Australia: If that is not who we are, then who are we?

Bitingly sharp critique of the phrase “This is not who we are,” written mainly but not exclusively from an Indigenous perspective. While over the top, more than a kernel of truth in terms of the various divisions and fault lines that apply more broadly than Australia and Indigenous issues:

After news of Australian war crimes in Afghanistan made headlines, it was only a matter of time before a politician uttered the words “This is not who we are”

Australia has been trying very hard for a very long time to have its cake and eat it too when it comes to the idea of ‘we’.

It has tried to create the impossible, or at least the grossly contradictory and hypocritical, by aggressively separating and dividing people across every imaginable line while simultaneously appealing to an idealised sense of ‘we’ whenever it is convenient or expedient.

We are separated across state lines, a fact which has never been clearer than when watching our Prime Minister first attack Victorians and then try to steal their achievement as his own.

We are separated across racial lines with racist dog whistling from media and politics, and more overt racism from everyday white supremacists.

We have simultaneously rejected Indigenous rights, rejected multiculturalism, and embraced assimilation in a way that allows racism to be framed as only a problem when someone complains about it and not when someone enacts it. The divisive act, separating we into usand them, is the acknowledgement of mistreatment rather than the mistreatment itself – “Why do they always have it to make it about race?” they ask, to an elusive ‘them’ who they like to imagine make everything about race.

We are separated across political lines with a renewed animosity and disdain aimed not just between our political parties, but from our politicians to the people they are meant to represent.

We work hard to separate ourselves with all sorts of real and imagined differences; AFL or NRL, Ford or Holden, devon or fritz, potato scollops or potato cakes, and while many of these are a bit of a laugh, some have still led to more than a few playground/pub punch ons over the years.

We also separate ourselves in ways that actively dehumanise those of us who are not we so that we are less concerned about about their human rights being denied (which is of course the point of dehumanising someone in the first instance); homeless, unemployed, incarcerated, lower income, asylum seekers, Indigenous peoples – if only they’d worked a little harder, not jumped the cue, not made it about ‘us and them’, not been mean to me once in primary school, then they’d be one of us, then they’d deserve dignity, respect and basic human rights.

And amongst all of that division there is a singular unified theory of ‘We’ that transcends time and space and all of reality.

The mythical ‘We’ who arrived on the First Fleet, even though it was not us who committed the massacres. That is not who we are!

And the we who were already here for thousands of years before we are not us but they, but only because they always make it about race by playing the race card, and they didn’t even invent the wheel so they should be thankful it was us who invaded and not some other them, not that it was even an invasion to begin with… and on it goes.

It is the We who wins gold medals at the Olympics, or beats India at the cricket, or New Zealand in the rugby, but it is not us if they refuse to sing the anthem, or if they take a knee, or dare to wear an Aboriginal flag, or throw an imaginary spear. That is divisive! That is not who we are!

It is the We who fought bravely in every war (except the frontier wars which never happened) so that we can celebrate our veterans, our beloved ANZACs, with alcoholism, gambling and sacred biscuits once a year. We forget they even exist outside our imagined dreams of past national glory even as we all mindlessly chant ‘Lest we forget’. And when they return different from when they left and in need of our support, we pass the buck yet again because it is not us who fail our returned service men and women just as it is not us who committed the war crimes – that is not who we are.

We is an impossible dream but still one that many feel is worth pursuing, personally I could take it or leave it, especially since that dream has been turned into a nightmare by those who exploit us by using we as a convenient scapegoat allowing them to pick and choose not just who is we, but when we are we. We push them away for not being we enough, we thin the ranks of we by declaring that all of us who do wrong in our name were never really we to begin with – they are unWe. They are not the real We. They are not who we are.

But either it is who we are, because we share a sense of collective identity, and accept collective responsibility for both the good and the bad, or if it is not then we, the collective embodiment of Australia, does not exist as anything other than a system of ever changing rules that benefit a select few, that denies Indigenous people justice, and that locks up brown people for trying to exercise our legal right to seek asylum.

We are the greatest nation on earth, because we only accept collective responsibility for all the good stuff while denying any responsibility for the bad stuff, though we will still happily keep the land and resources that were gained through doing the bad things that we didn’t do.

But here is the long and short of it for all of us.

If we want to have “Australia won a gold medal at the Olympics” then we also have to take “Australia committed war crimes”.

Of course we did not all individually do all the bad things anymore than we all collectively did the good things, for that is what being a collective is all about – collective responsibility.

And we do not need to stand for an anthem or salute a flag or be suitably proficient in English to do that, we just need to acknowledge problems where they exist and strive to make them better and never turn a blind eye or shirk our collective responsibilities to ourselves, to each other, or to our fellow human beings regardless of where we come from.

