So, shrill the triumphalists of the conservative press, multiculturalism is dead. It has proven to be a complete disaster.
We know this because we have it from no lesser authorities than the prime ministers of both Great Britain and Germany. David Cameron claims that multiculturalism promotes division rather than unity; Angela Merkel asserts that it has utterly failed. What else is there to say?
Well, just one thing, and Malcolm Fraser has dared to say it: they don’t know what they are talking about, because neither of their countries has ever had a policy of multiculturalism.
What they have had is immigration programs – or perhaps the lack of them – which have collapsed in a heap of unintended consequences and social unrest, because no one ever tried to make them balanced and inclusive.
In Germany’s case, the trouble was the so called guest worker scheme: cheap labour was imported from countries such as Turkey. No attempt was made to integrate the newcomers, who were never meant to stay for long anyway; but the economy could not do without them, and they formed ghettoes which became the breeding ground for resentment and discontent.
In England the problem arose from the end of the empire; Harold McMillan’s winds of change drove many thousands to seek refuge in what they had been told was their home country. In particular Asians fled from the newly independent countries in Africa, and the floods arrived before the doors could be closed. Now, of course, not even Australians are welcome; but those who made it cannot be deported. Once again, it was totally unplanned and there was no policy to deal with it.
So just what is multiculturalism? The Tory pundits shake their beetled brows and say it is all too difficult, too complex to explain. But in fact it’s so simple you can set it to music:
We are one, but we are many;
And from all the lands of earth we come;
We share a dream and sing with one voice:
You are, I am, we are Australian.
Or, as the Americans put it even more concisely in the motto on their great seal: E Pluribus Unum – out of many, one. The two definitions are especially pertinent because they come from the only two countries ever to have consciously embarked on a policy of multiculturalism and the two which most vigorously defend its outcome.
Both were the result of war. After the first world war the United States opened its doors to the homeless and tempest tossed of Europe and the new world became the great melting pot. The immigrants did not shed their identities – rather they gloried in them. Generations later many still describe themselves as Polish Americans or Italian Americans, but they are all, unarguably, Americans.
The noble experiment had its setbacks: a complicating factor was the presence of a large number of African Americans, involuntary immigrants who were for a long time denied their rightful place. Indigenous Australians, of course, were even more marginalised but being less noticeable could have their problems ignored for longer. But although these issues were important, they did not impede the great march forward.
America was the flag bearer, and after the second world war Australia followed suit. Until then, migration had been predominantly British with a trickle of other mainly northern Europeans. The post war reconstruction scheme broadened the intake to include large numbers of southern Europeans, and ventured into the Middle East. It took another 20 years before the White Australia policy was effectively killed off and multiculturalism officially enshrined as a word and as a law, but in fact the concept had been developing for far longer.
As Immigration Minister Chris Bowen pointed out last week, there is a peculiar genius in the Australian version of multiculturalism and its ties to nation building and citizenship. It is more than an idea whose time has come; it is an inescapable fact of life, and one of which Australia should be hugely proud.
Of course from time to time there are hiccups; the boat people have constituted one, just as the far greater influx of Mexicans has produced rumblings in the United States. But there is no reason to believe that these set backs will be any more severe than others have been in the past – unless, of course, they are exploited by unscrupulous and opportunist politicians for their own cynical advantage. Which brings us, inevitably, to Scott Morrison.
It is uncontested that Morrison raised in shadow cabinet the matter of fear and loathing of Muslims within some Australian communities. It is also pretty certain that he did not go one to say: “Of course such attitudes are divisive and dangerous, born of ignorance and nurtured by bigotry, and we should join with the government and present a united front to do everything possible to educate and inform those who hold such wrong-headed views.”
Given his record, it seems likely that reports that he advised his colleagues to seek out ways to use whatever prejudice and hate they could uncover as weapons to wedge the government are at least pointing in the right direction. After all, this is One Nation policy, and One Nation’s demented Queensland mouthpiece Ian Nelson is already claiming credit for inspiring Morrison’s outburst against bringing asylum seekers to attend the funerals of their close relatives, and for getting Abbott to drop aid to Indonesian schools which teach policies of moderation.
This latter policy will give aid and comfort to Muslim extremists and so incite greater paranoia among the vulnerable in Australia, fully in line with what Morrison is reportedly advocating. And Gary Humphreys, the Liberal senator for the ACT, presented a petition calling for an end to all Muslim immigration. It was signed by just three people, none of whom live within 300 kilometres of Humphrey’s electorate. But, he said smugly, he was just doing his duty.
At least the bastards are consistent.
Mungo Wentworth MacCallum is a political journalist and commentator.