4.8 Multiculturalism Acts?

Do we need a Multiculturalism Act? Do the principles underlying the relevant laws, and the mechanisms available for resolving disputes arising under or concerning the law, take adequate account of the cultural diversity present in the Australian community'.

In particular, is there a particular need for further reforms in relation to laws relating to marriage, divorce and matrimonial cases, parental rights and obligations and custody and guardianship of children (Marriage Act 1961, Family Law Act 1975); laws relating to the formation and performance of contracts, (Trade Practices Act 1974, Insurance Contracts Act 1984); and laws relating to creating offences.

Currently the law as enshrined in statutes as well as common law reflects primarily values of the Anglo-Celtic tradition from which they sprung. The cultural bias of those who administer the law will always have a strong effect on values to be upheld by society.

Many laws may limit some aspect of individual freedom in protecting others from harm. For instance, laws meant to prohibit incitement to racial violence must necessarily limit freedom of speech, and road laws prohibit driving on the wrong side of the road may be said to prohibit freedom of movement.

Minority cultural values have to be identified. They must be analysed to ascertain whether they are accommodated in current practice of law. In particular, the extent to which individual members of ethnic groups are inhibited in expressing their cultural values must be ascertained.

The problem arises when minority cultural values and moral stance are diametrically opposed to majority established values. Full discussion on topics such as right to individual education, including language-specific schools, dress, religious practices, dietary peculiarities etc. are bound to raise objections but will have to be resolved.

Recommended changes in the current law have to be consistent with a number of criteria, including:

  • Consistency with the basic structures and principles of Australian society, including the Constitution, the rule of law, tolerance and equality, parliamentary democracy, freedom of speech and religion, English as the national language and equality of the sexes;
  • Consistency with international covenants to which Australia is a party;
  • Contemporary development in the culture of origin of the relevant values of ethnic minorities.

[From: The Ethnic Voice, Vol 2(2) March 1990]

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

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