Sorry I’m running late this morning! Turned on the computer just over one hour ago, but s-it happens, as Tony might say. Or rather Windows 7 SP1 happens… And happens… And happens…
Now I have been known in times past to be quite hard on right-wing politicians named “George”.
But not today.
This George gets my vote.
When I was growing up in Sydney in the 1960s,Petersham was a popular place of settlement for immigrant families – "New Australians", as they were often called.
Our next-door neighbours were Chinese, next to them was a Greek family, there was an Italian family directly across the street. At my local convent school, St Thomas’s in Lewisham, almost half of the kids were from non-English speaking backgrounds. Perhaps the reason I have always been relaxed about a multicultural Australia is that it is the only Australia I have ever known.
Contrary to popular myth, multicultural Australia is not a product of the 1970s, although we can trace the rather cumbersome word "multiculturalism" to that time. Australia has been a nation with a multiplicity of cultures for most of its history since European settlement – not taking into account the variety of Aboriginal cultures that the Europeans found.
With each new wave of settlement there has been, from some among the established population, suspicion and resentment. Equally there has been, among those newly arrived, fear of the new and unknown, and a desire to cluster together to preserve the traditions and customs of their homeland. Both of those reactions are as predictable as human nature.
Then, the new generation, whose experience is only of this country, seeks to break free of the bonds of its parents’ culture and identifies primarily with being Australian.
Some of the protagonists in the debate on the role of Muslims in Australian society have forgotten that, for every new wave of immigrants, the story has been the same. Today it is Muslims who are targeted, but a decade ago it was Asians, a generation before that it was Greeks and Italians, and before that it was the Irish.
Muslims – who are about 300,000 strong now, or 1.7 per cent of the population – are unfairly identified with the extremist ideology of a few. That caricature is reinforced by the publicity attracted by the loudest, most strident voices. These lend credence to the innuendo that these people, because of their culture, religion or background are a threat to our way of life – or even our national security.
We have seen it all before. My maternal forbears were Irish. As those who are familiar with Australian history will know, a century ago, at the time of World War I, the same taunts that are today directed at Muslims were directed at the Irish in a then predominantly Protestant Australia.
They practised a strange, ritualistic religion, uttered in an ancient and (to the uneducated) impenetrable tongue. They clung together in urban ghettos. Their sentimental allegiance was said to lie with a foreign political movement and Irish republicanism was as feared in Australia as Islamist jihadism is today.
For the only time in Australian history, a member was expelled from the House of Representatives for uttering disloyal sentiments in support of his native Irishmen, while in Melbourne the Royal Orange Lodge led a parade of thousands down Collins Street demanding Archbishop Daniel Mannix be hanged as a traitor.
After World War II many Australians had difficulty in accepting Italians and Greeks. I can still remember the playground taunting of Italian kids, from which I formed my lifelong detestation of bullies who pick on a vulnerable minority. Whether they realise it or not, the same sentiment that drives those who bullied those kids then, animates those who beat up on Muslims now.
The acceptance of Asians was slower, because it involved dismantling the White Australia policy. Labor has nothing to be proud of here. Successive Labor leaders in the 1960s and 1970s uttered what are, arguably, the two most infamous racist jibes in Australian history: Arthur Calwell’s "Two Wongs don’t make a White" and Gough Whitlam’s refusal to accept Vietnamese refugees because he didn’t want Australia populated with "f–king yellow Balts".
In fairness, though, it was Calwell who championed the postwar surge of refugees from Europe, while the Whitlam government completed the dismantling of White Australia begun by Harold Holt. And it was the government of Malcolm Fraser that completed and carried to fulfilment the bipartisan consensus in favour of a multicultural Australia. If multicultural Australia has an intellectual architect, it is Petro Georgiou, who as a young adviser to Fraser wrote these words: "We as Liberals are committed to encouraging and supporting diversity in our multi-cultural society. We reject the sterile Anglo-conformity of past days."
Despite the discordant voices of a few, it has remained the Liberal Party’s policy ever since.
Today, a Wong sits in a Labor cabinet, beside ministers of Italian, Slovenian and Libyan heritage, while I sit in a shadow cabinet with colleagues of Palestinian, Greek and German parentage. No side of politics owns multicultural Australia – it is the successful product of Liberal and Labor administrations, across the decades.
In a free country, nobody should be denied the right to challenge or question it. But equally, those of us, from both sides of politics, who have championed the ideal of a liberal society receptive to and respectful of people of all races and faiths, should resist those intemperate voices and be steadfast in its defence.
George Brandis is the federal shadow attorney-general.
There are times I have questioned things George Brandis has advocated, but not today! Kudos, George!
And Ross Gittins isn’t too shabby either.
…To acknowledge we have an evolutionary predisposition to fear and resent outsiders is not to condone such attitudes. The process of civilisation involves gaining mastery over our base emotions.
But if such attitudes are instinctive and impervious to rational argument, what’s to be done now the pollies have let their standards fall? I was at a loss for an answer until last week and the arrival in Sydney of that distressed orphan boy for the funeral of his father. Suddenly, a crack appeared in the wall of prejudice against asylum seekers.
Tony Abbott and his immigration spokesman, Scott Morrison, got caught going beyond the pale in their pursuit of electoral advantage. It emerged that Morrison had earlier proposed exploiting the resentment of Muslims, but had been rebuffed by colleagues insisting the Liberals’ long-standing commitment to a non-discriminatory immigration policy remain inviolate.
Immigration Minister Chris Bowen was widely criticised for his bureaucratic and insensitive treatment of the young boy and his relatives. And it seems the episode has prompted Gillard to find the courage to lead.
”People easily fear change. People easily fear difference,” she said. ”It is the job of national leadership to reassure in the face of that fear, to explain to people that there is ultimately nothing to be afraid of.” …
Remember when the Queen of Irrelevance tried to flee the country?
Back in 1996 when I personally was very happily being swamped by Asians Pauline got a lot of people going on this being some kind of problem. Her overseas escape confirmed that the world is indeed full of ethnics so she came home again. One of the world’s great drama queens is our Pauline!
Look, I’ve never found AUSTRALIAN multiculturalism hard to understand. I have never found it hard to explain to others, not if they can be engaged in just a little empathy about what being a migrant is actually like. I have found most people, on reflection, either end up not having a problem with AUSTRALIAN multiculturalism or even becoming, like me, intensely PROUD of it! That’s why I find the present kerfuffle so galling! What a waste of time it is!