Robin Scott: Multiculturalism is not mini nationalism where people live isolated from others

As migrants, we are all interested in policies, which directly talks about us or affects us directly or vicariously.

And Multiculturalism is one such area of government policy, which in Victoria, is executed through its two offices: the Victorian Multicultural Commission (VMC) and the Office of Multicultural Affairs and Citizenship (OMAC) an office established within the Department of Premier and Cabinet by the Baillieu Liberal Government.

Many migrants vocally argue that multiculturalism is “preservation of themselves as they are” – and essentially ‘isolation from the greater society’.

A number of migrants feel as if their private territory has been invaded, the moment some commentator makes a call for revamp or abrogation altogether of multiculturalism. From personal experiences, I can say it raises the attention levels in many migrants to the extreme – the moment someone expresses an opinion even remotely disapproving of it or demanding it to be fine-tuned to adjust to the contemporary and evolving society.

Is that how it should be? The answer is “NO”. One has to stop thinking like a ‘migrant’ and begin thinking like an Australian.

Why?, because when you are treated like a migrant, you complain. You want you and your family be treated as an Australian.

And if you analyse closely, it is in your and your family’s interest that your diverse needs are moved to and met by mainstream services rather than you or your family being seen as a ‘special needs’ or ‘dependant group’ by the mainstream society.

To discuss this; multiculturalism in general and to know what the government is doing in this policy area, BT spoke exclusively to the Hon. Robin Scott, the minister for Multicultural Affairs in the Andrews government.

Minister Robin Scott with wife
Minister Robin Scott with wife Shaojie

With family members from Japan and West Indies, Minister Scott is married to a Chinese – Shaojie, who was an overseas student and thus has closer insight into the vicissitudes of an international student’s (and thus migrant’s) life throws at him or her.

Although he could not name too many Indian community leaders or associations, his general understanding and assessment of our community seemed sufficient, making him well versed in, be it Vindaloo, Korma, or Tandoori curries, or the FIAV or Telugu Association.

Having seen a sudden influx of Indian candidates into the Liberal party quarters (in the last few state and federal elections), why is it that we have not seen that same queue of Indians putting their hands up in the ALP?

But I know they weren’t elected, he retorted.

Is it too difficult to get into the Australian Labor Party – ? because of the Unions and the like…?

Robin Scott: I don’t think that’s a particular issue… the critical thing ultimately in the test for all political parties is preselecting candidates who go on to serve the elected office. It is important to get candidates – but the most important thing is to get candidates who go on to actually become members of parliament. (a terse answer for the ambitious Victorian Indian budding politician).

What is Multiculturalism?

Robin Scott: Multiculturalism is really about two things: One is about the right in a free society for people to preserve their (or have an) identity based in part on their forebears and their culture from which they come as migrant or as a descendant of migrants – including religion language, cultural expression or those paperless cultural traditions that the Indian community represents; and

the second important part is that there needs to be mutual respect and understanding; so multiculturalism is not mini nationalism in a society where people live isolated from others… it is in part preservation of culture but really importantly it is about empathy and seeing the common humanity in other people, coming together and sharing… culture and traditions and having a proud Australian identity…

 Clearly minister’s emphasis was equally on “coming together and sharing… culture and traditions and having a proud Australian identity”.

Integration or assimilation?

On the distinction between “integration” and “assimilation”, perhaps the minister believes the dichotomy is false. He believes people have room to preserve what they want to – not necessarily fully assimilating themselves one hundred per cent and yet shed their separate migrant attire at the same time and become Australian.

Robin Scott: “You can have your identity and live in a society what is critical is that you have respect for and respect of the society as a whole at the same time; they are not mutually exclusive.

 “The success of Victorian multiculturalism … shows that it is possible “to have these identities where people preserve their heritage and at the same time come together and share in a general society and they are not cut off and isolated from the broader community.”

 Re-focusing multicultural affairs:

Do you think, if we fine-tune the essential programs of multiculturalism, we can bring them into the mainstream structure and everybody benefits?

 Robin Scott: Good question… you’ve hit upon one of my passions … if you look at the relative amounts of money spent in the multicultural area – the amount of money while not insignificant – is much less than Health, Education, Human Services, Justice expenditures… it is really critical to have a focus on both the work that is done directly in multicultural affairs through the Office of Multicultural Affairs and Citizenship and Victorian Multicultural Commission but it is actually much more important to ensure that the government as a whole is responsive to diverse needs of our society.

 I have been deliberately re-focusing both the Office of Multicultural Affairs and Citizenship and working with the Victorian Multicultural Commission … and with other ministers in the government and other departments in the government to try and achieve that… because our health services need to be responsive to different cultural needs; our education needs to provide an opportunity for a good education for every child whatever their background is. And that is a critical challenge that we as a government are absolutely committed to.

