Does Murdoch’s multiculturalism light Abbott’s path to the future? (The Conversation)

(Published at The Conversation 6 November 2013).
Rupert Murdoch’s Lowy lecture last week celebrated Australia as a multicultural and migrant society, a place where “multiculturalism is not relativism, and tolerance is not indifference” and there is “an openness to all comers – provided they are willing to abide by our way of life”.

(Our way of life practiced by two Sudanese burquini lifesavers)

Having visited Australia in April to celebrate the Institute for Public Affairs’ (IPA) 70th anniversary – where he was praised as one of the three Australians to have “most shaped the world” by then-opposition leader Tony Abbott – Murdoch has now further positioned himself as the éminence grise of Australian neoliberal conservatism. His shaping of the multicultural discourse gives strong indications of where Australia may be headed over the next few years.

Essentially, Murdoch believes it is the British institutions that give Australia its core morality and energy. This is moderated only by the now-clear ascendancy of Catholic politicians (Murdoch is a papal knight but not a baptised Catholic) and values in the form of Abbott and many of his frontbench, an impossibility a generation ago. What then does this mean about the “multicultural face” of Australia over the next decade of potential conservative dominance?

While we cannot speak of a Catholic/Protestant split in the Liberal Party, the decisions around multiculturalism point to some interesting social directions. In particular, Abbott specifically decided to take multicultural affairs (but not ethnic affairs) out of the hands of immigration minister andevangelical Protestant Scott Morrison, and instead passed them across to Kevin Andrews, a conservative Catholic, ex-Lyons forum mover-and-shaker and a former immigration minister (now social services minister).

It was Andrews who famously announced in 2007 that African humanitarian immigration would be halted because Africanscould not assimilate, while also leading the witch-huntagainst supposed (and later exonerated) Queensland terrorist Dr Muhamed Haneef. Andrews also has carriage of the IPA-prompted policy on the privatisation of social services, which has implications for settlement services.

Abbott assigned multicultural affairs to Wollongong-raised senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, another conservative Catholic, who is responsible to Andrews, and comes from apersonal history as an activist for the Italian community on welfare and cultural issues.

Fierravanti-Wells sits at the bottom of a rather long ladder of power – the most junior parliamentary secretary. However, she has been making progress since her appointment by meeting with key stakeholders – most of whom had approached the election of the Coalition with a modicum of trepidation with good reason.

Morrison went on the record in January condemning multiculturalism in a London Australia Day speech. He effusively celebrated Henry Parkes as the father of Australian democracy, missing the key role Parkes played in bringing in White Australia and excoriating the Chinese, though noting his anti-Irish Catholic bent, which Morrison half-excused.

For Morrison, the mantra now is so strongly “what we share not what makes us different” that he has alienated himself from significant ethnic members of the NSW Liberal Party. NSW premier Barry O’Farrell, already crusty about shenanigans in Morrison’s electorate branch (that lost Miranda back to the ALP in October in the largest ever NSW by-election swing), has been careful to reiterate his strong support for multiculturalism, including its “differences”. O’Farrell recognises the role that his commitment to multiculturalism played in his landslide election win in 2011.

The other spoiler in the multicultural patch is attorney-general George Brandis. He has been pushing (in support of the IPAand Murdoch columnist and IPA celebrant Andrew Bolt) for the elimination of Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act as it now stands, which outlaws racial vilification.

This is a difficult issue for “multicultural Australia”. Any reduction now in the small protections available (even if only to freely permit the right to “insult” and “offend”) would be widely seen as a license to proliferate hate speech.

The Jewish community was already concerned about this promise by Brandis, and has upped the ante since the attackon a group of Jewish pedestrians (including a senior Jewish National Fund officer) in Bondi last week. The attack, quite clearly racist and opportunistic, fed concerns that any diminution in official condemnation of hate speech would leave the way open to more such attacks.

Local MP Malcolm Turnbull, whose office last year told me that he totally supported the removal of 18C, has been inmeetings with Jewish organisations where he seems to have recognised that removing the protections now would not be a good look – even if the backdown makes Andrew Bolt angry. Abbott had been looking for a win-win here, but may simply decide to have Brandis lay low for a long while.

Even so, as recent events have shown, stakeholders in multicultural policies may get a better hearing from the Coalition than they did from the Labor government, though they face widespread privatisation of their services. Rudd’s first term was not a great period for multiculturalism. He was no product champion and little if anything was done, other than moving some of the deckchairs around and reviewing settlement services.

With Julia Gillard’s election and Chris Bowen moving into the immigration portfolio, there was a significant shift. The government instituted a Multicultural Council, appointed a full-time Race Discrimination Commissioner (now Tim Soutphommasane, who was blasted by Brandis) and a significant commitment of funds to community organisations (which may or may not survive the razor-gang).

