Andrew Giles MP
Multiculturalism is modern Australia’s greatest achievement, but we can’t take it for granted.
Even the Morrison Government says so. The Minister currently responsible for multicultural affairs, Alan Tudge, gave a speech last month talking about the importance of fostering social cohesion and last week allocated funds in the Budget towards this goal.
He was right to do so.
Racism is on the rise in Australia, and the Director-General of ASIO has warned of real, growing and dangerous threat posed by right-wing extremism.
But Alan Tudge’s words are undermined by the actions of his Government.
Yesterday, Liberal Senators Eric Abetz and Connie Fierravanti-Wells engaged in what can only be described as the bullying of witnesses appearing before a Senate committee.
Ironically, the purpose of the hearing was to examine issues facing diaspora communities in Australia.
Yun Jiang Osmond Chiu and Wesa Chau were all asked to unequivocally condemn the Chinese Communist Party dictatorship and repeatedly pressed on their loyalty to Australia.
Not only did this have little, if anything, to do with the reason they were giving evidence and seem counterproductive, it’s deeply offensive - including to core Liberal values. Values like treating people as individuals, rather than as members of classes.
Suggesting that someone’s loyalty to this country is somehow connected to where their family might be from is nothing short of appalling.
I feel sick that my friend Osmond Chiu felt that he was being subjected to ‘a gotcha loyalty test’ and I am anxious that this example will deter others from participating in social and political life. That’s not who we are, in a robust democracy that has written our commitment to end discrimination into law decades ago.
But from the Morrison Government, so concerned about maintaining social cohesion last week, we’ve heard nothing.
Senator Fierravanti-Wells went to observe that ‘I have to tell you that there is an overwhelming under-desire among people from the Chinese-Australian community to participate in politics.’
It’s good of her to share this knowledge, in particular to the three Chinese-Australian witnesses appearing before her. But what a telling remark it is.
While completely lacking in self-awareness, it perhaps helps explain why our politics is so much less diverse than the Australian community. And her conduct of course hardly provides an incentive for any Chinese-Australian to put herself or himself forward for public office.
Last week’s Budget allocates $21 million to boosting social cohesion.
Which raises the question: how much of this is intended to be spent engaging and counselling Liberal Senators?
And, is this enough?
What’s definitely not good enough is the continued silence on the part of the Scott Morrison and Alan Tudge in the face of this.
If Senators Abetz and Fierravanti-Wells don’t have the decency to apologise, then Australia’s Government should do the right thing and make clear that every Australian deserves equal treatment - before the law, in society and before our national parliament.
In a proudly multicultural society, this shouldn’t be too much to ask for.