'Separatist' ethnic body under attack
Jewel Topsfield, Canberra
The Age (Melbourne)
November 28, 2006
THE future status of the Government's Muslim and multiculturalism advisory groups is in doubt, with the parliamentary secretary to the Immigration Minister to review their role to ensure they reflect “current community expectation”.
Andrew Robb, who is widely expected to be promoted, yesterday expressed his dislike for the “vague term” multiculturalism, saying it meant different things to different people.
The high-profile MP told a conference in Canberra that some Australians worried the term “multicultural” had been transformed by interest groups into a philosophy that put “allegiances to original culture ahead of national loyalty”.
He also accused the Ethnic Communities Council of Victoria of supporting a “separatist view” in its response to the Government's proposal to introduce a compulsory citizenship test, which would assess English skills and knowledge of Australian values.
Mr Robb said that continuing Australia's migration success meant “dealing with some confronting issues”. “But we must not follow the path of least resistance for fear of offending,” he said.
Mr Robb said he was reviewing the operation of the Muslim Community Reference Group and the Council for Multicultural Australia, whose terms expired in September and July this year.
The Muslim group, which was formed to advise Prime Minister John Howard after last year's July 7 London bombings, has been dogged with controversy.
The group criticised federal Treasurer Peter Costello last September after he urged Muslims to obey Australian laws or face being kicked out of the country.
Controversial Muslim religious leader Sheikh Taj al-Din al-Hilali, who recently described scantily clad women as being like raw meat and inviting rape, was a member of the group.
Mr Robb said many Muslims had raised concerns that the Muslim Community Reference Group served only to highlight Muslim communities as separate, rather than part of the broader community.
Yasser Soliman, a former member of the Council for Multicultural Australia, said while the term “multiculturalism” could be misunderstood by some people, it was not a good enough justification to throw away a policy that had enjoyed bipartisan support for 30 years.
Meanwhile, the Ethnic Communities Council of Victoria came under attack from Mr Robb for not supporting the “underlying premise” of the citizenship proposal that Australia had “one overriding culture”.
However, the chairman of the council, Phong Nguyen, said that under no circumstances did the council support a separatist view of Australian society.
“Respect for cultural diversity does not equate to separatism,” he said. “We believe Australia is a multicultural society where people unite around democracy, the rule of law and our shared homeland.”