Some issues of multiculturalism

“In 1995, The United Nations International Year for Tolerance (and the twentieth anniversary of the enactment of Australia’s Racial Discrimination Act), the then Prime Minister of Australia claimed that there is in Australia ‘no language not spoken, no culture not understood, no religion not practiced.’ It must be true; it was in the news. In any event, this means that we the most culturally diverse nation in the world; or is it only linguistically diverse?

The Office of Multicultural Affairs also told us then that multiculturalism is a policy for managing the consequences of cultural diversity; that this policy confers upon us two rights and a responsibility. The rights are: to express and share our cultural heritage, and to equality of treatment and opportunity; the responsibility is to utilise effectively the skills and talents of all Australians.

The Office also identified certain limits to Australian multiculturalism: that we should have an over-riding and unifying commitment to Australia; that we should accept the basic structures and principles of Australian society, viz. the Constitution and the rule of law; tolerance and equality; parliamentary democracy; freedom of speech and religion; English as the national language; and equality of the sexes; and that we have an obligation to accept the rights of others to express their views and values.

All this is eminently reasonable and sensible, except that bit about ‘managing’. In addition, the chairman of the Australian Multicultural Foundation (Sir James Gobbo), an ethnic community leader of great competence and renown, said (also in 1995) that he looked forward to ‘the day in the not too distant future, when our cultural diversity and our policies of tolerance and respect in handling this diversity will be so much a part of the fabric of society, that we shall no longer need to use such words as multiculturalism and ethnic’.”

“This view parallels the mature view (also expressed in 1995) of the President of the Czech Republic that the best hope for a peaceful multicultural civilisation in the world is to understand and insist on ‘the shared spiritual values of our cultures’.”

“Another outstanding ethnic community leader (Emeritus Professor Jerzy Zubrzycki) questioned (also in 1995) whether the term ‘multiculturalism’ is now out of date. … … ‘Many cultures, one Australia’ has greater attraction for him. While supporting the thrust of current multicultural policy, he raised two important issues: that ‘not all traditions, cultures and customs are necessarily equal’, and that wooing the ethnic vote throws the policy ‘out of balance’.

Where ‘some minority values are totally inconsistent with fundamental values of the dominant Australian culture’ (eg. where ‘the family takes the law into its hands to redress a wrong done to one of its members’), ‘it would be nonsense to say that every culture is equally valued and therefore legitimate’.

This is an extract from my book ‘Destiny Will Out: the experiences of a multicultural Malayan in White Australia’ (1997)

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