There is strength in the collective ‘we’, but there is a danger when we let them decide who weare and who we are not.

The modern incarnation of jingoistic, patriotic, racist as fuck, white ethnostate loving nationalism has its roots in the Howard/Hanson era, but of course is merely an adaption of the same white ethnostate ideal that Australia was built on. Once the idea of a Whites Only nation was put to bed, Australia was either going to embrace true multiculturalism or it was going begrudgingly accept that not everyone can be white while demanding that they damn sure do their best to act it anyway. This is where the origin of ‘One Nation’ comes from, for before it was a racist political party it was part of a strategy aimed at getting people to accept multiculturalism.

As Andrew Jakubowicz explains:

Multiculturalism may well be supported by 80% of Australians, but this level drops when anxiety about border security rises. So, multiculturalism’s opponents have much to gain from heightened public concern about “Muslim immigration”.

Hanson’s election has helped clarify the sides of the debate around how Australians have “imagined community” for more than 30 years, since Geoffrey Blainey first shaped the opposition arguments. There is one nation with many cultures, which was Bob Hawke’s 1989 definition of multiculturalism. And then there should be only one culture albeit followed by many races, which is Hanson’s conceptualisation – though wrongly labelled as “One Nation”.

The first sees Australia as a civic nation in which reciprocity and difference, supported by core commitments to democracy and equality, provide the architecture for creativity and cohesion.

The second sees Australia as an (Anglo-Christian) ethnic (multicoloured) monocultural nation in which assimilation into an imagined singular worldview drives calls for cohesion and claims of social strength.

We have never really reconciled which of the above ‘we’ we mean when we talk about ‘we’, and until we do we will be incapable of working out where we are heading because not only do we not know where we are, we apparently don’t even know who we are, even if some of us want to pretend to know who we aren’t.

Source: If that is not who we are, then who are we?

Australia’s new parliament is no more multicultural than the last one

Dramatic contrast with Canadian numbers: 56 foreign-born (44 MPs, 12 Senators, 2017), and currently 48 MPs who are visible minority:

Politicians often say Australia is the most successful multicultural country in the world – but it would seem the country’s growing diversity is failing to make its mark in the corridors of power.

The newly elected 46th parliament will likely have little more cultural diversity than the previous one, according to figures compiled by the Parliamentary Library and SBS News.

The number of MPs born overseas in the new parliament is down from 23 in the previous parliament, to 22, across the House of Representatives and Senate. While the number of MPs with one or more parent from a non-European background rose slightly, from eight in the previous parliament to nine in the new one.

45th Parliament versus the 46th Parliament

SBS News (source Parliamentary Library and SBS News)

Some of the notable exiting MPs include the Liberal’s Tony Abbott, born in England and Lucy Gichuhi, born in Kenya. As well as Labor’s Lisa Singh whose parents were born in Fiji.

Some of the newly elected MPs from diverse backgrounds include Liberal’s Dave Sharma, born in Canada to an Indian father; the Green’s Mehreen Faruqi, born in Pakistan; and the Liberal’s Gladys Liu, born in Hong Kong, who as of Tuesday was on track to pick up the closely fought Victorian seat of Chisholm.

According to the 2016 census 28.5 per cent of Australians were born overseas. While the United Kingdom remains the largest country of origin within that, China and India are in second and third place respectively.

UTS sociology professor Andrew Jakubowicz said he wasn’t surprised parliamentary diversity hasn’t grown in the new parliament.

“Parliament is essentially a white club, it is essentially a white boys club … The dynamic of change which is sweeping through the Australian community more widely is very apparent at the state level, but the federal level it seems to have been squeezed out,” he told SBS News.

The figures on multiculturalism for the 45th Parliament come from the Parliamentary Library and were accurate as of April 2019.

Data for the new parliament is compared with the previous figures and available public biography information of all new incoming MPs on their official websites.

Parliament is essentially a white boys club.


SBS News has reached out to both the Labor and Liberal parties to confirm the birthplace of several new members who haven’t mention their place of birth on their official websites.

The analysis is also based on the likely results, with some Senate and Lower House results still not finalised on Tuesday, following Saturday’s election win for the Coalition.

Where there has been change, is in the number of women who will take their place in parliament, with at least 81 women having confirmed to have won seats in the Senate or the House of Representatives.

This is compared to 73 female MPs in the previous parliament. There are 227 seats across both houses of parliament.

The number of Indigenous Australians in parliament will also likely increase from four to five with the return of Tasmanian Senator Jacqui Lambie.

