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Election 2010 cultural diversity wash up, or wash out

By Andrew Jakubowicz - posted Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Some interesting things happened in this election, a key one being, I guess, that the $1.6 million that Maxine McKew had jimmied out of Gillard for Bennelong to pay for a multicultural food festival community hall makeover, won’t reappear. It’s also not clear that Richmond (Melbourne) will get its Vietnamese community arch, promised by Anthony Albanese for $500,000. Is this a sign of the times, the only two multicultural promises and the ALP loses both seats?

While most of the candidates were once again from the old white Australia, a number of key changes can be discerned. One continuity was soon apparent as a deal-maker. Bob Katter, channeling the true Ocker (and its main surviving example with the demise of Wilson Tuckey), has blossomed in the very north. Coming from a Lebanese Christian background some many generations ago (the same immigration wave that brought us the remarkably different New South Wales governor Marie Bashir), Katter’s Dad was an ALP member who went over to the DLP in the Labor Split, and then to the Country Party. Bob grew up in the classic Country party milieu of rural protectionism, where costs are socialised and profits privatised. As a state minister he held Ethnic Affairs and Aboriginal Affairs portfolios.

Meanwhile the NSW seat of Greenway has seen the ALP pushed to the wire by a young Liberal Filipino Australian Jaime Diaz, flagging the rising role of well-to-do Asians in Sydney’s north and northwest. This is the same constituency that abandoned Maxine McKew (even though she held the anti-ALP swing below that experienced elsewhere in Sydney). In the ALP rusted-on electorate of Chifley the first “Muslim” MP, Ed Husic was successful - after being defeated in a religion-based hate campaign in the 2004 election in Greenway.


In Hasluck the neck and neck race saw Indigenous candidate Ken Wyatt just sneak through for the Liberal party. Elsewhere Indigenous issues were on slow burn, but did not feature. Carpentaria returned Warren Entsch for the LNP, who claimed that Indigenous remote communities were voting LNP for the first time, reacting angrily to the Queensland government’s “wild rivers” legislation. Warren Snowdon confirmed his hold on the geographically huge seat of Lingiari, despite a 13 per cent swing against him - none of which went to the Coalition. Greens and two independents (one pro-Green, one Indigenous) totalled 22 per cent of the primary vote, suggesting significant opposition to the Intervention.

At the International Unity in Diversity conference in Townsville over the two days before the election, a raft of cultural diversity policy issues were identified, debated and proposed. They provide a flavour of the proposals that the cultural diversity lobby may be able to advance with the Greens, soon to be in control of the Senate, and a number of key lower house MPs more attuned to what happens when you don’t listen to the people.

In the inner city seats in Sydney held by ALP front-benchers such as Anthony Albanese, Tanya Plibersek and Peter Garrett, swings away from Labor were dramatic. Albanese was driven to preferences, with a 9 per cent swing, most going to the Greens and putting them ahead of the Liberals on first preferences. Plibersek saw a 5 per cent drift of her primaries to the Greens. Garrett saw an 8 per cent swing though in his case most went to the Liberals.

While the Greens did not foreground their cultural diversity agenda for the election, they had strong policies on refugees and asylum seekers, which would directly confront attempts to re-open Nauru and re-introduce temporary protection visas. They are strong on the need for human rights protections, identifying health as a human rights issue.

In the health area they will increase community based health services and mental health. These all carry implications of a much more multicultural health policy framework, addressing diversity and the importance of well-being. In education their agenda has more dramatic implications, the most significant being the ending of the current arrangements for funding of private schools. They stress equity considerations, and propose peeling back the funding for wealthy schools and redirecting it to poorer public schools.

For migrants and refugees the Greens diverge completely from the major parties. They will increase off shore quotas for refugees, end off-shore processing, and introduce climate change refugee visas. They will “re-integrate” Australia, making all Australian territory part of the Migration Zone. In addition they will increase funding to the Settlement sector to provide effective support through the migrant resource centres and similar organisations.


The multicultural agenda reflects broadly the position of the sector in relation to the current policy vacuum among both the government and opposition. They support anti-racism education, effective consultation with diversity communities, effective interpreting services, cross-cultural training for government, ensure the capturing of national data on diversity for public policy, and re-establish an Office of Multicultural Affairs in the PM’s Department.

While it is unlikely all of these policies will be at the apex of the Greens negotiating with government, every one of them provides an opening for community organisations and service bodies to advance the arguments for more effective programs for culturally diverse communities, and in the combating of racism.

The big issue will be the Greens’ population policy. They are in favour of sustainable population - but some want to remove the baby bonus, while supporting paid parental leave. They don’t have a “population target”, and there would be major internal debates over whether to go the cut back immigration route, and if so, to what extent.

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About the Author

Andrew Jakubowicz is a professor of sociology at the University of Technology Sydney. He blogs for the SBS program CQ:

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