Like what you've read?

On Line Opinion is the only Australian site where you get all sides of the story. We don't
charge, but we need your support. Here�s how you can help.

  • Advertise

    We have a monthly audience of 70,000 and advertising packages from $200 a month.

  • Volunteer

    We always need commissioning editors and sub-editors.

  • Contribute

    Got something to say? Submit an essay.

 The National Forum   Donate   Your Account   On Line Opinion   Forum   Blogs   Polling   About   
On Line Opinion logo ON LINE OPINION - Australia's e-journal of social and political debate


On Line Opinion is a not-for-profit publication and relies on the generosity of its sponsors, editors and contributors. If you would like to help, contact us.


RSS 2.0

Australian multiculturalism must be defended openly and honestly

By Russ Grayson - posted Wednesday, 23 October 2002

Imagine Sydney. Sprawled over the coastal plain between beach and Blue Mountains, hemmed in by the bushy ridges of national parks to north and south, home to nearly four million. This is Australia's global city for which the world is its hinterland. It is home to most of the transnational corporations in Australia, whose headquarters are clustered in a slice of the city bordered by the suburb of Ryde in the north and the international airport in the south, a global sector in which live the relatively affluent workers of the 'new economy' – finance, education, media, entertainment, information and communications technology.

Now imagine the zone where city meets country, where rural fields are consumed by an expanding patchwork of tiled roofs, a place inhabited by young families for whom life can sometimes be an economic struggle, but a struggle offset by the experience of becoming a first-home buyer. Out here on the urban fringe the young families are not alone – they have been joined by another group who are deserting the older suburbs of the western and south-western core: people fleeing the increasing crime of that zone. In Sydney's concentric geography of wealth, this suburban core houses the declining blue-collar industries of the 'old' economy. It is a zone with pockets of environmental decay, social stress and unemployment. This middle-ring of suburbs, this suburban core covering the lands westward of the harbour is also home to another demographic in Australia's changing make-up – immigrant enclaves.

Why enclave make sense

When they arrive in Australia, immigrants cluster in enclaves among people who have already pioneered the path into a strange country. Here they find the company, the cultural institutions, the services and support that over time eases their way into the wider society. There, they become part of the Australian multicultural experiment.


But there is a dark side to living in the ethnic enclaves and it comes from their location in that ageing ring of industrial and residential suburbs. This dark side takes the form of social disadvantage, unemployment and discrimination, made all the worse by the widespread perception that it is in these enclaves that the problem of ethnic crime starts.

Ethnic crime has become a political football in the lead-up the the NSW state election, but the fact that groups – 'gangs', as they are called – made up of youth of the same ethnic origin are involved in crime is not in dispute. What is in dispute is the labelling of some ethnic populations as more prone to crime, especially crimes of violence, than other groups or the Australian population in general. Representatives of these groups claim that entire ethnic communities are victimised when offences carried out by people from their group is labelled as 'ethnic crime'. They say, rightly, that a few criminals does not make criminals of an entire community. But others are not so certain. A recent Four Corners documentary on ethnic crime, broadcast on ABC TV, left open the answer as to whether members of some ethnic communities have a greater propensity for involvement in crime.

Exporting violence

A recent report on ethnic crime in Sydney, 'Sydney, Gangs, Crime and Community Safety: Perceptions and Experiences in Multicultural Sydney', found that members of ethnic communities are also the victims of crime and feel safest in their own areas. While this can be seen as evidence that they face a threat when they venture outside their own areas – that would fit the claim by some Sydney Moslems that they have been abused and assaulted since September 11 2001, others with a line to push on ethnic crime could equally use the report's findings as evidence that members of ethnic crime gangs export their crime to places inhabited by other ethnic groups.

At the current time, it is the Lebanese and Arab communities, especially Lebanese Moslems, that are the focus of the ethnic crime discussion. Their representatives say that the entire community has been damned for the pack rape of a number of young Australian women, a crime which saw Judge Michael Finnane sentence a gang leader to 55 years in prison. During the case it was documented that at least one of the gang members said that Australian women had been targetted because they were Australian. If anything was to put fear into the broader community and create the perception that the gang represented racist attitudes existing in the Lebanese community, that was it.

Interestingly, Sydney's Chinese community has escaped universal blame for the crimes of ethnic criminal organisations such as extortion, acts of violence, drug smuggling and dealing, despite claims of a connection to the fabled 'triads' or lesser gangs. Perhaps this is due to the perception that Chinese crime gangs keep their activities mainly within their own community while the Lebanese gangs are seen to act out their violence outside their ethnic group.

After the rape case, representatives of the Lebanese Moslem community admitted publicly that their community did have a crime problem and should do something about it. Their case was not helped by the assault resulting in injury to an SBS television news crew gathering community comment outside the Lakemba mosque. That incident, rather than the opinion of members of the Lebanese Moslem community, quickly became the news. Nor was their case helped when a householder turned a garden hose on a television news crew filming news footage in a street after police raided several homes and seized property. For viewers, both these attacks simply confirmed that this particular ethnic group had no respect for the role of the media in a democracy, no respect for law and shared a preference for confrontational and violent acts.


So, what are the solutions?

Combine the controversy and public perceptions stemming from the rape case, perceptions about ethnic crime and fears about terrorism and Islam engendered by September 11, John Howard's asylum seeker and border protection policies and Pauline Hanson's earlier work and it is easy to see how multiculturalism is being destabilised as a political philosophy in this country. And, though their motives may be humanitarian at their core, the actions of the vocal and politically naive 'open borders' lobby only adds to what are widespread public fears about ethnicity, crime and terrorism.

This is a fact – about 80% of the Australian population support the federal government's border protection policy. The dithering of what passes for an opposition party searching for its lost soul, or for a new one, means that there is little mainstream opposition to Howard's policy. The main opposition is the open-borders mob but their actions scare the hell out of the public although people are concerned that asylum seekers, particularly children, may be treated improperly.

If some element of reality is to be injected into this fractious debate, and some attempt made to create a sense of clarity, then the 'serious' (as opposed to talkback entertainment) media needs to continue the better examples of its work in this direction. At the same time, the representatives of ethnic groups should cease viewing the media as if it was some undifferentiated unity and the cause of ethnic stereotyping. These same representatives must also admit that some ethnic communities do have a serious crime and attitudinal problem, and take remedial action. And the politically correct in the Australian community must cease diverting attention from the core of the discussion to the periphery by telling us how to talk about this issue and instead engage in robust debate, even if some words offend them. Multiculturalism in Australia is up for grabs and both its supporters and detractors must be heard if we are to seriously reappraise it in these times of change. That is the way of democracy.

  1. Pages:
  2. Page 1
  3. All

Discuss in our Forums

See what other readers are saying about this article!

Click here to read & post comments.

1 post so far.

Share this:
reddit this reddit thisbookmark with Del.icio.usdigg thisseed newsvineSeed NewsvineStumbleUpon StumbleUponsubmit to propellerkwoff it

About the Author

Russ Grayson has a background in journalism and in aid work in the South Pacific. He has been editor of an environmental industry journal, a freelance writer and photographer for magazines and a writer and editor of training manuals for field staff involved in aid and development work with villagers in the Solomon Islands.

Other articles by this Author

All articles by Russ Grayson
Related Links
Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs
Photo of Russ Grayson
Article Tools
Comment 1 comment
Print Printable version
Subscribe Subscribe
Email Email a friend

About Us Search Discuss Feedback Legals Privacy