A joint parliamentary inquiry also reported on multiculturalism and migration, and its limited recommendations were signed off on in March by both sides of politics. Fierravanti-Wells will be facing many pressing issues, not the least how to build some leverage from the bottom of the pile on an issue that once sat (during the Hawke period) in the office of the prime minister. The Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils (FECCA) meets this week in Queensland and has signalled its priority for a Multiculturalism Act. The proposed act has long been anathema to both political parties at a national level and hated by the bureaucracy, though Liberal governments in NSW and Victoria had no problem with introducing such legislation.

Meanwhile, the Multicultural Council has run its term. The new government will have to decide whether there will be another and if so what will it do and who will be on it. Further, with a major attack by treasurer Joe Hockey on the Australian Research Council’s humanities and social sciences funding role, a probable break-up in the immigration department’s research section, and few (if any other) sources for support for research, the parliamentary inquiry’s unanimous recommendation for a major invigoration of research into migration, settlement and multiculturalism looks to be stillborn.

In this case, ignorance will not be bliss. The 2005 Cronulla riots demonstrated this all too well.


Moving forward to real action: shaping a research strategy for the next multicultural decade FECCA 8 November 2013


Available from Australian Scholarly Publisihing

Research: the process of identifying questions, clarifying evidence, reaching conclusions

A shattered landscape: shared realisation in 1980s and early 1990s that knowledge was crucial to addressing social issues was erased by systematic government action after 1996 designed to destroy capacity of society to debate issues on the evidence:

Closure of Bureau of Immigration Multicultural and Population Research  1996/7 ends regular national conferences and support for wide-ranging research

Freezing access to Eureka research on Australian attitudes to cultural diversity removes critical knowledge from public debate 1998: produces uncritical program of Living in Harmony rather than addressing racism. Reports released under FoI 2011/12.

Opposition waste watch committee attacks humanities and social science research, pledges to remove funding from ARC 2013.

Where is research now?: Research on issues of immigration, settlement, racism and community relations

Australian Multicultural Advisory Council: identified need for research development 2010 – nothing happened

Australian Multicultural Council: ALP government stated AMC would oversight development of national research agenda – nothing has happened

Joint Parliamentary Inquiry into Migration and Multiculturalism: Recommended major initiatives on research 2013 – Opposition agreed in principle but reserved position subject to funding – nothing has happened

Access and Equity Inquiry: 2012  That the Australian Government consider adequacy of current provision for research, including national research priorities, on the practical outcomes of the migration program. This assessment should particularly include research on interactions between the Australian Government and Access and Equity target groups and interactions with temporary entrants.
Nothing happened.

Immigration Department research publications: primarily program focussed though increasingly in recent years more broadly spread as governments slowly learn value of social research such as Current and Emerging Drivers for Social Cohesion Division and Conflict. Potentially subject to Government control as Minister approves release. Now split between two portfolios, and possibly due for pruning.

University research centres and programs: eg  CCS:UTS, UWS, Macquarie, Deakin, Monash/Scanlon (also Prejudice Mob) struggling under limited resources facing an uncertain future as ARC comes under attack

NGOs:   AMF, VicHealth, Brotherhood,

Shaping a Strategy

National research network:
• coordinating hub with many associated nodes building communication between academic, community,  government and private organisations
• use of social media and building of accessible research data bases (see MAIS  and AUSSA)
•  annual conferences to bring policy people, researchers, and NGOs together
•  undertake research audit to develop broader national research framework reflecting approach in Canada and Europe

Government acceptance of Parliamentary Report framework to move forward

Recommendation 14

7.31 The Committee recommends increased collection, by the Australian Government, of accurate and up-to-date disaggregated data in order to identify trends in migration and multiculturalism, and to measure and address CALD related disadvantage.

Recommendation 15

7.32 The Committee recommends the establishment of a government funded, independent collaborative institute for excellence in research into multicultural affairs with functions similar to that of the former Bureau of Immigration, Multicultural and Population Research.

The institute should have a statutory framework articulating key principles of multiculturalism, functions in research and advice to government, and a cross sectoral independent board.

This institute should actively engage with local communities, private business and non-government organisations and provide data for better informed policy.

The qualitative and quantitative research capabilities of the institute must enable up-to-date and easily accessible data and research analysis on social and multicultural trends.

More dedicated research into long-term migration trends occurring within Australia and the social effects of migration—such as the local impacts of migration on cultural diversity and social inclusion within Australian society—should be supported.

The Committee particularly recommends an increased emphasis on qualitative data collection.

