A unified culture vs. multiculturalism (Part 4)

A unified national culture implies a proudly-held sovereign nation, does it not? An unfettered sovereignty has, however, gone the way of the ‘dodo’ bird (non-existent). Having created their nations based on consanguinity (blood or genes), a shared culture (included a language), and a defined territory, European colonialism ran rampant in splitting trial boundaries all over the globe. This was in order to protect their respective spheres of interest.

Then the creation of the U.N. and its hydra-headed agencies (with their non-legally binding Conventions), and followed by trade agreements, a bonding unified national culture has to survive as best as it can. That is the external reality.

There can also be (will be?) home-grown blemishes on a national culture. In Australia, the ‘founding fathers’ permitted (predominantly) Irish Roman Catholics to establish and control their own schools. I have been told reliably that school children daily manifested that chasm representing sectarian religious prejudice. Even at the end of the twentieth century, I heard comments displaying this bilateral disdain from retirees.

A more recent blemish has come from some Islamicist immigrants (how were they selected?) Unlike most of our Muslim entrants, who adapt to the institutions, behavioural practices, and social mores of the nation they chose to enter, some seek sharia law. Perhaps, as I wrote sardonically in an anthology published by the Multicultural Writers Association of Australia, the proponents of this claim requiring Australia to adapt to the immigrant “miss the sharia law they never had.” Strangely, my article was then mentioned in a Malaysian journal.

As well, does suburban Australia experience strong sand-storms (up to head-height), thereby requiring full body-cover? Should multiculturalism policy be viewed as partly responsible for the claim by some immigrants that they have a right to practise in Australia all the cultural practices they imported from tribally-controlled territories, when such practices are not part of, or anathema to, a Western cultural milieu?

I instance clitoridectomy, child marriages, multiple wives, instant divorce available to the whim of husbands, a ‘walking tent’ on suburban streets, and niqab-wearing drivers of motor cars on busy city streets.

Do the proponents of such cultural practices see themselves as only campers in Australia, rather than adapted and integrated citizens? Will they then reject Western cultural values such as official welfare and other public handouts in order not to taint their cultural autonomy?

The good news is that the great majority of Muslims, like immigrants of other faiths, adapt their behaviour to prevailing practices amongst an evolving population. I observed all this in my role as Chief Ethnic Affairs Officer for the Department of Immigration & Ethnic Affairs in the State of Victoria.

Cultures too evolve! And that happens also in nations whose then cultures are sought by some immigrants to be imposed onto the nation in which they chose to live. An integrated nation represents the future!

A unified culture vs. multiculturalism (Part 3)

There is evidence that both sides of politics in Australia once sought the chimerical ethnic vote. The waiting period for residents to apply for citizenship was reduced from 5 years (out of 8) to 3 years by one government; and then to 2 years by the other.

This happened some time after my expert team had carried out the first review of the Australian Citizenship Act of 1948 (in the early 1980s). Our recommendations were accepted. Reflecting our basal position that citizenship involved a commitment to the nation, I had recommended that only a citizen can govern, administer, or fight for Australia.

My suspicion (in my retirement) was that the motivation for seeking the ethnic vote had been ethnic empowerment. Well-settled Australians of European stock had convinced the federal government to set up a parallel settlement –assistance program, at considerable cost, in the 1970s. Their claim had been that immigrants had to be taken by taxpayer-funded ethnic community employed social workers to needed services, both public and private, instead of being shown where to go. How had earlier arrivals, from 1948, managed?

The immigrants, then, were primarily European and Levantine; Indo-Chinese refugees and the preferred East Asian immigrants had not arrived. Whether the latter 2 communities could self-manage, on arrival, needed settlement services, is highly questionable.

Thus, long-established European communities received grants, in spite of a scarcity of new intakes. Late in the 1980s, second-generation Aussies argued for the continuation of these grants to assist ageing immigrant populations, which had already integrated into the nation.

Then, a superstructure of ethnic community organisations evolved nationally, through federal government facilitation and funding. Federal public servants (Anglo-Celt, with one exception – me) provided necessary briefings for their conferences. State government too set up advisory bodies. The unspoken emphasis was on ethnicity retention. The thrust of these federal and state bodies, then, was opposed to ‘mainstreaming,’

Mainstreaming involves the delivery to all Australians, equably, of all necessary services, by both public and private agencies, irrespective of country of origin or ethnicity of clients. Why was that not acceptable to ethnic community leaders?

Quaintly, federal multiculturalism policy encouraged ethnic identification, through the retention by ethnic communities in Australia of those aspects of their imported cultures which were not inconsistent with Australia’s cultural values – just as we were merging into one integrated people. Was ethnic empowerment enhanced by this emphasis?

Reality was recovered when Prime Minister Howard and NSW State Premier Carr jointly and sensibly replaced multiculturalism policy with a policy of celebrating a shared Australian citizenship. The residence requirement for citizenship was also raised to 4 years.

