While searching unsuccessfully for the conference paper on which Errington and van Onselen’s article on political party databases (see the previous post) was based, I came across another interesting paper by Brian Galligan and Winsome Roberts titled Australian Multiculturalism: Its Rise and Demise. Here’s an extract:
The 1970s was also an era of political activism when postwar migrants were becoming politically involved. With leadership from amongst the most successful and articulate, ethnic communities became a significant political force in Australian politics. Winning ‘the ethnic vote’ became important at all levels of politics, and the political strength of ethnic communities was recognised institutionally in the formation of the Ethnic Affairs advisory councils at national and state levels. Ethnic lobby groups were successful in getting funding at last for agencies and services specifically designed to help migrants
settle in and maintain their cultural heritage.
Along with funding for these services, a policy of multiculturalism was launched to promote appreciation of ethnic diversity. This was buttressed by anti-discrimination legislation. These measures provided a foundation for mutual adaptation between new Australians and other Australians that resulted in workplace diversity, intermarriage and a cultural hybridity that enriched Australian national culture. Unlike Americas or Canadians, Australians from ethnic backgrounds rarely referred to themselves in hyphenated terms as Maltese-Australians, Italian-Australians or Vietnamese-Australians. When ethnic associations and welfare groups that were previously informal networks became more formalised and politicised through funding, they were not the rallying points for identity politics for those from non-English speaking backgrounds. Australia has not experienced the ethnic ghettos of American cities or the periodic race riots that have erupted there or in Britain.
Nevertheless in times of economic downturn and with the impact of economic globalisation, marginalised groups in Australia expressed their grievances by hostility to any groups receiving special assistance, irrespective of the logic of such positive discrimination. …
Despite the adoption of such policies, Australia has not become a multicultural society in any strong sense of the term; rather, migrating people have become Australianised. Although often only partial for first generation new Australians, integration into Australian culture is more encompassing for the second and third generation. …
While migrants can become fully Australian citizens through their own choice after satisfying certain minimum conditions, becoming Australian is a much more diffuse and gradual process that differs among individuals and ethnic groups. It is a process that takes some considerable time, and will likely be only partial for new Australians from different cultural backgrounds. However, their children and grandchildren are progressively absorbed into the Australian mainstream through education, mixing and marriage. What it means to be Australian also changes in the process of integrating large numbers of migrants. As the architects of postwar migration anticipated, Australian culture and society have been enriched and changed, becoming less mono-culturally British and more complex and diverse.
Our concern with multiculturalism is not primarily with its adequacy as a descriptive account of how migrants from non-English speaking backgrounds have settled into Australian life. It is ironic, however, that assimilation was official policy at a time when postwar migrants were most culturally distinct in the 1950s, while multiculturalism became dominant as they were entering more fully into Australian life in the 1970s.
Multiculturalism is perpetuated as an official description of what Australia is or should be despite the increasing integration of second generation descendants of postwar migrants that is working in the opposite direction of breaking down cultural distinctiveness.
Our concern is mainly with assessing the prescriptive account of Australian citizenship that multiculturalism has spawned. It has been used to hollow out what it means to be and become an Australian citizen, depriving citizenship of its cultural base in a distinctive Australian nationality. Multiculturalism rejects the unity of Australian society in favour of an aggregate of different Australian communities and identities. The political corollary is to deny citizenship its cultural content and ignore the associated sentiments of affiliation, attachment and affection for national heritage and traditions. Citizenship is reduced to commitment to abstract principles of civic obedience and participation. This deprives citizenship of its basic affirmation of membership in a shared political association able to serve the common good, and shared attachment to a unifying heritage and traditions that transcend other differences. It is through sharing a common culture and heritage that people most readily form a viable and vibrant political community in which differences can be resolved. Unfortunately, the mantra of multiculturalism has muddied official discourse about citizenship. The Australian Citizenship Council, established in 1996 to enquire into the meaning of citizenship, endorsed the tenets of multiculturalism so as to include everyone but engage no-one.
Galligan and Roberts’ paper evokes eerie echoes of Margo Kingston’s suggestion, in the wake of the Bilal Skaf gang rape cases in south-western Sydney, that we should seek to formulate a set of basic shared or common Australian values and inculcate them in migrants. Although I shudder to think of some of the shared values Margo would be likely to advocate, it isn’t necessarily a bad idea in principle.
Inevitably when Tories muse wistfully about shared values, they mean brave explorers, the ANZAC myth, laconic mateship, Phar Lap and Don Bradman, the Yobbo version of which is immortalised in the old TV ad about football, meat pies, kangaroos and Holden cars. Is it possible to agree on and celebrate shared values in any more meaningful sense than this? Or does it necessarily just happen organically?