Like many Australians, I welcomed the Australian Multicultural Statement released by Prime Minister Turnbull yesterday.
There is no doubt about this: Australia is a culturally and religiously diverse Country. It is almost 300 cultures in one, carrying with them their differences and blending together to create a viable, tolerant and beautiful mosaic this nation has turned to be.
The indigenous populations, which lived on this land for centuries, have proven to be and have long portrayed a positive long lasting rich variety of cultures, traditions and languages. Even though the European Invasion of the 19th century endeavoured to eliminate the Aboriginal Black race, the Chinese migrants and all those who did not look like White Europeans, by instigating different measures such as the White Australian Policy, modern Australia has landed exactly on the opposite site of the 19th century predictions, wishes and efforts.
Australia’s past brutal and cruel history is, of course, not to be compared to the country we have now: a multicultural society.
Multiculturalism however, was not offered on a platter of gold, especially when considering that different governments have tried to interpret it in their own terms, thus showing the level of commitment they have towards it.
In recent years, the 2011 People of Australia Multicultural Policy, established by the Gillard Government, was a landmark policy that expressed a strong commitment from the Australian government to maintain a diverse and healthy multicultural society. It acknowledged multiculturalism as the heart of Australia’s identity and a true expression of Australia’s past, present and future. It recognised the equal rights and responsibilities of all Australians.
Four key themes came from that policy:
1. Celebrating and valuing the benefits of Australia’s cultural diversity with a strong emphasis on national unity and the maintenance of harmony within the confines of democracy and patriotism
2. A national commitment to create a more just, inclusive and socially cohesive society in which all Australians can participate in democratic processes and opportunities.
3. The economic benefits of multiculturalism and the need to see cultural diversity, not just through social lenses but economic ones as well.
4. A national commitment to promote cultural understanding and acceptance (i.e dealing with racism and discrimination)
There is none of these four points I disagree with.
From Gillard to Turnbull, Australia has changed. Taking the debate on asylum seekers and refugees out of this conversation, I still believe that the national sentiment towards what it means to be Australian has changed. To paraphrase the words of a friend: ‘’even the wind blowing from Canberra disseminates a message by which there are full Australians and acceptable Australians whom, at any time, can be marginalised when something bad happens or based on how they look.’’
Turnbull’s Multicultural Statement released on 20 Mars, a day before Harmony day, was a hypocritical social bribery. Here is why:
1. It was a message within a message. After reading the policy and listening to a few commentators, I questioned as to why terrorism had to be part of it. If the intent of the statement was to celebrate our diversity, somehow linking terrorism to multiculturalism is nothing else than moving in the wrong direction and conditioning our brains to think that Australia will receive threat as a down payment for embracing diversity.
2. It was hypocritical: Mr Turnbull had the guts of standing in front of the cameras a day before Harmony Day and telling us how every face and colour looks Australian, knowing well – as an astute politician – that the next day (Harmony Day) – his cabinet would water down the Racial Discrimination Act (RDA). Did I say astute? No, I think hypocrite.
3. It was a clear and strong green light to racism: the timing of this is not a coincidence. On Harmony Day (21/3) known as the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, Turnbull and his acolytes take a stand in favour of racism by removing parts of the RDA. The timing is a clear message that the current government is committed to having second class Australians who can be insulted, humiliated and offended on the basis of their race.
One thing is clear: a weak prime minister has crumbled under pressure from a few intellectual racists from his party room using intellectualism and wording as a way of legitimising hate and criminalising justice and fairness.
In a time when hate speech is now acceptable from the mouths of our political leaders, recent events do clearly tell me: Australia is moving in the wrong direction. Our leaders are destroying the fabrics of our national unity by disseminating ideas of hate, threats, and differences.
My assessment is that Gillard’s statement remains more genuine and stronger than Turnbull’s recently released hypocritical statement.
Alphonse Mulumba is a columnist with AMA