Moving Australian Multiculturalism Forward 23.2.

2011 Last week, Federal Immigration Minister Chris Bowen, brought together a collection of “mnemonic” bits and pieces to adorn the face of Australian Multiculturalism, when he boldly presented the government’s Multicultural Strategy at the Sydney Institute, identifying three key aspects of the model: (1) Respect for Australian Values, (2) Citizenship-Centred Multiculturalism and, (3) Bipartisan Support as the “genius” of Australian Multiculturalism. As part of the federal strategy, Minister Bowen urges all Australians to actively engage in building a stronger, more “liberal” and socially cohesive society by adopting a series of initiatives including a new advisory council, a National AntiRacism Partnership and Strategy as well as Multicultural Youth Sports Partnership (just to name a few) to eliminate the kinds of racial discrimination that makes this country a yucky place to live. He claims that “if Australia was to be free and equal then it will be multicultural [but] if it is to be multicultural; Australia must remain free and equal.” Then shortly afterwards, he fronted up on cameras at the George Negus’ 6pm show with a surprise (yet highly anticipated) announcement that the nine-yearold Afghan orphaned in the Christmas Island shipwreck was to be released from detention centre to live with his extended family in Sydney in the weeks to come. When defining the social code for Australian Multiculturalism, Minister Bowen washed over the more icky issues about Australian Multiculturalism, such as terrorism and Muslim migration to Australia with a more paternalistic outlook of “it’s okay to be scared” coupled with noteworthy facts including that only 1.71 per cent of the Australian population identifying themselves as Muslim (but Minister Bowen, it only takes one – but I digress…). ‘Lo and behold,’ in that same week (huh, roughly…give and take), the ACT Liberal Senator Gary Humphries tabled a petition (signed by only three Sydneysiders) in Federal Parliament questioning Muslim immigration, along with the more apparent sentiments from Coalition immigration spokesperson Scott Morrison and the outspoken South Australian Senator Cory Bernardi on the same issue: that to them, terrorism is a real threat and the intake of Muslim immigrants can only do nothing but increase that risk. These views and sentiments are not those pertaining to a particular set of political ideologies but are echoed in the public in conversations, debates and forums anywhere and everywhere so much so that along with politics and religions; “multiculturalism” has now become the other untenable subjects to bring up at Sunday barbies and dinner parties. Twelve months since Obama’s promise to shut down Guantanamo remains “out there,” and along with the recent terrorist attack at Moscow airport presage uncertain times ahead on the global front on war on terrorism. How Australia responds to that predicates the kind of society our nation can be –a democratic

country committed to fairness, equality and inclusion for all people in Australia; harmonious with the panorama of the kind of Australian Multiculturalism the federal Multicultural Strategy endeavours to promote. Notwithstanding to this picture, on the flipside is when using this framework to uphold a picture perfect of Australian Multiculturalism, one can only assume that lurking beneath and in the dark is a carbon-copy (i.e. its negative) of that print; carrying with it the essential properties and equivalent guiding principles as its counterpart. When translating this analogy into policymaking, a carbon-copy of this picture would translate into the paragon the federal government uses to the respond to terrorism, boarder protection and asylum seekers coming to Australia. To preserve this picture perfect of Australian Multiculturalism, all laws in Australia must be congruent with the principles of fair and justice; insofar that it cannot serve to convict, detain and torture an INNOCENT person and can be used as a venerable and powerful instrument for the global community to fight against terrorism.
So going back to when Prime Minister Gillard presented her “Asylum Seekers Policy” as part of her Moving Australia Forward campaign short of a year ago at the Lowy Institute in Sydney, she pressed on and on about engaging in active discourse with the international community on matters of asylum seekers and boarder protection against the framework of international conventions on human rights; calling her policy: “a regional solution to an international problem.” In a similar fashion to Minister Bowen, she presented to her audience with some noteworthy facts including that: (1) in 2009 Australia received 0.6 per cent of the world's asylum seekers; (2) refugees referred by UNHCR makes up 8% of Australia’s migrant intake; and, (3) even if we open the gates and invite all boat arrivals into the country, they would only make 1.6% of all migrant intake (assuming, of course, that refugees referred by UNHCR do not arrive by unauthorised boats). Then, shortly after that she made the following statement: “The rule of law in a just society is part of what attracts so many people to Australia. It must be applied properly to those who seek asylum, just as it must be applied to all of us.” How true, Prime Minister Gillard! So, to put it more bluntly, if the rule of law in Australia applied to asylum seekers, migration, boarder control and counterterrorism is fair and just; then we can truly see Australian Multiculturalism as the kind of picture perfect our Government wants us to.

Sally D’Souza is a social commentator on issues relating to politics, arts and culture. For the record: She was the culturally and linguistic diverse (CALD) representative on the ACT Ministerial Council for Women and ACT Domestic Violence Preventative Council. Former President of the Multicultural Women’s Advocacy and the ACT representative of the National Immigrant and Refugee Women Association.

She holds a Masters in Creative Writing from Canberra University, a Graduate Diploma of Community Cultural Development and a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy and (Comparative) Religious Studies. She is also known (mainly among her friends) as the “Twitter Girl” for her witty remarks about current political, cultural and social issues.

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