Musing on multiculturalism

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?

About Ken Parish

Ken Parish is a legal academic, with research areas in public law (constitutional and administrative law), civil procedure and teaching & learning theory and practice. He has been a legal academic for almost 20 years. Before that he ran a legal practice in Darwin for 15 years and was a Member of the NT Legislative Assembly for almost 4 years in the early 1990s.
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wen
wen
2022 years ago

Is it possible to agree on and celebrate shared values in any more meaningful sense than this? Or does it necessarily just happen organically?

I think it has to happen organically, Ken. What we value from one era (one moment?) to the next can be pretty ephemeral (I take it you don’t mean laws, civic responsibility, that sort of thing). Once you try to articulate an essential Australian-ness, it becomes reductive (who’s excluded?) & muddled.

The Republican Preamble project is a good example of how impossible & ultimately unsatisfying the effort to define a nation can be. (though for my money, Delia Falconer’s effort works best)

http://www.republic.org.au/ARM-2001/news&events/preambles2.htm

Julian
Julian
2022 years ago

I’m reminded of those corporate “brainstorming sessions” where people try and agree on a mission statement or something. Mostly, people have a lot of good ideas, but the end result is inevitably meaningless to almost everyone.

This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t try to elucidate what our shared values might be. But it does suggest that the further we move from the very basic “civil obedience and participation” level, the more difficult it becomes! One feasible approach would be to tie any set of values to the fundamentals that underlie our society in the structural/philosophical/political sense (eg democracy, etc), but this may only represent a subset of what Mr Galligan and Ms Roberts refer to as “shared culture and heritage.”

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

Thanks for that link, wen. I think I prefer the Peter Carey formulation.

woodsy
woodsy
2022 years ago

Wen, I prefer Peter Carey’s preamble. I think it could stand some editing but contains most of the imperatives.

Dan
Dan
2022 years ago

Gaining agreement on any set of supposedly “shared” values is going to be a tough ask. I mean, you won’t get much argument about “we don’t gang rape each other” as a guiding principle, but you only have to surf the blogosphere for a while to discover that there is an incredible diversity of often incompatible views about what Australia is, and what it should strive to be. I think there still is something that tends to bind us together, that defines us as being Australian, but it would be hellishly difficult to codify it in any set of guidelines. For instance, you could put in respect for law and order, but you’d have to also point out that we tend to do so in a uniquely egalitarian way – we don’t tend to cower before authority figures. We respect the political process, but we’re happy to call the PM by his first name, etc etc.

cs
cs
2022 years ago

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.

I second Dan. Although historians have felled forests in service to Australian nationalism and identity, it’s always struck me as largely a game of make believe. Can you conceive of the blogosphere agreeing on what our “common culture and heritage” is, let alone the democracy at large? The conservative assumption is of an identifiable ‘community’ that lies outside of politics, and to which politics can appeal – as distinct from the idea that ‘community’ is something that is constantly made and remade through a self-determining politics, the making and remaking of which being something that everyone who has a citizenship ticket can participate. In an era when I spend large amounts of my time in international discourse, appealling to a common national culture strikes me as akin to an invitation to rumage through some old furniture stored out in the back shed. In an era marked by both increasing globalisation (in the sense of the world getting smaller) and increasing conflict, defining and appealing to distinctly non-national idioms of rights and equity are where the real premiums lie, imo.

