Mixing Pot Is Back In Multicultural Australia

Mixing pot is back in multicultural Australia

Yuko Narushima
Sydney Morning Herald
December 18, 2008

THE Rudd Government has brought a word back to Australian politics that disappeared under the Howard government.

Yesterday it announced the formation of the Australian Multicultural Advisory Council to advise it on promoting social cohesion and stemming racism. Its predecessor was allowed to lapse in 2006 and Australia has been without a multicultural policy since.

The 16-member council, which includes representatives from the Filipino, Chinese and Islamic communities as well as human rights and anti-discrimination experts, will be chaired by the chief executive of the AFL, Andrew Demetriou.

The Immigration Minister, Chris Evans, said yesterday that cultural diversity was an asset to the country. “The Government considers Australia's approach to immigration and cultural diversity to be a national strength,” he said.

The director of the Federation of Ethnic Communities' Councils of Australia, Peter van Vliet, welcomed the advisory panel but suggested a deadline for new multicultural policy. “Australia has been without a policy framework for around two years now. We would like the council and the Government to develop a multicultural policy over the next few months.”

He said it was crucial for the Government to consult business, academic and community leaders on multicultural affairs. “The Government needs advice on top of the departmental advice it receives in this area.”

Representatives from business, politics and welfare organisations include the NSW TAFE Outreach co-ordinator, Nola Randall-Mohk, the South Australian District Court Judge Rauf Soulio and the director of the Centre for Muslim States and Societies, Associate Professor Samina Yasmeen.

The Professor of Sociology at the University of Technology, Sydney, Andrew Jakubowicz, said the panel was long overdue. “The choice of Andrew Demetriou as chair is a symbolic statement about mainstreaming cultural diversity in Australia,” he said.

Whether it will turn the tide on the previous government's push to integrate migrants rather than celebrate difference remains to be seen.

In the wash-up of the 2005 Cronulla riots and amid debate on a citizenship test, the former prime minister John Howard said: “When you come to this country, you become Australian.”

His government dropped the word multicultural from the department of immigration and multicultural affairs last year, a decision that was viewed as minimising the value of international identities.

Professor Jakubowicz said that Kevin Rudd had also been careful about discussing multiculturalism.

“The Prime Minister so far has been reluctant to use the word himself, as his predecessor was.”

The resources and power given to the board would be a test of the Government's commitment to improving social conditions for migrants, he said. The council will meet for the first time early next year and three times a year thereafter.