ANTHONY PUN. History of Multiculturalism: Part 2- A decline in support of Multiculturalism from the Howard to the Rudd-Gillard Administrations.

The racial discrimination legislations flourished under Multicultural with NSW leading the pact.  A crack in Multiculturalism support emerged during the Howard Administration with the rise of Pauline Hanson and her racial politics.  It was the “ethnic” vote that saved the day and Immigration Minister Phillip Ruddock worked to recapture the votes.  Multiculturalism continued under the Rudd-Gillard Administration its policy became controversial when the composition of appointees to the Australian Multicultural Council was question by the multicultural communities. The future Multiculturalism is briefly discussed. 

Re-cap for NSW Anti-Discrimination Act and Community Relations Commission

In Australia, NSW has led way in anti-discrimination legislation where it is unlawful to discriminate against a person in terms of sex, disability and race; and vilify and person because of his/he race.  It was hope that others states and Federal governments would follow NSW lead.  It is interesting to note the phrase “for a Multicultural NSW” recommended by this Chinese committee has been prophetic when the NSW Community Relations Commission changed its name to Multicultural NSW in 2015! 

A crack in the support for Multiculturalism

The FitzGerald report found that the general public did not understood the philosophy of multiculturalism culminating in a backlash against multiculturalism and with the support by the un-informed public.   

Under the Howard Administration 1996 to 2007:

The Howard administration signified the beginning of a backlash to Multiculturalism and when multicultural institutions, viz. the Office of Multicultural Affairs and the Bureau of Immigration and Population Research were abolished; and cutting funds to the ethnic organisations.  The Multicultural communities have said often in those days that John Howard cannot pronounce the “M” word”.

In 1997, Pauline Hanson founded the One Nation Party marked the beginning of racial politics in Australia.  In her maiden speech to parliament Hansen said “I and most Australians want our immigration policy radically reviewed and that of multiculturalism, abolished. I believe we are in danger of being swamped by Asians.”  

Reacting to these remarks, the multicultural communities launch a counter attack by publicly declaring that they would place any candidate who associate with Pauline Hanson, last on the preferential voting ticket.  This had an effect on the Howard administration and under pressure from the National Multicultural Advisory Council, the government in 1999 launched the New Agenda for Multicultural Australia.  Phillip Ruddock the Immigration Minister has to “sooth” the community and his work earned him much respect from the diverse communities.

Two significant changes by the Federal government was observed.  The introduction of a contributory category for parent’s migration costing $32K per parent was considered a discrimination against poorer immigrants.  Secondly, governments grants to community has a string attached – no strident criticism of government policy.  The reason was why give money to people who criticize you!  

However, Chinese organisations like CCCA and CAF continue to be critical of government policies since they do not receive government grants.

The defeat of Pauline Hanson signified the return of Multiculturalism as a government policy and the creation of the National Multicultural Advisory Council in 1999 and a new government policy entitled “A New Agenda for Multicultural Australia and its promotion via the Living in Harmony grants and promotion of Harmony Day.

Under the Rudd 2007-2010 & 2013-Gillard 2010-2013 Administrations:

The Labor government under Rudd Administration in 2007 did not see a resurgent of Multicultural policy set by previous Labor administration.  

Under Gillard administration, the government support for multiculturalism returned under Chris Bowen who was minister for Immigration and Citizenship. He also championed anti-racism strategies.  His famous address “The Genus of Multiculturalism” at Sydney Institute and delivered this bold statement “If Australia is to be free and equal, then it will be multicultural. But, if it is to be multicultural, Australia must remain free and equal.”

Although the community welcomed the formation of the Australia Multicultural Council (AMC) it fell into disrepute when the appointments to the AMC were severely criticised by the community as lopsided.  CCCA was critical of the selection process and the matter was reported by Miranda Devine of the Telegraph in Sydney. .

The name changing of the immigration department is a good descriptor of the development of the Australian multicultural policies of successive governments. The department has changed its name 11 times since 1945 with the current name of Department of Home Affairs in 2017. 

In reading Gillard’s public statements on Multiculturalism, one could conclude that if her government had remained in power, even for another term, multiculturalism would have progress even further.  The performance of the Abbott-Turnbull Administration on Multiculturalism will be a subject of a later discussion. 

The Future of Multiculturalism:

The ABS 2016 Australian Census showed that Australia’s demographic is “multicultural” in terms of language and culture.  The population of Australia is 23,401,892 with 33% of the population born overseas and 40.5% of the populations has one or both parents born overseas and speaks more than 120 languages.  

The preliminary comment would be that Multiculturalism has lost ground to the resurgence of racial politics which occurred during the Howard Administration and during the last 5 years in the Abbott-Turnbull Administration; and there is an urgent need to act and strengthen Multiculturalism (private communications Dr Andrew Theophanous).  The community awaits the findings of the 2017 Senate Select Committee on Strengthening Multiculturalism.

The unpopular public issues such as English test for Citizenship, Temporary visas for Parents, watering down of the federal Anti-Discrimination Act, Foreign Interference Bills, together with the rise of racial politics and fear mongering in the media, are considered by the Australian diverse community as divisive and create unnecessary tensions in a Multicultural Australia.  Such issues must be addressed if we are to strengthen Multiculturalism. 

Do we need a Multicultural Bill for Australia?

The inclusion of native Australians and acceptance of Multiculturalism by the Anglo-Celtic Australians community, would cement the strong foundation required for a united, cohesive society.

Dr Anthony Pun, OAM, is currently the National President of the Chinese Community Council of Australia and Chair of the Multicultural Communities Council of NSW.

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