Then the value of citizenship was diminished by the availability of dual citizenship – except for those who seek to be members of Parliament. Who would want to be governed by politicians owing part-allegiance to a foreign government?

Does a degree of ethnic empowerment continue through ministers of multiculturalism, advised by appointed ‘ethnic’ advisers? Would this be compatible with a substantially-integrated Australia, which is also colour blind?

A unified culture vs. multiculturalism (Part 2)

Multiculturalism describes ethnic diversity. It is not prescriptive. Multiculturalism policy, however, sought to manage multiculturalism. What was there to manage? Who were the experts in human behaviour who were to carry out this policy? How did they plan to go about it? What triggered this attempted intrusion into our lives?

I had grown up in British Malaya. There, initially, a wide variety of ethnic communities co-related with one another with mutual tolerance. Then, my generation, through a shared education, socialisation, sport, habituation, and a common language, blended into one people.

From the late 1940s, in Australia, we Asian students, confident in our cultural heritages, glided over the displayed racism of the White Australia policy; except that, in the 1950s, I was denied employment, although a graduate of Melbourne University, initially as a psychologist (“too black”) and then as an economist (not acceptable as an executive by workers in the private sector).

Comparably, also in Australia, wanted (selected) European immigrants (also from the late 1940s) ignored the name-calling (the kindest term was ‘wog’) and other signals of cultural disdain. I found that the Europeans has respect for Asian heritages (they generally sought our company).

Both coloured and white European foreigners eventually achieved acceptance by Anglo-Aussies – simply by being ourselves; the Europeans also being made welcome initially by Good Neighbour Councils. Until the 1970s, governments were not involved in cross-ethnic (cross-cultural) relations; because there was no need for such involvement.

Good community relations evolve – and they did. Again, habituation, supplemented by the ‘fair-go’ ethos, and a widening of a global perspective by younger generations (including the call of fusion cuisine) contributed to integration (but not assimilation). All of us continue to contribute to the evolution of a unified national culture (as a way of life), reflective of our pride in the value and sovereignty of our nation.

While day-to-day behaviour is very much the same everywhere, we immigrants are free to pray as we wish; to wear the clothes and eat the food reflecting our heritage; celebrate our tribal festivals; and to retain those cultural practices which are not inconsistent with the law, institutional practices, societal values, and behaviour norms of the host population. Did we not choose to enter (to live) in Australia?

We are thus required to accept Australia’s Constitution and related institutions of government; gender equality; freedom of speech; and equal opportunity. We need to also respect the nationally-accepted cultural values of other cultural communities in Australia. Of course, imported cultural practices which are traditionally anathema to the host people do need to be discarded. That is, immigrants adapt to the nation they chose to enter; not vice versa.

Australians of a wide variety of origins were relating well to one another when government – which has no business in our beds, wallets, and minds – introduced multiculturalism policy to manage multiculturalism. Why? Was it the ethnic vote?

A unified culture vs. multiculturalism (Part 1)

Behind the rigid ramparts of the White Australia policy, the hope of creating a white nation in which no man would disdain any kind of work offered fulfilment. The understandable fear of a white nation set in ‘coloured seas’ and surrounded by foreign faiths would have, in my view, fuelled this hope. A few coloured immigrants incidentally or accidentally within Australia did not appear to have been seen as a threat to this policy.

The Australian Aborigines, who had unknowingly tarnished the imagined terra nullius in the southern ocean, were not expected to be a problem: they would be bred out through ready access to the necessary wombs, and the resulting whitish children removed and placed within white families. Together with able-bodied men, they would all provide free labour wherever they were. ‘Blackbirding’ (a.k.a. slavery) from Pacific Islands added to the workforce where needed.

It was indeed a great achievement for the diverse Anglo-Celt tribes from the British Isles to eventually becoming transformed into an Australian people. Despite a prolonged and somewhat bitter sectarian religious divide, which was not completely dissipated until the arrival of much-needed able-bodied European immigrants, Australian men volunteered to protect Britain in two World Wars.

The cement which bonded the diverse British tribes in Australia was obviously based upon a shared culture (a way of life), a common language, and (presumably) a keen awareness of ‘them’ (coloured people) and ‘us.’

Then, most admirably, there developed the fabled ‘fair-go’ ethos – a very rare feeling for the welfare of fellowmen within any nation. This ethos underpins much of Australia’s socio-economic policies.

The massive immigration program introduced in the late 1940s, which brought in European labour (with some initial preference for Roman Catholics), did not erode this unified culture. The wonderful initiative of the Good Neighbour Councils, followed by a massive official program of settlement assistance (of which I was once part) sought to ensure the successful integration of massive waves of immigrants into Australia’s cultural ethos.

No ’ghettos’ were formed. Any embers of imported tribal prejudice were speedily and quietly extinguished. It was only in the late 1970s and 1980s that a faulty multiculturalism policy arose.