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?