Ooops, there I go again, looking for that damn rendezvous of victory …

Jason Soon
2022 years ago

I don’t think we necessarily need a set of shared values drafted up just for migrants, but I do like the American idea of a nation as a ‘proposition nation’ i.e. a nation based not on arbitrary factors like ethnicity and sexuality but an underlying principled intellectual framework. I think a bigger problem is that the Australian constitution isn’t terribly inspiring and as for Australian republicanism, it’s nothing more than a sort ofg Blinky Bill nationalism -‘Australian for head of State’ and all that, how banal. There is at least a certain poetry in having as head of State a monarch who is head of State of so many other countries of varying ethnicity but which shares at least a common experience in being nurtured in British i.e. universalistic Western institutions. When migrants go to the US they know they are coming to a proposition nation because their *constitution* sets out basic princopes of universal application – life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. While the US hasn’t always been true to its ideal, I admire it because it understands the power of ideas and its foundation is based on a self-conscious attempt to anchor the nation in a set of intellectual principles rather than misty, arbitrary historical accidents of race. In contrast to this while in practice Australia has done pretty well and in some respects better than the US in values we both hold dear, the intellectual foundations of Australian Federation were basically racial exclusivity (partly ‘we want to be free of the British because they are bringing these wogs to other countries) as well as ‘we want to be free of the British’.

Scott Wickstein
2022 years ago

I would have thought part of the appeal of “Australianness” is its undefinability. I think it is organic- you just mold in, as a stone left alone gathers moss over time. There’s no call for Margo’s idea that we should incalculate any values into migrants- who presumably come to Australia coz they like what they see in the first place.

Tiu Fu Fong
Tiu Fu Fong
2022 years ago

Re: shared values and all that… I’ve recently had flashes of recollection from my social studies textbooks from primary school and early highschool. The texts were pretty light on and tried to instill certain simplistic key messages (as did my history and religion texts).

Has anyone perused the modern day equivalent of these sort of texts or teaching syllabi? I’d be interested to see what sort of values are instilled on the yoof of today. It’s in this realm that a lot of the cultural reprogramming of second generation migrants will take place (together with their peer groups).

bargarz
2022 years ago

One trait everyone picks up is the simple joy to be found in booing pollies at the footy. No worries!

Hughie
Hughie
2022 years ago

Ken,

Wayne sent me a copy of his paper (at my request), if you’d like it. Unfortunately, your e-mail address keeps bouncing “over quota”.

Drop me a line and I’ll flick it your way.

Cheers,
Hughie

Graham
2022 years ago

I’m surprised no-one’s mentioned the Good Neighbour Councils’ role in the 60s and thereabouts.

Guido
2022 years ago

When I arrived in Australia in 1974 was in the middle of Withlam and Grassby so multiculturalism was just starting.

While I always appreciated how Australian governments (up to the present one) emphasised multiculturalism (the Fraser government had an excellent record on this) I always thought that the concept was very woolly.

I tend to agree with Galligan and Roberts that migrants tended to converge to a ‘mainstream’ culture anyway, which is the real success story of Australian migration.

I think that the policy of multiculturalism was a reaction to the assimilationist culture of the 50’s and 60’s. I was not in Australia then, but my understanding was that the overall message to migrants was to forget about your previous culture (which was often seen as odd, or inferior) and adopt the aussie one. The value of multiculturalism is to say that the culture you bring to Australia is as valuable as the mainstream one.

Of course the assimilationist sentiment is always strong. Just an example that may seem a bit banal. I have read a spate of articles recently in Melbourne newspapers about the ‘threat’ of soccer to aussie football. (infact Geoffrey Blainey who has a reputation of ‘migrant threats state this). Why this reaction? Because as long as something that is seen as being ‘foreign’ remains amongst the migrant population is OK, but when soccer pitches start appearing at Scotch or De La Salle or other schools where aussie rules was supreme then talk start of a threat to the Australian way of life. While this is a trivial example it signifies that really multiculturalism was always a bit of a con. As long as it meant nice cotumes and nice places to go and eat of a Saturday night it was fine, but once a migrants start to change an aspect of the mainstream culture then we hear talk of threats.

I would also say that multiculturalism assists the purity of the mainstram culture by ensuring that by separating the migrant culture to the mainstram culture it prevents any ‘contamination’. In fact multiculturalism can have the negative effect of marginalising the migrant culture away from positions of power.

trackback
2022 years ago

Musing on the multiculti

KEN Parish posts on multiculturalism and what it means to be Australian: 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 imm…