I am overjoyed that the government has not just allowed to speak the word “Multiculturalism” but is now celebrating Australia’s successful experience with it rather than sitting in silence as a disgruntled minority complain. Its not justt a feature of Australia I enjoy, but something I think vindicates other features I enjoy.
But I am very puzzled as to how this is becoming a partisan issue (if it hasn’t already become one), and not just given that the movements in migration policy, both into and out of the White Australia interregnum can’t historically be tied to either party. I’m also confused on philosophical grounds.
Take this quote today from Chris Bowen.
It is counter-intuitive to assume that the majority of migrants want to change Australia. Allegations of migrants wanting to come here to convert the populace and turn it into a replica of their homelands ignore the truth: people come to Australia because, to them, Australia represents something better.
The last thing they want is Australia to change, to become less free, to become less democratic, to become less equal.
I agree with this sentiment, but I also see it as quite philosophically conservative. If conservatism is about supporting the values in one’s society and believing in their strength and worth, it’s only natural to think that the worth of those values should draw other people in. In the marketplace of ideas they should be attracting buyers, and net migration suggests that many more people are buying than selling.
It’s not exactly a new idea. Have a look at this quote.
Fears that Australian values are being eroded by alien newcomers betray a surprising lack of confidence in the gravitational pull of the core culture. It’s important to remember that in these times, unlike the convict era, every newcomer has, in effect, voted for Australia. For us, being Australian is an accident of birth or parentage. For them, being Australian is an act of conscious choice. That’s why the placards displayed at Cronulla last Christmas, “We grew here, you flew here”, suggesting that only the native born could be fair-dinkum Aussies, were so wrong-headed.[fn1]
Or this one
…it makes very little sense to alienate large numbers of people who are Australian citizens and who are adapting to Australian society in their own way and at their own pace. Disparaging the religious symbols of Muslim Australians is at odds with our own best traditions. Why should Muslims turn out to be resistant to the gravitational pull of the Australian way of life when no one else has? [fn2]
They’re both saying pretty much the same thing as Bowen, but the they’re from someone with perfect conservative bona fides. There’s a picture over the fold.
This just makes the current poison coming out of the Coalition all the more distressing. I am resigned to the fact that there was a racist part of the country, and was also resigned to the fact that they had gathered as a constituency within one of the two main political parties. But I had always been heartened by the fact that there was someone, not just within that party but deep within the right wing of that party making the case for multiculturalism, tolerance and understanding – and doing it quite eloquently. I liked the idea that support for one of my favourite features of my country had seeped (to varying extents) throughout the political spectrum. I particularly liked the fact that it justified current policy by past successes
But now that advocate has divorced himself from the one thing I thought he was doing well. He may still have the beliefs he gave in 2006 inside, but by saying nothing and excusing the ugliness coming from in his party, from the Morrisons and Bernadis and Humphries and Mirabellas, this means nothing. We are who we pretend to be, so we should be careful who we pretend to be [fn3].
The conservative philosophical logic behind what he said then (and what Bowen says now) still makes sense though. I hope that there are enough people in the Liberal party with the strength to support their own convictions. Perhaps sheer political arithmetic will come to the rescue. One of the unsung virtues of the state Liberal party under O’Farrell has been the quiet from what has been one of the most ugly state branches, and a desire to expand the range of candidates and appeal to seats once dismissed as too ethnic in the South and West. It makes sense not to alienate huge numbers of otherwise winnable voter on a poisonous platform (and struggle to win Sydney seats outside a North Shore ghetto). If success brings influence, maybe this can seep back into the federal branch.
Because it would be a tragedy if this became completely partisan, and views on it determined by party affiliation.
Three postscripts .
1-One hypothesis as to why it became a partisan issue may be because migrant groups created social networks that were useful for branch stacking. Labor branch stacking was more advanced earlier, so apparatchiks pursued these communities more vigourously, and they ended up disproportionately in the Labor camp – including the Vietnamese who Whitlam feared would, as anticommunists, naturally vote tory. By enemy of my enemy logic, their opponents simply drifted into the other party despite racism being equally welcome in both parties for most of the country’s history.
2 regards this comment made in parliament by Abbott regarding “labor sources” on Simon Crean’s preselection woes.
“He’s lost the Vietnamese branches as well as the Cambodian branches and I couldn’t help but think are there any Australians left in the so-called Australian Labor [Party] today.”
At the time, in light of what else he was saying at the time, I thought he was mocking the fact the sources were identifying people by their ethnicity – the point being they should all be called Australian, not that they were not. I still hope that is what he meant.
3- Consider the joke about him having put these ideas in writing made.
[fn2] (I read this in a database, but the relevant quote can be found here)
See also Abbott, Tony. The Australian [Canberra, A.C.T] 28 Feb 2006: pp. 13.