Some would be quick to point to a certain irony in Colin Rubinstein’s opinion piece in today’s Sydney Morning Herald, and a tragic irony at that, given what a lamentable example Israel has been in recent years, but Israel is not Australia. The issues here are quite different. So while Rubinstein’s own biases are clear in Multiculturalism is still the way to go, I endorse his general point.
MULTICULTURALISM has been official bipartisan policy, federal and state, for more than 25 years. It has helped create and sustain what is arguably one of the most successful multi-ethnic, tolerant democratic societies in the world, and is vital for our social cohesion, economic prospects and positive profile in our region and beyond.
However, some commentators want the policy dumped, blaming multiculturalism for ethnic tensions and other social problems. One proposal apparently being considered by the Federal Government is to drop the term “multiculturalism”.
But it is not multiculturalism that is causing the ethnic and social problems critics identify. Extremists and racists have been assailing the core values that are integral to the Australian concept of multiculturalism, compounded over the years by failures to always apply the policy consistently and effectively. But such problems are challenges to multiculturalism; they are not its products…
Simply walking out my front door here in Surry Hills, or teaching at The Mine, makes crystal clear that multiculturalism is a fact of Australian life, and fatuous it is to deny it or to avoid the word, as Howard has tended to do for a decade or more. The issue is not the existence of our multicultural society, but its management for the good of all, in the interests of another unfashionable idea — equity.
In contrast to the somewhat amorphous assimilationism which preceded it, multiculturalism specifies the cultural traits and core values Australians must share in order to have a viable and harmonious community.
The key concept for multiculturalism has always been integration into the core values and institutions of Australian life, avoiding the pitfalls of the other two discredited models of separatism and assimilationism.
Monoculturalism is a much more terrifying idea. Osama bin Laden could be called a monoculturalist, and so could many an extreme right-wing hack and commentator — another irony.