrants, or the Irish?) We do not accept that the achievements of earlier generations of Australians  (whoever they may be) are not acknowledged and would argue that such a view is a product of an outdated view of multiculturalism, which is not the one promoted in the current policy. However, such a view is one which needs to be challenged and this challenge not only has to come from the community, but more importantly, from the nation's leaders, as discussed above. 

How can policies promoting diversity embrace indigenous culture and assist in the process of national reconciliation?

The question of reconciliation goes much deeper and is a fundamentally different one from that of approaches to multiculturalism. There are a whole range of issues which prevent indigenous Australians from feeling that they are part of one society. These need to be addressed directly, and not subsumed under the general heading of diversity. This is a separate though related issue which must be resolved in its own right. 

How can multiculturalism become more inclusive or made more relevant to all Australians? How can it be a unifying force for Australia? 

This question is similar to the one above regarding acknowledgment, and carries the same unacceptable implications.  AMES and ACTA propose that the way to make multiculturalism unifying is to promote it as a positive good and to educate Australians on the benefits it has brought.   In addition, however, the other great unifying force in Australian society is a the shared, common language of English. In order to ensure multiculturalism is inclusive, the community needs to have confidence that all Australians have access to adequate English language training so that they can participate in the workplace and in the public domain. The recent Language Australia publication Australia's Literacies provides a description of the language context in Australia and some suggestions of a way forward for language policy. The recent ABS survey indicated that Australians from a language background other than English have major literacy needs. Diversity must not only be celebrated, it must be supported to ensure that all are able to contribute. 

What should be the shared values underpinning our social cohesion?

The values described in section 3 and expressed in the principles of the House of Representative resolution together with those of the 1989 National Agenda, provide a substantial basis for a description of shared values. 

Are the principles, goals and dimensions of the 1989 National Agenda still relevant for a future policy and implementation framework?

The principles, goals and dimensions of the 1989 Agenda are still relevant, however they need to be underpinned, as they have been, by operational policies which support and ensure the participation of all Australians in civic life. The provision of English language support and other settlement support for new arrivals, the telephone interpreter service, the conscious attempts to make public communication accessible to a diverse population, the celebration of difference represented by the work of SBS are all needed as tangible indicators ofthe nation's commitment to the responsibilities of a diverse society as well as the benefits.

What does multiculturalism mean to you?
AMES and ACTA strongly support the Victorian government's Multicultural Pledge and its views are encapsulated in the pledge itself.  The pledge states that the Government of Victoria 

  • regards the cultural diversity of our community as one of the State's greatest assets.
  • acknowledges the equality of all people and their right to freedom from discrimination on the basis of race, sex ethnicity, religion, language and culture.
  • encourages all people to preserve, enhance and share their cultural heritage within the legal and institutional framework of our society and the reciprocal responsibility of all to accept the right of others to do so.
  • will foster, through Government programs, the diversity of the Victorian community.
  • will promote policies, programs and strategies aimed at delivering culturally appropriate services to all Victorians.
  • will continue to regard the cultural and linguistic diversity of Victorians as one of the State's greatest assets and ensure that this resource is maximised in order to achieve the best outcomes for Victoria.
  • will actively encourage all Victorians to take the opportunity to contribute to, and participate in, all levels of public life.
  • pledges that its commitment will be reflected in all Government policies, strategies of the Victorian public sector and in its dealings with the private sector.

ACTA also supports the view of multiculturalism contained in the Pledge.

Is multiculturalism an appropriate term to describe a policy for managing cultural diversity, or has it outlived its usefulness?  If the latter, what alternative term would you suggest?

Whatever term is used, the principles will be supported by those who currently support them and denigrated by those who are threatened by them.  The term is acceptable and understood by the majority of Australians (a process which has taken many years), as the issues paper notes.  To adopt a new term rather than promote wider understanding of the current one would seem to us to be a retrograde step. 

Has multiculturalism as a policy been successful? Has it had blemishes? How could these be overcome?

The policy has been patently successful, again noted in the issues paper. The negative targeting of multiculturalism, together with welfare provision to particular sectors of society, cannot be divorced from the current economic climate where people fear for their jobs and their security. If government gives in to this kind of scapegoating, the problem will not disappear, but rather appear elsewhere with a different target.  What is needed is education of all Australians and promotion by influential individuals and groups.


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