 Dangers of multiculturalism

Robin Scott continues: But it is a really good question because one of the dangers in multiculturalism affairs is – you have grants – you have expenditure – that becomes a little world – a little world in aspects separate from the rest of government and rest of society… People with all the goodwill in the world are not going to solve the sort of difficult problems that exist within a complex society like Victoria without the whole of society being engaged.

Clearly, it seems the politicians are waking up to the fact that the notional concept of multiculturalism – introduced such a long time ago (back in the late 1960s and early 1970s), requires urgent re-focusing. It is important to revisit the times and circumstance in which the idea of multiculturalism came to be formulated.

According to the federal government’s records, Australia’s approach to immigration from federation until the latter part of the 20th century, in effect, excluded non-European immigration. The ‘White Australia’ policy as it was commonly described was progressively dismantled by the Australian Government after World War II.

The prevailing attitude to migrant settlement up until this time was based on the expectation of assimilation—that is, that migrants should shed their cultures and languages and rapidly become indistinguishable from the host population.

From the mid-1960s until 1973, when the final vestiges of the ‘White Australia’ policy were removed, policies started to examine assumptions about assimilation. They recognized that large numbers of migrants, especially those whose first language was not English, experienced hardships as they settled in Australia, and required more direct assistance.

Birth of Multiculturalism

By 1973, the term ‘multiculturalism’ had been introduced and migrant groups were forming state and national associations to maintain their cultures, and promote the survival of their languages and heritages within mainstream institutions.

In 1973, Al Grassby, Minister for Immigration in the Whitlam Government issued a reference paper entitled; A multi-cultural society for the future – (hyphenating the terms multi and cultural – bringing the two terms together for the first time – which was to later become an all-important area of government policy called – Multiculturalism).

By now, the government had also recognized the importance of ethnic organizations in helping with migrant settlement. Thus, expenditure on migrant assistance and welfare increased in the early 1970s in response to these needs.

It is no rocket science that the origins of notional concept of multiculturalism and its effective implementation in government policies had very benign origins and there was not a shred of “stupidity” or “madness” as Andrew Bolt put it in his piece Cameron is right, and multiculturalism has failed.

Andrew Bolt argued that the duty of governments is not, as the Victorian Multicultural Commission stupidly insists, “to encourage all . . . culturally and linguistically diverse communities to retain and express their social identity and cultural inheritance”.

Clearly, he believed that some elements of our society in NSW had abused the multicultural grants program and attacked the last listed objective and function of the Victorian Multicultural Commission (the VMC).

It seems that the suggested stretch in Bolt’s argument in the piece borders on the ridiculous, as no politician can be wicked enough to come up with a policy framework which will deliver a total sabotage of our society unless he or she is prepared to go to jail for treason.

Yet Bolt’s sentiment that the government policies cannot keep us divided into tribes, rightly cries for a re-think of the program.

I firmly believe there has to be a transition of important business of the government’s multicultural framework – which is regularly approved for (money and funded) to be marked as “essential” and thus it is a business to be integrated into the mainstream framework. Clearly – the business is deemed essential, if time after time found important to be funded. In that case – that essential program – whether social, cultural or educational – will be (ought have been seen to be) for the greater good of our (mainstream) society and thus should fall in the purview of and be run by government structures running the mainstream programs.

Only then, the transition of a ‘migrant’ into finally becoming ‘Australian’ will come to its envisaged fruition. And our hard working community leaders will also find their right place.

And Robin Scott says, he has a passion – precisely for that; and is deliberately re-focusing his work to achieve that.

For his vision, he simply gets ten out of ten with high distinction. Perhaps, the minister should also add one more bullet point to the section “What We do” on the VMC site:

  • Advising the government to transition certain programs of the multicultural affairs which it finds “essential” and thus important for Victoria – to the mainstream structure.

And we will watch what Robin Scott delivers with keen interest.


Tit-bits teasers with Robin Scott:

Your VCE score:   Cannot remember, it was such a long ago

Your Mathematics VCE score:  I did both Maths A & B but I did better later at university.

Your score in Graduation: I received H2A (high distinction) at university. Finished Masters prelim which is equivalent to honours.

Favorite subject of study:  Economic History

Favorite book: 1984

Favorite Victorian politician: Steve Bracks

Favorite Federal politician: Paul Keating

Favorite International leader: Abraham Lincoln

Favorite Hollywood movie: The Usual Suspects

Favorite Bollywood movie: Not a big Bollywood fan

Favorite Female star: Judi Dench

Favorite Male star: Kevin Spacey

Your favorite cuisine: I like Indian but I would say Vietnamese.

A dish you can cook: Can do a good roast lamb

Your best memory in life so far: My Wedding

Your one regret in life so far (having done or not done) : there is always more than one thing you regret in life but.. leaving travel as late as I did. I did not travel overseas until I was over thirty years old.




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1 Comment

  1. Really a taste of good journalism in the local Indian press, in almost 10 years!

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