4.3Quantitating the Tolerance Factor

I have answered three questions, and that is enough
(Alice in Wonderland)

From time to time, societies, primitive and modern alike, indulge in a soul-searching exercise that could be mistaken for masochistic practice by the non-cognoscenti - a sort of ritual cathartic chest-thumping closely related to exorcism.

The report from the Office of Multicultural Affairs "Issues of Multicultural Australia, 1988" could be placed into such a ritualistic category. Basically this survey involved seeking answers to several hundred questions from a couple of thousand interviewees, and through statistical manipulation which may be described as lumping together and cross-tabulation, social scientists expect to come out with a distillate, a clear mirror of society.

The results are none-the-less of interest. Now we know that the vast majority of the persons selected from the "general Australian public" are in favour of retaining, or actually increasing the number of migrants that we are getting, at the moment - irrespective of whether they are from the UK, Asia, S. Europe or the Middle East, and particularly if they happen to be well education. We now know that the vast majority think that obedience and respect for authority are the most important virtues children should learn. The vast majority support intensive English courses for migrants and the provision of information relating to Government services in languages other than English.

We could also conclude with considerable satisfaction that multiculturalism, in so far as it is understood at all, is considered beneficial to Australians because it helps tourism, produces a variety of food and promotes a fair go for all. The majority also do not mind if the Government spends money on providing interpreter services in hospital and courts or provide radio and television shows in languages other than English.

Curious questions lead inevitably to curious answers. When one asks " How close are you prepared to be with ." one must be prepared for some unusual answers. In fact, the general public, it seems, does not particularly like to be close to anybody much. The proportion of members of "the general public" who would welcome any other ethnic groups as members of the family varied from 8 to 35%. The fallacy of such statistics relating to perceptions is belied by the actual data for marriage between Australian and overseas-born: where it is seen that the intermarriage rate is up to 60%.

No doubt there will be journalists who will select specific bits from this survey to show that multiculturalism has a long way to go before it is fully accepted by the general public. It might even be used to plan future policy and provide finance for those aspects like English as a second language (ESL), interpreters, language teaching etc, which are perceived as beneficial.. One could hope that the money would be well spent if as a result of this survey a serious attempt is made to inform the general public of the various facets of multiculturalism in an attempt to broaden one's vista and create a greater degree of understanding and tolerance.

[From: The Ethnic Voice, Vol 1(3) June 1989]

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

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