During her first stint in Parliament, Ms Lambie used her maiden speech in 2014 to reveal her family connection to Tasmania’s Indigenous population.

According to an Essential Research poll commissioned for SBS News prior to the election, 71 per cent of Australians believed the country would benefit from a greater representation of under-represented groups in parliament.

Of those who agreed with the sentiment, 46 per cent said they would like to see more women in parliament, 32 per cent said more Indigenous Australians and 17 per cent said more Australians born overseas should be in parliament.

Professor Jakubowicz said he believed the Section 44 controversies and dual-citizenship concerns may be a barrier for multicultural Australians who are thinking about getting into politics.

“I think people from ethnically diverse communities who might want to make a run might be fairly intimidated by the sorts of hoops needed to jump through,” he said.

He also added that until the major parties change their internal processes and begin pre-selecting diverse candidates in winnable seats, little would change.

“The idea is that the parliament represents the range of the Australian people … that isn’t happening,” he said.

Source: Australia’s new parliament is no more multicultural than the last one

Australia: Foreign-born voters and their families helped elect Turnbull in 2016. Can they save ScoMo?

Interesting overview of the upcoming Australian election and ethnic votes. Some similarities to Canada but with greater polarization and more extreme views:

At the 2016 federal election, a small but significant vote cast by foreign-born Australians and their families helped elect the Liberal Party. The voters backed conservative minor parties in typically Labor-leaning electorates, and their preferences flowed to the Liberals.

Electoral pundits made little of this phenomenon at the time, and the media were not particularly interested. But in the wake of a similar voting pattern in the same-sex marriage plebiscite in 2017, the search is now on to find the elusive “ethnic vote”.

Who are these voters and where do they live?

The two largest collectives of non-English speaking groups are Chinese-Australians, and people from the Indian subcontinent including Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka. These “ethnic groups” are already multicultural, multilingual and politically diverse.

Pockets of Chinese-Australians concentrated in key swing seats in NSW and Victoria were mainly responsible for the surprise outcomes in 2016. That included Reid, Banks and Barton in NSW and Chisholm in Victoria. Three of the four went to the Liberals, but on demographic grounds and political trends at the time, all could have been delivered to Labor. (While Barton stayed Labor, the swing to the Liberals was significant.)

In 2019, we could see a similar pattern emerge in these seats again, as well as in Moreton in QLD, Hotham in Victoria, and Parramatta, Greenway and Bennelong in NSW.

Australia has over 300 ancestries, 100 religions and 300 languages, so invoking a category like “ethnic” does not lead in a particular direction – especially given the divisions and diversity within cultural groups and language communities.

And this population diversity has been shifting as newer groups have accelerated their presence, and older groups have passed on. The foreign-born population now have a growing number of Australian-born children, although many may not yet be able to vote.

How are the parties targeting them?

The main ethnic communities lobby group, the Federation of Ethnic Communities Councils of Australia (FECCA), has produced a policy wish-list and is seeking responses from the parties.

Among the majors, only the Greens have a clearly articulated multicultural policy, having put a proposal for a Multiculturalism Act with subsequent implementation and rights machinery to the Senate over a year ago.

The ALP still sits on its hands on the legislative option, possibly fearing that supporting such a move might trigger negative reactions from the working class and more racist voters.

Their policy now includes a “body” named Multicultural Australia, with a string of commissioners across the country. It will probably come under Tony Burke as Minister, focusing on citizenship and access issues. In this, it is a variant on the 1990s Office of Multicultural Affairs. This was once part of the Hawke/Keating prime minister’s office but was abolished by John Howard as soon as he could.

Labor has committed more funds for community language schools and criticised delays in processing citizenship applications, as well as the high level of English required to pass the test. Former Senator Sam Dastyari has argued that opening up parental reunion is a major offer to a range of ethnic groups needing older family members to do caring work. This move, as one of this author’s informants, said, would really “win the Desi’s heart”, and probably many other ethnic groups as well. The idea has prompted a hostile response from the Coalition.

While Liberal leader Scott Morrison reiterates the old Turnbull mantra of Australia being the most successful multicultural country, the government’s lacklustre Multicultural Advisory Council no longer seems to have a web presence other than one which promotes integration and Australian values.

The Liberals propose a system of aged care “navigators” to help people with limited English survive the aged care system, while also injecting funds into start-up businesses run by migrants.

Conservative think-tank the Institute for Public Affairs retains as its second policy demand of any Liberal government that Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act be abolished. The Liberals took this into 2013 and 2016; Morrison has said it’s not on for 2019, though the right of the party is still committed.

What role will they play in the election?

