Former prime minister John Howard recently expressed some misgivings about multiculturalism. It's worth in the context of that discussion to look at the history. The key characteristic of Australia is that we are an immigration nation and we are that by choice. Sure we are "home to First Australians" but we are made up predominately of those who "joined from near and far" (to quote myself).
By any measure we are one of the most successful immigration countries in the world. Former and first immigration minister Arthur Calwell is rightly credited with bringing this about with, incidentally, bipartisan support. The migration numbers being spoken of then dwarf what we consider today. Calwell's immigration plans were ambitious and Robert Menzies encouraged him to be more so. They were very different times from today.
Realising we needed for our own security to rapidly build our population and at the same time recognising the UK would face post-war labour shortages, the government turned to include "White European Aliens". Italians, Greeks, Poles and others were all welcome. Although to placate an uncertain post-war electorate a fig leaf policy of 10 Brits to one alien was announced but adhered to in the breach. Calwell and the supporters of immigration wanted every person who came here to feel genuinely valued.
For all his desire to see people of many different races welcome, he maintained a strong white Australia view. In today's climate to say you are not racist but rather simply a believer in the value of homogeneity wouldn't stand up to scrutiny. But things change. That's one of life's certainties. We shouldn't judge people by today's standards.
After the war he was determined to stop Japanese war brides coming here with their returning servicemen husbands. Public sentiment was largely behind him on that. He was equally determined to return refugees who sought shelter with us during the war. He issued a leaflet entitled "Danger to Australia" and warned that Menzies and his party wanted to "break down our selected immigration policy". Calwell was warned repeatedly about the damage his rhetoric was doing to our relationships in Asia. He was, despite these warnings, a fervent white Australia policy advocate.
The saga of Acehnese born Annie Maas Jacob, determinedly pursued by Caldwell, is a blot on his record. She, her husband Samuel and their children fled Aceh to Australia where he worked for the Dutch Intelligence Service. He was killed in a plane crash returning from Papura New Guinea. Her landlord married her to try and ensure she could stay. Stay she did and pulled the first thread on the white Australia policy.
It's not something that gets much publicity but it was largely Liberal ministers who dismantled the white Australia policy. The Whitlam government finished the job in 1973.
By 1995, just one year before the election of the Howard government, Australia had welcomed more than 5 million people from more than 100 countries around the world. We achieved an enormous increase in our overseas born population in just under two generations and only Israel had a higher proportion of its population overseas born.
This blend of cultures has served us well.
Possibly any disagreement Howard and perhaps others have simply relates to what it means to be multicultural. It does not mean and cannot be allowed to become a policy that allows people to come here and reject our collective values. Nor can people come and seek to impose theirs. If that's what Howard rejects, I'm with him, as probably are the vast bulk of Aussies to boot.
If you came here to build a better life, then do it. Multiculturalism does not mean you can bring racial or religious hatred here. If you wanted to revel in that nastiness you should have stayed where you were. Multicultural means you come and share your culture, not impose it.
Australia offers a peaceful life with freedom and opportunity. When you join us you have to be a part of putting that into practice. You can't use, enjoy and take the benefits of that peace and freedom we all collectively provide and by your own actions damage that very valuable gift. It is part of our role as citizens; we all carry the collective responsibility to maintain the peace and freedom. If you don't want to accept that responsibility, you shouldn't have come.
The acceptance of our diverse backgrounds by those already here and those who join us is, I suspect, what gave us an easy going, egalitarian "let the bloke have his say" attitude. We all recognise that unless you're a full-blood Indigenous Australian, you've got migrant blood in your veins. It's what we all have in common. It unites us.
This breaks down where new migrants from the same country live not just at first, but remain, in close proximity to each other. Understandably newcomers like to mix with people undergoing the same experience and confirm their heritage. But if that becomes shutting out the world they came to, they don't get to experience the rest of us, nor truly become one of us. We have failed them in allowing social enclaves to develop. Sweden has realised the folly of allowing that.
In that context Malcolm Fraser's "Lebanon concession" apropos the Lebanese civil war in the '70s was a disaster. We effectively relinquished control over who came here. It is testament to why Howard was so right to assert "We will decide who comes here and the circumstances under which they come".
Understandably, migrants and their kids find comfort in those undergoing a similar experience. Hence the plethora of ethnic clubs. It is normal and healthy to take pleasure, even rejoice if that's not too naff a description, in your heritage. But after a while the melting pot starts to cook . People of Italian heritage marry those with English or Irish backgrounds, people with German heritage marry those of Dutch descent. The list is almost endless. People blend in without denying their heritage. In a very real sense they become more than that heritage. They are richer for it. And so is Australia.
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