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Australia’s quest for a truly multicultural and inclusive society can only continue to flourish if it incorporates a global view, young people are involved and programs reflect local concerns and issues, Deakin University’s Chair in Migration and Intercultural Studies, Professor Fethi Mansouri said.
Professor Mansouri was responding to the launch of the new national multicultural policy by the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship Chris Bowen in the Federation of Ethnic Communities' Councils of Australia magazine Mosaic.
Professor Mansouri warned however that Australia’s successful multicultural and social inclusion agenda risked being hijacked by new forms of racial discrimination that were starting to emerge in schools and media outlets.
“Whilst these forms of racism are occurring in an increasingly securitised international agenda, they nevertheless reveal a persistent current of cultural intolerance that must be tackled as a matter of national priority,” he said.
“Racism and discrimination if left unchallenged have the potential to stifle multiculturalism and inclusion and in the process reproduce the old stereotypes of the dark years of the White Australia policy.”
Professor Mansouri said Australia’s ‘brand’ of multiculturalism had lead the way since 1973 when the then Labour Minister for Immigration Al Grassby released a paper A Multicultural Society for the Future.
“Compared with other nations Australia has managed to strike a balance between emphasising an attachment to Australia the nation on one hand while allowing a capacity for migrants to retain a culture that does not break domestic laws on the other.
“This is despite the difficulties at different points in our history for example Pauline Hanson, the Cronulla riots and the boat people episodes.
“Indeed this marriage of migrant heritage, culture and mainstream values has resulted in a creative and vibrant Australian society capable of projecting a positive confident image that is the envy of the world.”
Professor Mansouri whose research has compared attitudes towards multiculturalism and cultural diversity in Australia and a number of similar émigré societies such as France, Britain, Canada and the USA, said Australia had managed the issue of migration, multiculturalism and cultural diversity much better.
“While there is still some way to go before we are a truly inclusive society, these results are not surprising,” he said.
“France for instance has a policy of assimilation that aggressively denies any projection of cultural or religious identity in public.
“Germany never had a policy of supporting migrant communities.
“People in these communities are seen as guest workers even if they were born in the country.
“It was not until recently that citizenship laws were amended so that those born in Germany of migrant parents could obtain German citizenship.”
Professor Mansouri said in both countries, government policy was formed with an unrealistic hope that migrants would shed their cultural baggage and assimilate smoothly in the host country.
“It was this expectation and the resultant disenfranchisement that led to the Paris riots in 2005 and the crisis surrounding German integration of immigrants.
“It does however show us that social alienation, disengagement and cultural tension can occur when political leaders and public policy do not provide an inclusive national narrative that is supported by help on the ground for those wishing to be members of the wider community.”
Professor Mansouri said the strength of multiculturalism and cultural inclusion in Australia was derived from the people who carried it and practiced it in their every day lives.
“Many people now accept that diversity is an advantage rather than an impediment to social development as well as to economic growth,” he said.
“But this renewed emphasis on multiculturalism shouldn’t just focus on material advantage but be practised within a global conversation on ethics and cosmopolitan values.
“Why? Because the reality is communities now look outward as well as inward and with improved communications have formed attachments transnationally.
“This was not possible previously.
“Our conversation needs to start with the next generation of Australians, our youth and educational institutions.”