Multiculturalism Australian style

April 17, 1991

Multiculturalism Australian style

Manuel Rodriguez

Most politicians, bureaucrats and an array of often self-appointed "ethnic leaders" give unqualified support to the local brand of multiculturalism.

But is Australia really a multicultural society, in which all the converging cultures enjoy the same opportunities? Or is it a country where heterogeneous racial groups, quite isolated from each other, are socially, politically and culturally patronised and dominated by the pre-eminent culture?

In the opinion of some, a unique Australian immigration policy has resulted in a harmonious and egalitarian society. But since the emergence of multiculturalism in response to the demographic and social changes experienced after the second world war, its advocates have stressed a rather peculiar concept of social cohesion.

Their doctrine barely disguises the reluctance of the dominant forces in society to recognise that there are substantial social, political and cultural contradictions in this country. The predominant political discourse is based on a constant denial of any socioeconomic, racial or sexual inequalities.

The influx of people from different parts of the world and their contribution in diverse forms has enriched and influenced the conceptual approach of some writers, painters and musicians. But have the dominant outlook and the Australian cultural landscape changed as a result of the work being done by some talented ethnic and vernacular artists?

Supporters of events like Carnivale and the Shell Festival argue that they are a palpable demonstration of Australian cultural diversity. However, it can also be said that these annual exhibitions are no more than a parochial manifestation of ethnic and Aboriginal culture with no real impact on the mainstream cultural fraternity, which remains resolutely Anglophilic.

This situation stems from the fact that many of those controlling vital resources have refused to allow ethnic and Aboriginal people a comprehensive participation in the decision-making process.

Multiculturalism has failed to produce any substantial structural change in the curricula in our schools. Consequently, the offspring of most immigrants and Aborigines are deprived of the history and culture of their ancestors.

There is no doubt that the mainstream media are mostly concerned with the problems and stories of the powerful male Anglo-Saxons. As Dr Andrew Jakubowicz of the University of Technology, Sydney, rightly points out, ethnic minorities are usually shown only as the victims of violence or its perpetrators.

Multiculturalism is only partially reflected in the programming of the two state-funded broadcasters. The membership of the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal does not include one person of non-English background, and the board of the ABC is composed only The Special Broadcasting Service is still dominated by an old guard of Anglo men, says Dr Jakubowicz, while ethnic and Aboriginal journalists are given only limited chances of breaking through a bureaucratic and conservative structure, and are thus prevented from addressing the real issues affecting their communities.

An important factor is the absence of ethnic and Aboriginal political representation. While there may be a few Aboriginal and ethnic people active in politics, these individuals, despite their good intentions, can act only within the framework of their political parties.

Multiculturalism has failed to provide positive answers to the needs of many people. In its present format, it has become a disguised form of social and political control of minority groups.
Manuel Rodriguez is an interpreter and social worker.

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