Ethnic communities are not necessarily either cohesive or unanimous in their political viewpoints unless something particularly touches on their “ethnicity”.

The recent anti-Chinese sentiment reflected in media headlines about the alleged corruption of Australian political parties by wealthy Chinese residents may be doing that among Chinese communities. Many Australian Chinese think that Labor is much more sensitive to these issues than the Coalition, and Liberal Party Chinese figures have voiced these concerns in public gatherings.

Although they can be very interested and involved in politics, Chinese Australians have tended to hold back from active political engagement in the past. Indians, by contrast, bring some knowledge of English and, coming from a Westminster democratic system, tend to be more directly engaged – as party members for example. The Greens are particularly open to south Asian members; so, it seems, is the Christian Democratic Party (CDP).

While there are many conservative and religious parties across the country, only NSW has the CDP. It’s offering a “multicultural” array of candidates and directing preferences to the Liberals. The party was key in funnelling support from East Asian intensive electorates in 2016.

After unsuccessful discussions over a number of elections as to whether a socially conservative alliance might be formed between Muslims and Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, Daoist and non-religious groups, something like the alliance appears to have been launched in Sydney. Reportedly “targeting Labor seats that had a high no vote in the same-sex marriage survey”, it could put some further some punch behind the Christian Democratic Party even though it’s not directly affiliated. The CDP is also targeting the Pacific communities in its campaign of support for Christian footballer Israel Folau.

Meanwhile, parties of the far right are competing to present their anti-multicultural agendas. In Lindsay, neo-Nazi Jim Saleam represents the Australia First Party, while across the country, right-leaning parties tussle for the xenophobic vote. That includes Rise Up Australia, Shooters Farmers and Fishers, Australian Conservatives, Australian National Conservatives, Pauline Hanson’s One Nation and United Australia Party.

Although these parties may preference the Coalition, they may prove to be one force that drives ethnic communities towards the ALP.

Election day and beyond

Election day will provide the proof for many of the claims about ethnicity, voting, influence and ideology. It’s highly likely that the senators elected from the right will run a unity ticket against multiculturalism in the new Senate.

This year may well prove the last flash of a mainly White Australian election, with its defenders doubling down on the right, while the centre takes on a multi-coloured hue, and the left is ever more rainbow. A lot of the knowledge that we may glean from the election process will only be learned in its aftermath, picking through small details and trying to form a pattern of explanation.

It has taken the Australian public sphere the best part of three years to work out what happened with cultural diversity and its complexities in 2016. We may well have just as long to wait this time around.

Source: Foreign-born voters and their families helped elect Turnbull in 2016. Can they save ScoMo?

Australia: Why multicultural policy looms as a Senate bargaining chip

Commentary on how the Australian Liberal party appears to be playing on the multiculturalism file, following the recent election of anti-multiculturalism hardliners Pauline Hanson and Eric Abetz:

[Liberal senator Zed[ Seselja [multiculturalism portfolio], in interviews with ABC Radio National and SBS, has revealed he supports multiculturalism – by which he means honouring ethnic community tradition while joining the Australian mainstream.

As he is a member of the government, and for as long as the government position is to leave Section 18C alone, he will stand by that position – though he may still push internally to change it.

Seselja said “it’s reasonable that people feel unease” about Islamic terrorism in response to TV personality Sonia Kruger calling for an end to Muslim migration. However, he did reiterate the government’s position that the immigration program does not discriminate on religious grounds.

But Seselja did not publicly voice his support for members of the Muslim community who may feel intimidated or victimised by calls for Muslim immigration to be banned – a call now echoed by right-wing Tasmanian senator Eric Abetz. Nor did he distance himself from Kruger’s endorsement of Bolt’s “understanding” of the drivers for potential vigilante attacks on the Muslim community and its institutions.

Seselja indicated that reworking “Labor’s multiculturalism policy” was on his to-do list. This is bizarre, as the current policy was taken almost unchanged by Labor from the considered policy of containment and minimisation developed during the Howard era.

Multiculturalism will clearly be one of the trading goods carried in the saddlebags of the government’s peacemakers in the Senate. How it will be shed, and for what deals, remains to be seen. That its components will be among the first sacrifices offered seems most likely, but the multicultural communities that defended Section 18C are alert to the dangers.

Source: Why multicultural policy looms as a Senate bargaining chip

Election 2016: the most exciting time to be multicultural in Australia?

Australian election platforms and multiculturalism – good overview by :

Laundry [of the governing Liberal party] does not believe in setting targets for diversity inclusion, preferring to let the market sort it out. Given the clear precedence of Australian law in all cases, as a practising Catholic, he strongly supports the freedom of communities to use religious tribunals to provide guidance for individuals in conflict. He cites Catholic Canon Law, Jewish Beth Din and Islamic Sharia as appropriate.

