The extent to which we consider Multiculturalism a right can be evidenced by a recent letter to a Greek newspaper by a gentleman who argued that all Australians should be compelled to study Greek, because not only is Greek an important community language but also it will be of great benefit to Australians for diverse reasons. There seems to be, at least in our community, the belief, fostered by multiculturalism, that we are an important social group that can be courted, placated and mollified by the government. We are OWED such treatment simply by the nature of our diversity. To a large part, this belief has been fostered by those politically active members of our community, who in the seventies and eighties, fought strenuously to gain the mainstream’s respect for minority cultures and who as a result of their immense achievements, (which include government funded language programs, support for festivals and other community literary and cultural endeavours, as well as interpretation and translation services,) propagated the belief ingrained in our community’s consciousness, that the government somehow is obliged to protect and maintain our ethnic identity in Australia.
Legally at least, it has no such obligation. Multiculturalism as a concept, is nowhere enshrined within our Constitution and as such exists, where it does so, as a creature of statute. When it is considered that legislation can be readily amended by a majority of members of parliament, the ‘right’ to Multiculturalism seems not to be as secure as originally thought.
Given the above, the measures taken by successive Australian Federal and State governments to promote and foster Multiculturalism, from its inception, ought to provoke awe and wonder, regardless of whether they are considered to be hard won rights by migrants who had to initially tackle bigotry and who substantively, if not formally, were often treated as second class citizens in the new country, owing to their ethnic backgrounds and language skills. For example, a quick poll of certain socially active members of the Greek community of my acquaintance reveals that while they expect, nay demand that our government fund Greek language programs in schools and extend these, they seem to have no such parallel expectation of the Greek government, vis a vis its significant Albanian minority. In fact, while multiculturalism in Australia is seen by them to enhance the social fabric of this country, in Greece, the same concept is considered a penultimate step to the dissolution of the Greek nation.
The recent announcement that the Federal Government has removed the word ‘Multiculturalism’ from the title of the parliamentary secretary assisting the Minister for Immigration, coupled with the Opposition’s scrapping of their shadow secretary on the grounds that while Australia is a multicultural society, we should all be focusing on national unity has sent shivers down the spines of many members of our community who fear that multiculturalism is now under threat. Already there is talk of mass mobilization in order to send a message to our leaders that such an act is unacceptable.
However, there are several things that we need to note. Firstly, despite the rhetoric and crowing of our achievements, these are but temporary, can be revoked at any time and signify, that we cannot take multiculturalism for granted. The privileges we have obtained for ourselves were so obtained within a certain political and cultural context that no longer exists. They have a use by date.
This means that while we should be grateful for any government assistance that enhances our cultural identity, we cannot rely upon any government for what in effect, amounts to the perpetuation of our community. We as a community, must develop our own mechanisms and infrastructure that will ensure our survival as a distinct ethnolinguistic entity within the broader fabric of Australian society. The preservation of our language and culture is our responsibility and while we applaud and are grateful for government contributions in this regard, it would be the height of delusion to believe that this is for them, a matter of priority, or to tie our fates to the fickle fortunes of politics and policy. However well-meaning, why should we think that a government is best placed to determine our requirements as an ethnic group? How do we protect ourselves in instances where politics dictates different agendas? Our community must learn to stand above these as an autonomous though fully integrated entity.
Secondly, it would be interesting to see who the members of the community are who seek to mass-mobilize in order to thwart the latest perceived ‘slight.’ Will they be those of the integrated second generation, most of whom have experienced their Greek-language education in community schools, speak perfect English and have limited need for multicultural facilities, or will they be members of the first generation, who have enjoyed the benefits of seventies and eighties multiculturalism and believe that the Greek community’s needs have crystallised from that time and shall remain the same into the future?
If anything, further than laying the groundwork for a community that can exist, if it has to, without official sanction or aid, the Greek community, as a politically active community that has had to struggle for legitimacy and acceptance from the time of the Perth anti-Greek riots during the First World War, to the present, our contribution to Multiculturalism could lie in acting as advocate for other, recently arrived minority groups that have not received the benefits of previous more enlightened multicultural policies and who may not in the future, receive the support that we have, historically, enjoyed as prime movers in the foundation of the doctrine. They could learn much from our experience. Of course, this would entail all of us recognising that cultural and religious groups that have in the past decade have been widely portrayed in the West as inimical to western democracy have a place within it and it would be interesting to note in years to come, whether there is indeed a racial and religious component to the demise of multiculturalism, along with its natural erosion as a result of the assimilation of latter generations.
Multiculturalism is not doomed. It is just considered of marginal importance in a country that has learned to absorb its migrants and expects from them ultimately, that they should outwardly conform to an Anglo-Saxon value structure. It is within that pyramid of hierarchy, that our own cultural quirks are tolerated, as long as they do not conflict with those of the dominant group that has permitted us to settle here and it will even promote these quirks to reward us for our conformity. Yet respect, is a totally different concept from toleration. I for one, was influenced in the manner of my voting at the recent federal elections by my observation that one particular political party seemed to have deliberately from their voting instructions, languages other than English. Did they not want the vote of non-English speakers or did they come to a realisation that the ethnic vote, as a bloc, is a thing of the past? However one views it, the battle for Multiculturalism seems only to have begun.