The rise and fall of multiculturalism policy

“The professional ethnic also includes one who seeks influence in a parallel stream of governance – policy formulation, and the delivery of some settlement services, the policy being multicultural policy, and the whole caboodle being ethnic community controlled, while being taxpayer funded. In the process, some new organisation would be established and a few ethnic community leaders would be crowned. Why should such a parallel structure be created, necessitating an expensive expansion in public services and in the responsibilities of Ministers?

In any event, all this was established in the 1970s at some great expense, tailing into the 1980s. But within two decades, multicultural policy was absorbed into a new policy of integration-with-citizenship. Buckets of tears were shed by the de-throned. They claimed that governments had now rejected ethnic diversity. Really? Strangely, in the second decade of the twenty-first century, multicultural policy was re-instated federally. For whose benefit? To garner that mythical ethnic vote? What logic underpins this approach?

During the 1980s, when I was working at the level of Director in the then Department of Immigration & Ethnic Affairs (DIEA) with responsibility (sequentially) for policy on ethnic affairs, citizenship, refugee & humanitarian entry, and all aspects of migrant settlement, both sides of politics erroneously hoped to snare ethnic votes. For instance, the qualifying period for citizenship was reduced competitively from five years out of eight to three, and then to two. It has now risen to four years, recognising that two years is not enough to develop that commitment to the nation that is citizenship, through the acceptance of Australia’s socio-political values.

There was also an excessive emphasis by some ethnic communities on cultural differences, rather than on cultural similarities and overlaps; as well as an inadequate commitment to forging one integrated, inter-meshed people from the prevailing ethnic diversity. Keeping one’s head low for two years was also too easy for immigrant criminals (and Australia seems to have imported quite a few).

Successful migrant settlement is a major policy issue for any government. Following the introduction of an immigration policy to achieve post-war development, large numbers of able-bodied workers were selected from Europe, their fares being subsidised. While there may have been some (concealed) preference for Roman Catholics (as claimed by a biographer), the immigrants merged almost seamlessly into Australia. There was give and take on both sides, although the skimpy swimming togs worn by young Mediterranean men in the early 1950s was a bit of a shock to some. Australian men’s swimmers did have a skirt front then, presumably to protect the lads from raunchy girls.”

(These extracts from ‘Musings at Death’s Door’ are a sad commentary on Australia’s politicians. Of course, as quite ordinary human beings, they are most likely to chase fireflies on a sunny day! Millions of scarce taxpayer money have been thrown at ephemeral objectives; but what was achieved? Currently, alleged ethnic sensitivity to words indicating ‘racial’ prejudice is being debated.)