As the debate intensifies at home and around the world, Australia’s Â (unelected) Federal Government confirms its commitment to multiculturalism.
The boats keep coming, we indoctrinate our kids with multiculti-mush and the citizenry is disarmed.Â Someone else will do the fighting, because our military is being neutered: Â Â AUSTRALIA’S defence budget has been cut to pre-World War II levels
HEATHER EWART, PRESENTER: In late-breaking news tonight, the Immigration Minister Chris Bowen has announced the nine-year-old orphan at the centre of the Christmas Island asylum controversy will be released next week and reunited with his relatives in Sydney.
The minister’s major backdown comes the day after what’s been called a landmark speech in which the Government re-embraced multiculturalism.
It’s been applauded by ethnic communities, but failed to stop growing criticism of the Government’s handling of families of the Christmas Island boat tragedy victims, especially the young boy who lost both his parents.
Why don’t we opt for desirable immigrants?
The Opposition meanwhile has had to counter reports that its Immigration spokesman Scott Morrison urged a meeting of shadow Cabinet last December to capitalise on anti-Muslim immigration sentiment in the community.
In a moment, I’ll be joined by the Immigration Minister Chris Bowen, but first this report from Mary Gearin.
MARY GEARIN, REPORTER: For some, it’s a point of pride or a pleasant cliche. For others, it’s a loaded term. But for one of the first men to promote multiculturalism in Australia, it’s a simple concept.
MALCOLM FRASER, FMR PRIME MINISTER: When Chris Bowen sums it as up as respect for everyone, you know that’s not – if you want to do it in one word, that’s not a bad definition.
MARY GEARIN: It was a concept nurtured by both sides of politics back in the early ’70s, starting with Al Grassby in the Whitlam Government and continued by Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser. But in the decades that followed, it gradually fell out of favour, particularly in response to the rhetoric of Pauline Hanson in the ’90s.
PAULINE HANSON, POLITICIAN (archive footage, 1996): A truly multicultural country can never be strong or united.
MALCOLM FRASER: John Howard abandoned it, didn’t he? And for a while the Labor Party, you know, sort of ran away from its principles. I’m not sure that they recaptured all of them. But perhaps they’re making steps back to becoming a more principled party.
MARY GEARIN: And that, he says, is because of this latest speech from the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Chris Bowen.
CHRIS BOWEN, IMMIGRATION MINISTER: I’m not afraid to use the word multiculturalism. I’m proud of what it’s meant for Australia and our way of life. … It is an indelible and irrevocable part of who we are, and without it, we would all be the poorer.
PINO MIGLIORINO, FED. OF ETHNIC COMMUNITIES’ COUNCILS: We were extremely pleased, on behalf of the Federation of Ethnic Communities Council. It’s something that we’ve been wanting the Government to do for quite a while, and that is take leadership on this issue.
JOHN ROSKAM, INSTITUTE OF PUBLIC AFFAIRS: The point about multiculturalism is it emphasises what divides us more than what unites us. It was a term useful when arrivals to Australia were basically from the same culture. Multiculturalism has never encompassed what Australia actually is. Australia is basically one culture. It is a Judeo-Christian liberal democracy.
MARY GEARIN: The minister also announced a new independent advisory body to champion multiculturalism in the community and the development of an anti-racism strategy.
Multiculturalism’s hit the headlines recently in Europe, with both British Prime Minister David Cameron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel declaring their country’s multicultural policies a failure.
DAVID CAMERON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER (Feb. 5): We’ve even tolerated these segregated communities behaving in ways that run completely counter to our values.
ANGELA MERKEL, GERMAN CHANCELLOR (subtitle translation): This approach has failed. Utterly failed.
MALCOLM FRASER: Angela Merkel probably doesn’t know what she’s talking about because Germany has never had a multicultural policy. So how can a policy that they’ve never had be a failure?
MARY GEARIN: Conservative social commentator John Roskam, himself a child of immigrants, believes Australia doesn’t face the degree of intercultural problems as other countries. But the Institute of Public Affairs executive director does believe that bringing back multiculturalism as an aim is irrelevant and potentially divisive.
JOHN ROSKAM: It is better to have a debate about these things and say, “We are happy to take Muslims, we are happy to take people from any religious, ethnic background as long as it is within the liberal democratic framework of Australia.” And for Chris Bowen to talk about multiculturalism I think avoids that sort of question.
MARY GEARIN: John Roskam says inter-ethnic harmony is only now being challenged in Australia by both extreme and subtle challenges to cultural mores.
JOHN ROSKAM: Certainly there are religious groups that require, in some circumstances, the different treatment of men and women. So, simple examples like screens at a public bathing pools. Now, that is not the Australian way. And the question that we all have to face as a community is: where do we draw the line on multiculturalism?
MALCOLM FRASER: It is a challenge. But if that’s their practice, does it hurt to allow it to some extent? It’s a practice amongst Muslims that will probably change as time passes. Was the alternative that the Howard Government would have liked to promote, put everyone into one mould, make everyone the same. Because that sort of policy, which some countries have tried from time to time, is a policy doomed absolutely to failure.
HECKLER: It’s straight out of the textbook of One Nation, the Australian Protectionist Party.
SCOTT MORRISON, SHADOW IMMIGRATION MINISTER: I’m here to celebrate harmony …
HECKLER: Yeah, and what sort of harmony are you sowing in the community? You sow racist bullshit.
MARY GEARIN: It’s possibly not what they were expecting at the launch of this year’s Harmony Day, but both Chris Bowen and his Opposition counterpart Scott Morrison were heckled. Both sides of politics are considering how to handle these potentially explosive issues.
JOHN ROSKAM: At the same time as the Government can be seen to be tacking right on asylum seekers, it can also tack to the left on the question of multiculturalism.
MALCOLM FRASER: I hope it’s not to compensate for the asylum seeker policy. I hope it’s a step forward towards what I would regard as, you know, or like to think as the real Australia.
HECKLER II: You are a disgrace! Disgusting! How harmonious is it to send an orphan back, Chris Bowen?
MARY GEARIN: The Government is already under fire for its treatment of a nine-year-old boy orphaned by the Christmas Island boat tragedy, who the minister has insisted must return to the island before being released into community care.
Late today, Mr Bowen announced the child will be released next week.
On the other hand, what will be the Coalition approach? Fairfax newspaper reports have suggested Scott Morrison proposed tapping into anti-Muslim sentiment in Australia for political advantage. While defending him, his leader wouldn’t deny that Mr Morrison raised the issue in shadow Cabinet.
TONY ABBOTT, OPPOSITION LEADER: … as far as the Coalition is concerned, we have always had and we will always have a non-discriminatory immigration policy.
SCOTT MORRISON: All I can say is the gossip reported today does not reflect my views.
MALCOLM FRASER: I know there’d be a lot of people in the Liberal Party who would like a constructive response. And it might be a larger proportion of people outside the party, the parliamentary party. But they need a lead from Canberra. And I have no confidence that they’re going to get that lead. I would love to be proved wrong.
MARY GEARIN: PINO MIGLIORINO of the Federation of Ethnic Communities Councils of Australia’s says the Coalition needs to back the Government on this issue.
PINO MIGLIORINO: The way the Opposition has been using this to its electoral advantage, I actually think is damaging to the Australian population.
JOHN ROSKAM: We should have this debate and it is good that we are talking about it, but we can’t talk about it without identifying what multiculturalism is, how it worked in the past and how it can work into the future.
HEATHER EWART: Mary Gearin with that report.