January 30, 2013
“It surely cannot be the purpose of multicultural policy that Australians elect to disengage from our society for religious, cultural or ethnic reasons.” So declared Opposition spokesman for immigration and citizenship, Scott Morrison, in an address to the Menzies Centre for Australian Studies in London. He indicated that a future Coalition government would “send a strong message that cultural tolerance is not a licence for cultural practices that are offensive to the cultural values, and laws, of Australia and that our respect for diversity does not provide license for closed communities”.
Never were truer or timelier words spoken; it is simply not possible for any society to survive and flourish if groups internally secede from its culture, institutions, and values, while exploiting its welfare system and enjoying tailor-made legal protection and political patronage.
Nevertheless, proponents of the old and discredited policy of multiculturalism immediately attacked Morrison in a predictable fashion, insisting that multiculturalism has given us a “rich tapestry” of cultural diversity and condemning any attempt to develop or modify the policy to meet new challenges and opportunities.
One letter writer to The Weekend Australian (26-7/1/2013) raised the absurd spectre of “Australia becoming some kind of incubator for a monoculture”, and accused Morrison of proposing a “my-way-or-the-highway approach” to citizenship. Another insisted that “it is impossible to point to a typical Australian (if it ever was possible)”, and that Australians “have arguably lost any clear national identity”, and that therefore there is nothing left to preserve or nurture.
Such assertions illustrate the lamentable quality of the so-called debate about multiculturalism that has long crippled public policy in this country. Like so many areas of vital national concern that have been dominated by the ALP and its supporters, apparatchiks, and supplicants, any questioning of multiculturalism is immediately denounced as illegitimate and racist.
This systematic interdiction on debate will be institutionalised under the federal government’s proposed anti-discrimination laws, which will sacrifice fundamental liberties in order to shield favoured groups and policies from criticism. As Chairman of the Australian Multicultural Council Rauf Soulio asserts, “freedom of speech is an important part of the Australian identity, but like all freedoms it has limits”, and people cannot be allowed to speak freely if it might offend or insult people who identify themselves in racial, ethnic or religious terms.
Regrettably, the Victorian Minister for Multicultural Affairs and Citizenship, Nick Kotsiras, also defended the existing policy on multiculturalism and indicated that any change in direction or emphasis was unnecessary and misguided.
Such reluctance to move beyond the old policy is especially lamentable given the massive demographic challenges that Australia and the world are confronting. These involve economic crises and political and religious violence that will generate huge flows of legal and illegal immigration occurring on a global scale, much of it targeting affluent Western countries. Unfortunately, many of these will shortly approach bankruptcy as they deal with aging populations and large numbers of people dependent upon unsustainable levels of welfare and government support. Ironically, it is the ready availability of such state largesse that is attracting many immigrants, not any desire to contribute economically to their host societies. It is the deliberate self-exclusion of such groups and its implications for social cohesion that Morrison’s speech addresses.
Ultimately, in terms of preserving social order over the next century, it is difficult to identify a more important area of policy than that presently being explored and developed by Morrison. Our nation is seeking to construct something historically unprecedented – a peaceful and vibrant society composed of peoples from many lands and bonded together by a shared adherence to liberal democratic institutions and values.
However, it also faces the growing danger that its generosity and freedoms will be increasingly exploited by groups who have no intention of ever integrating and desire only to exploit the opportunities offered to them. This danger must be confronted and Morrison’s speech is a welcome contribution to a vital debate about the destiny of Australia.
The Quadrant Book of Poetry: 2001 - 2010
edited by Les Murray