November 4th 2000


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United States: Clinton’s legacy to determine U.S. presidential poll

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Agriculture: Apples - who’s fooling whom?

Canberra Observed: Whitlam's apologia on East Timor role

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Straws in the Wind

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Straws in the Wind


by Max Teichmann

News Weekly, November 4, 2000
Assimilation? Integration? Multiculturalism?

The Origins of Multiculturalism in Australian Politics 1945-1975 by Mark Lopez could be the first reputable history of the origins of multiculturalism in Australia, being the fruits of seven years research, which included interviews with the original lobbyists-activists, the politicians and public servants whom they won over; plus some of those public commentators who were observing all of this.

This book, and Katherine Betts' recent overview of multiculturalism, heralds a long overdue break with what might come to be remembered as a sustained period of mediocre and often flawed scholarship, (and Lopez picks up on some of these lapses); increasing recycling - for the original ideas have proved incapable of significant expansion and refinement, possibly because of their intrinsic vacuity; and evidence of self-congratulation. And, in the years following 1975, a rising intolerance of critics of multiculturalism, leading finally to their marginalisation in the media, academia, publishing and the public service.

But in the period covered by Lopez, there was little of this, for the original definers of the multicultural scenario were few in number, so had to move carefully. And one of the most interesting discoveries of Lopez was how small the original band of activists that worked to impose multiculturalism upon Australia really was, and how few Australians, native born or immigrant, wanted it. And how most Australians were quite unaware of this process of conversion, by stealth - of the decision makers and opinion formers.

It was almost as though, like Rip Van Winkle, they woke up after a twenty year sleep, to find they were living in a multicultural Australia. Subsequently, too infrequent public soundings have indicated that many, if not most citizens either reject the description, or are luke-warm at best. And a great number still do not understand the term multiculturalism itself. And this is not for the lack of a long running propaganda campaign and a Heath Robinson pyramid of academic departments and centres, and an all-too-visible presence in schools and the public media. But to the book.

A handful of lobbyists sought from the early sixties to discredit assimilationism, and then its successor, integrationism, and to replace these with a doctrine of multiculturalism, which Lopez discovers takes at least four different forms, overlapping and periodically competing.

Thus, "the multiculturalist presence was and is divided on ideology, personal differences and rivalries. The internecine disputes between multiculturalists from different camps were, and remain, a significant feature of multiculturalism.

"Competition between them has been as bitter and uncompromising as against assimilationism.

"The multiculturalists have united to address broad attacks on multiculturalism ... otherwise co-operation between multiculturalists from opposing camps was sometimes hard to achieve ..." (p.451).

Shades of the Reconciliation Lobby! The familiar fight for power and pelf.

And these disputes are all covered here, as are the numerous previous historians of MC. Lopez finds that most of these historians were themselves historical actors who wrote their own history, and pushed their own versions of multiculturalism. A whole mythology has arisen as a consequence.

As examples of activist historians Lopez suggests we reappraise: Jean Martin, Jakubowciz, Castles, Kalantzis, Jupp, for starters.

Again, the definitions of "assimilation" and "integration" produced by multicultural advocates often didn't accord with the understanding of the people who actually held these views; as Lopez observes.

The author distinguishes between four different kinds of MC:

Cultural pluralism: "concerned with government recognition and support for the preservation and development of migrant/ethnic groups and cultures. Ethnic groups are the ideal means to assist migrant settlement, and ethnic welfare organisations are preferable to all others."

Migrant advancement is judged through the attainments of individuals rather than of their groups. The core values and institutions of the host country should be preserved albeit modified. The split here comes between those who support political parties of either the Left or Right.

Welfare multiculturalism: targets migrant/ethnic groups with welfare problems and life, cultural and leisure disadvantages. Migrant should enter into parties, unions, pressure groups, attain senior positions in the public service. And, an ethnically and culturally diverse society is preferable to others.

Then there are the ethnic structural pluralism, and the ethnic rights multicultural streams. The last is the most ideological - heavily determined by Marxism, but picking up on feminism and many other rights groups and pressing them into the service of this version of multiculturalism.

Jerzy Zubrzycki and Sir James Gobbo, early advocates of cultural pluralism, believe multiculturalism has "outlived its purpose", that "cultural diversity" is the preferable term - especially as we already have it, and ethnic diversity. Professor Zubrzycki thinks multiculturalism is tainted by the arguments and practices of left-wing multiculturalists; by the ethnocentric and separatist behaviour of some ethnic groups; and the attempts by the main political parties to woo the ethnic group organisations through grants and hand-outs.

The path for the imposition of the multicultural ideology upon many parts of social policy was smoothed by the anti-status quo, cultural complaint philosophies of the Vietnam War; fortuitous changes in government, and the adoption of multiculturalism by both major parties in the 1970s.

Things moved very quickly thereafter, a period of bipartisanship followed, emerging critics could be vilified as racists - and were - and Australian nationalism, in the absence of threats, was seen as superfluous.

Disadvantage?

There had been notable economic and vocational disadvantages being suffered by earlier migrants - though Professor Jean Martin who started the big push for change, was later to admit that the degree of disadvantage she had publicised, was not nearly as severe as she had originally believed.

Lopez speculates that had these failures been addressed at the outset, multiculturalism might not even have got off the ground.

Most migrants don't involve themselves in migrant politics, movements or theorising any more than they watch ethnic television. Very little unpaid input is present in the contemporary multicultural industry, and any government which had the gumption to pull the plug on state spending would find multiculturalism would suffer the fate of Puff the Magic Dragon.

But the hard Left participants, and the grant-happy careerists whom Zubrzycki and Gobbo so deplore, are not going to let go easily.

Dr Lopez has written a clear, impartial and erudite book which has immeasurably raised the standards of investigative research and analysis.




























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