Former PM Turnbull is a strong advocate of multiculturalism, but his successor PM Morrison appears to waver on his commitment to multiculturalism as shown by the inconsistency of his words on the subject. We prefer a PM with a consistent view, whether it is supportive or not; at least we could learn how to have a meaningful dialogue with him or persuade him to our views. The Multicultural Communities Council of NSW (MCCNSW) has examined the public reports on the subject in the media and determined that a rise in opposition to multiculturalism has increased and can be attributed to the rise of the right. However, statistical facts from the Scanlon Foundation and ABS show that the vast majority of Australians still support multiculturalism. Apparently, in the present political climate, the opposition to multiculturalism do not attract multicultural votes.
Among Liberal prime ministers, the late PM Malcolm Fraser was a strong supporter of multiculturalism. Conservative hostility emerged in the 1980s spearheaded by Prof Geoffrey Blainey who raised the controversy on Asian immigration and regarded it as leading to a “nation of tribes”. PM Howard then held similar views, had difficulty pronouncing the “M” word (multiculturalism) and believed that Australian culture is singular.
In the last ten years, Australia has had six Prime Ministers and five in the last five years. Among the Liberal PMs (Tony Abbott, Malcolm Turnbull and Scott Morrison) Turnbull turned out to be the most supportive of multiculturalism. In his valedictory speech, Turnbull warned against the rising tide of populist anti-immigration political rhetoric emanating from his own party and said: “We are the most successful multicultural society in the world, and I have always defended that and advanced that as our greatest asset. We must never allow the politics of race or division or of setting Australians against each other to become part of our political culture.”
The same report however showed that the current PM, Morrison, is not so keen on multiculturalism:
“Not everyone is a fan of multiculturalism. That includes the current Prime Minister. At least, that’s one conclusion you can draw from his aversion to the word. This week, Scott Morrison announced that local councils would be compelled to hold citizenship ceremonies on January 26. Australia Day should be reserved for conferring citizenship to migrants, given that “Australia is the most successful migrant country on earth”.
A previous report contradicts the above. In a speech in the presence of the Indian PM on the unveiling of a Gandhi statue in Parramatta, PM Morrison described Australia as a great multicultural story. He said “We’re a people of great diversity, of acceptance. We believe that if you have a go, you’ll get a go.” These reports create confusion and doubt about whether the PM is supportive of multiculturalism. It appears that the PM would say the words to please his crowd of the day. With the Indian Australian community, he was supportive of multiculturalism but with his own electorate in Sutherland, he had a different view.
We would have preferred a PM to be consistent with his views. For example, despite PM John Howard’s views, the multicultural communities’ leaders were able to have a meaningful dialogue with him in his Canberra office. At least, we knew who we were dealing with.
I remember accompanying the then FECCA Chair A/Prof Abd Malak to see PM John Howard and acceptance of a multicultural representative on the Australian Pharmaceutical Advisory Council under Health Minister Tony Abbott.
Accordingly, the Scanlon Foundation 2017 report confirms that:
- 80% of Australians reject the notion of selecting immigrants by race,
- 85% believe multiculturalism is good for this country. “It’s a very strong brand,” says Markus. “You even go to rural areas and get amazing majorities of people who think it’s good for Australia.”
- 74% reject the idea of selecting immigrants by religion, and
- 56% of us believe the number of migrants Australia takes each year is either about right or too low.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) showed a diverse Australia in its Cultural Diversity data summary. The results of the latest national census reveal we’re a fast changing, ever expanding, culturally diverse nation. The 2016 Census shows that two thirds (67%) of the Australian population were born in Australia. Nearly half (49%) of Australians were either born overseas (first generation Australian) or had one or both parents born overseas (second generation Australian).
PM Morrison’s preferred M word is “migrant” and not “multiculturalism”. Although he claimed that his choice of M word is more inclusive, we have to disagree on the basis of the information provided by the Scanlon Foundation and the ABS which respectively showed that the vast majority support multiculturalism and that Australia does have a diverse population.
Early Chinese settlers in Australia suffered discrimination under Premier Parkes and quoting Parkes is not making a unifying statement; on the contrary, it is divisive. Dr Tim Soutphommasane has also made his point on Parkes in his article.
Perhaps PM Morrison’s preferred M word is pandering to the right or, in the Trump world, looking after his support base in the not so diverse Sutherland electorate. His loyalty to his base is commendable but it will not unite the nation, nor will it get the votes he needs to remain in government as multicultural supporters could vote against his party.
Trump’s loss of control of the US Congress to the Democrats should be an object lesson for PM Morrison not to pander to the right and ignore most Australians who support multiculturalism.
Dr Anthony Pun, OAM, is the current chair of the Multicultural Communities Council of NSW.