With Federal Parliament now sitting and the new kids in the Ministry trying on their togs, we should start to see some action on a range of issues.
For the cultural diversity movement there is a ripple of apprehensive expectation, as years of frustration under the Howard/Rudd governments’ inertia were pricked by the decision of Prime Minister Julia Gillard to abandon any public labeling of “multiculturalism”, a move first tried in the dying days of the Howard regime, then reversed by Rudd, and now re-endorsed by Gillard.
The Bowen/Lundy (new Immigration and Citizenship minister and secretary) offices have been stung by waves of protest from ethnic organisations across the country, and a widespread sense that the government has further distanced itself from what was once the heartland of its support.
In Melbourne on Tuesday, September 28, a sell-out crowd of Ethnic Community Council of Victoria delegates packed the lower Town Hall to debate the future agenda for cultural diversity. The conference is tweeted here under the hash-tag #eccv.
More than 300 people unanimously resolved to call on the government to reinstate the term “multicultural affairs” in the title of Bowen’s Cabinet post (and therefore in cascade, for Secretary Lundy), and the ECCV agreed to ask Premier Brumby to advocate this with the Gillard (Brumby’s deputy Rob Hulls gave a keynote at the conference celebrating Victoria’s innovations in Cultural Diversity). In Hull’s speech he announced a grant of $50,000 to the ECCV to establish an annual lecture in the memory of founding father Walter Lippman, and to allow video links with regional ECCS around the state.
The Victorians made a meal of what they described as “the Sydney disease”, a city in which second generation migrant political machine men have abandoned multiculturalism, and become cynical advocates of racist and lower common denominator politics of prejudice.
Former state minister John Pandazopoulos, member for the most multicultural electorate in Australia (Dandenong) identified the disease as spreading inexorably across the country, poisoning the well of hope and inclusion that the huge investment of goodwill and resources by governments of both political colours had made in Victoria.
He also noted that ALP Federal members had been contacting him to have the Victorian government put pressure on Gillard to reassert a multicultural focus in policy. He called on the conference to increase its relevance to new generations of Australians and involve a wider collectivity of community groups.
Shadow (Liberal) multicultural affairs minister Nick Kotsiros also condemned Howard, Abbott and the national Liberals for their pursuit of similar bottom-feeding politics, and argued for a more assertive and high profile commitment to an accountable cultural diversity agenda.
The conference produced eight key action points out of its workshops, panels and plenaries. These included:
- becoming alert but not alarmed, and focusing on both pro-active and re-active immediate responses on issues;
- engaging with the sustainability debate, including international students as part of the Australian community, and advancing multiculturalism as a central tenet of a sustainable society;
- becoming more relevant to younger people through new forms of communication, creativity and engagement;
- reasserting a Rights agenda, and clawing back the space attacked by anti-human rights and small population advocates;
- developing cross-party groups of parliamentarians to be product champions for cultural diversity and human rights issues;
- developing strategy for engaging with mainstream media to better reflect Australia’s contemporary diversity;
- understand identity as a set of relationships that can empower or disempower, not an unchanging description;
- and use the current moment to push back “Sydney disease”.
At the closing dinner FECCA chair Pino Migliorino spoke movingly of his first arrival in Australia at Station Pier, and his debt to Victorian activists for their commitment to building multiculturalism. He called for a new vision of cultural diversity as the framework for social policy and political participation.
Minister Bowen and Secretary Lundy now have to deal with the real unrest caused by the seemingly irrelevant naming row, which reinforced fears of marginalisation for cultural diversity agendas.
Many of the ECCV participants expressed a desire for firm action by the new team on the Australian Multicultural Advisory Council’s report, shelved by the Rudd government. The report, despite its low key tone and minimalist goals, had called for clear leadership and a firm validation of cultural diversity as a core Australian value. In this they may find support among the public service officers who have seen much of their policy work in this area sidelined by political concerns that have also been infected with the “Sydney disease”.
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