Laundy is opposed to extending racial vilification protection to religious vilification. He argues that religions are far stronger and don’t need it.

He is also opposed to a Multicultural Australia Act, rejecting even the option of debating it. He does not believe there is any need for a Multicultural Affairs office in the prime minister’s portfolio, nor mandated participation for cultural minorities in government advisory bodies.

Laundy accepts, however, that the Australian Multicultural Council needs serious work, with its membership changed to be far more representative.

As someone who has spoken out in defence of multiculturalism, he says:

“I know the views that vilify me are those of a small minority. Most Australians like what multiculturalism has done for the country.”

Reflecting on the past, he notes:

“Any prime minister who doesn’t support multiculturalism does so at his own peril.”

Rowland [Labour party shadow critic] shares many of Laundy’s social values. Labor, she stresses, has no policy for a Multicultural Act, though she also points to the party’s strong defence of Section 18C, especially through the shadow attorney-general, Mark Dreyfus.

Rowland agrees that perhaps an incoming government might charge a revised Australian Multicultural Council to explore legislative options for national multicultural legislation. But it is unlikely to be an election policy, and she doesn’t have a view.

The wider issues of diversity and representation have not been on Rowland’s radar. She admits she has never discussed with the shadow communications minister, Jason Clare, issues of diverse representation on either the ABC board or in its programming.

Rowland takes a diametrically opposed position to Laundy on where religious law sits. She believes religious groups should play no role in any Australian legal situation. For her, the law is and must remain secular – be it for Jews, Catholics or Muslims.

She is also wary of whether religious vilification should be part of the Racial Discrimination Act, flipping it to Dreyfus as his responsibility. She would, however, have the review of the Multicultural Council as a pressing issue, especially in terms of its ability to advise government on key areas such as employment, support for grassroots organisations, and the building of more community hubs.

Source: Election 2016: the most exciting time to be multicultural in Australia?

How national multicultural legislation would strengthen Australian society

Andrew Jakubowicz, Professor of Sociology, University of Technology Sydney on the need for an Australian multiculturalism act:

Australians in general like the idea of a culturally diverse society. This is not surprising, given the high proportion of overseas-born Australians and their immediate descendants.

They recognise the creativity that comes from the interaction of different ideas and viewpoints. They are happy with individual cultural traditions being retained so long as the consequences do not breach social harmony. They really do not like inter-group vilification, though they want to affirm a common bond of fairness and respect – words Turnbull uses repeatedly.

When multiculturalism and these principles are marginalised as they were during the Howard, Abbott and Rudd years, social cohesion unwinds. When the allocated political champion of multiculturalism of the day has no legislative lever from which to shift prejudice and encourage engagement, society suffers.

Given the sustained avoidance of legislated multicultural goals and practices by governments and the evident consequences in pockets of alienation and fragmentation, it should be time for a debate on what form of legislative framework Australians would like to see in support of their desires for a fair and multicultural public sphere.

This means an Australian Multiculturalism Act, and a ministerial remit for the whole of government.

Source: How national multicultural legislation would strengthen Australian society

Australia: Multiculturalism faces uncertain future in more polarised nation

Results of a survey for Australia’s Special Broadcasting Service (somewhat equivalent to OMNI) by Andrew Jakubowicz, and some of the divisions within Australian society:

A more “traditionalist” group perhaps as high as 47% wants conservative certainties, rejecting or fearing social change. A large middle group around a third of Australians is “open-minded” about the future, but highly protective of its own lifestyles and interests. Only a “cosmopolitan” minority one in five is drawn towards new opportunities while welcoming an evolving and changing world.

Evidence from the Census for the past two decades reveals some basic information. Australians are ageing; we are more culturally diverse; we live in smaller family units or alone; we are less religious; and we consume more stuff per head.

The divisions between us – the shape of the society we desire and the threats we fear – are deepening. The focus is on apprehension about, as against desire for, diversity and innovation. The multicultural future that all expect to increase lies at the heart of these tensions.

Multiculturalism faces uncertain future in our more polarised nation.

Does Murdoch’s multiculturalism light Abbott’s path to the future?

For those interested in Australian multicultural debates, some criticism from the left on what appears to be the Abbott government’s approach. Some similarities to Canadian conservatives (who were also inspired in some of their early thinking by the Howard government on citizenship and multiculturalism):

Does Murdoch’s multiculturalism light Abbott’s path to the future?.

Departing FECCA chair holds fears for multiculturalism | SBS News