Promotion of public debate about Australia’s people based on evidence rather than prejudice

I would like to hear back from people interested in advancing a collaborative research agenda about the future of Australia’s people :

Andrew Jakubowicz at ECCNSW Macquarie Uni Multiculturalism Forum 1 October 2013

Andrew speaking at Forum

Multiculturalism Forum on Youtube

Panel 3 – Lessons from the Research: Ways Forward

Chaired by Pino Migliorino, Chair, Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia (FECCA) with panellists:

  • Professor Andrew Jakubowicz, Co-director, Cosmopolitan Civil Societies Research Centre, University of Technology, Sydney
  • Professor Lucy Taksa, Head of Department of Marketing and Management, Macquarie University
  • Professor Ingrid Piller, Department of Applied Linguistics, Macquarie University

Below is the video of the closing panel session which discussed “ways forward” at the Multiculturalism, Inclusion & Participation Forum held on 1 October 2013 in Sydney, Australia.

We have also published a webpage summarising key points raised at Agenda for Ways Forward.

About the Panellists

Pino Migliorino photoPino Migliorino, Chair, Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia (FECCA)

Pino was born in Bari, Italy in 1959 and migrated to Australia with his family through an assisted passage program in 1964 to reunite with an extended family who had arrived in Australia in the late 1950s. After over 30 years of ethnic community involvement and working in multicultural affairs across three sectors Pino was elected Chairperson on FECCA in October 2009. Pino is passionate about multicultural affairs and social justice and provides an informed and representative voice for FECCA in advocating for the needs and interest of our diverse cultural, linguistic and religious communities. Nineteen years ago Pino founded and still leads Cultural Perspectives and CIRCA Research which are sector leaders in researching and communicating with CALD and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in Australia. Prior to working in the private sector, Pino held important positions in the third sector and in government including Executive Officer of the ECC of NSW, NSW Regional Coordinator for the Office of Multicultural Affairs, Senior Conciliator at the HREOC and Principal Policy Officer at the Ethnic Affairs Commission of NSW. Pino retains a deep knowledge and strong experience of culturally and linguistically diverse communities in Australia, and is a leading expert in this field.

Photo Andrew JakubowiczProfessor Andrew Jakubowicz, University of Technology, Sydney

Andrew Jakubowicz is Professor of Sociology at the University of Technology Sydney. He has an Honours degree in Government from Sydney University and a PhD from UNSW. Since the early 1970s he has been involved in action research and race relations, and has been centrally involved in the development of materialist theories of cultural diversity. He has taught at universities in the USA, Europe and Asia, and was the foundation director of the Centre for Multicultural Studies at the University of Wollongong. He has published widely on ethnic diversity issues, disability studies and media studies. In 1994 he led the research team that produced the book, Racism Ethnicity and the Media (Allen and Unwin), and more recently has been involved in multimedia documentaries such as Making Multicultural Australia (1999-2004) and The Menorah of Fang Bang Lu (2001-2002). He was historical adviser to the exhibitions on the Jewish communities of Shanghai, at the Sydney Jewish Museum (2001-2002), the National Maritime Museum (2001-2003) and the national travelling exhibition, Crossroads: Shanghai and the Jews of China (2002-2003). He was foundation chair of the Disability Studies and Research Institute. He was historical advisor on the SBS series, Immigration Nation (2011), and is series advisor on Once Upon a Time in…, a four season project for Northern Pictures and SBS. He chaired the Institute for Cultural Diversity, a national NGO ( from 2009 to 2012.

Ingrid Piller photoProfessor Ingrid Piller, Department of Linguistics, Macquarie University

Ingrid Piller (PhD, 1996, Technical University Dresden) is Professor of Applied Linguistics at Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia, where she previously served as Executive Director of the Adult Migrant English Program Research Centre (AMEP RC). Over the course of her international career, she has also held appointments at universities in Germany, Switzerland, United Arab Emirates and USA. Ingrid’s research expertise is in Intercultural Communication, the Sociolinguistics of Language Learning and Multilingualism, and Bilingual Education. She is particularly interested in the ways in which linguistic diversity as it arises in the contexts of globalization and migration intersects with social inclusion and global justice. Ingrid has published, lectured and consulted widely in these areas. She blogs about her research atLanguage on the Move

Lucy Taksa photoProfessor Lucy Taksa, Head of Department of Marketing and Management, Macquarie University 

Professor Lucy Taksa is Head of the Department of Marketing and Management at Macquarie University. Between 1996 and 2007 she was a part-time non-judicial member of the NSW Administrative Decisions Tribunal Equal Opportunity Division and has been a member of the Diversity Council of Australia’s reference groups for research projects relating to cultural diversity among senior executives and on corporate boards, of the NSW Ministerial Roundtable on Cultural Diversity in the Workplace and the Western Sydney Community Forum’s Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Workers’ Mentoring Initiative. She has published research on Diversity Management, cultural diversity and immigrant workers and multiculturalism. She is currently investigating cultural diversity on Australian corporate boards.