4.11 Social Harmony and Government Policies

Australia is a large continent, but it is certainly no island unto itself. Whether it is the economic policies of big brother the US, or turbulence in the Middle or the Far East, Australia is sure to feel the impact and suffer the consequences.

It has been stated that one thing that has come out of the Middle East conflict is the demonstrable triumph of multicultural policies. Considering the sheer magnitude of the forces involved, the potential for retribution in Australia must have been enormous. In times gone by, in a country naive of any multicultural concepts, the only solution would have been internment for the few nationals born in the country with which one is at war. That such a solution was considered not only unnecessary but also ludicrous, says a lot about our measure of tolerance of newcomers in this country. Most of us believe that we have needed no more protection from such persons other than understanding. We were convinced that they are Australians first and migrants second. We expect no less and the Middle East crisis has proven us right. This is a triumph for multiculturalism. It is understood that the rights of the few are accepted by the many, and the final criterion of acceptance is not country of origin, ideology or identity with the dominant culture, but the intrinsic worth and compatibility with basic human rights and the structures of democracy.

It would be a mistake to over-emphasise the activities of a few hoodlums whose warped weltanshauung threatens us all. Whether it is bombing of law courts or setting fire to the odd garden hedge or daubing with insolent graffiti the sacred walls of mosques and synagogues - such actions are equally repugnant and merit our opprobrium. However, we should consider them as the acts of lunatics and not the norm. The real problem is to assess how much these acts of vandalism are the outpouring of individual rage, and to what extent they represent a ground swell of disapproval, the tip of the iceberg, so to speak..

Studies by the Office of Multicultural Affairs (OMA) have shown that there is a wide variation in the degree of acceptance of one ethnic group by another. There is a spectrum of tolerance based on race, religion and other markers of identity and culture, and while this may be unpalatable and unwelcome to most of us, it would be naive to dismiss it as irrelevant, or insignificant, and to bury our heads in the sand and hope that it will go away.

What should be the response to this conservatism? The attitude of governments in Australia has moved from an initial narrow-minded striving for assimilation, to a celebration of difference and a policy of multiculturalism. Attempts have been made to educate the public about the intrinsic values of various cultures and the ways in which our own Australian culture can benefit and become enriched by such contact and information.

Approaches have also been made to promote an ongoing dialogue with the various groups that are perceived as being more different and threatening to our society with a view to understanding the problems at ground level, and to work out a plan of action. It is a pity, however, that such attempts have been spasmodic and uncoordinated. We have seen no comprehensive policy at State or Federal level that aims at bridging the gaps that are perceived to exist. A much more detailed analysis of the basis of conflict and its resolution has to be undertaken and policies put into effect in an effort to identify the problem and provide solutions. It is not good enough to have ad hoc solutions to fundamental problems.

conspicuously lacking in several governmental bodies.

[From:The Ethnic Voice, Vol 3(3) April 1991, p 3]

Source: Maurice N.Cauchi - The Maltese Migrant Experience, Malta 1999

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