Albanese Is In A Multicultural Muddle

Written by:
11 July 2024
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In this article, John Roskam contextualises and disseminates the findings of the IPA’s research into the Australian constitution and racial equality.

A commitment to multiculturalism doesn’t answer why “Muslim Votes Matter” sits so uneasily with Australia’s liberal democracy.

At the Sydney Jewish Museum on Tuesday at an event to announce the country’s first special envoy on antisemitism, Anthony Albanese said: “Australia can be a microcosm for the world.”

If a microcosm is the representation of something on a smaller scale, hopefully the prime minister was wrong.

In a world, much of which is convulsed by tensions and violence arising from ethnic, religious and identity difference, Australia – for the moment at least – is an outlier. The point of modern Australia is that it’s not a microcosm of anything. As a peaceful and successful liberal democracy, it’s almost unique in the world.

That implies equality of citizenship – which the Voice referendum attempted to overturn. The strongest advocate for the Voice was the prime minister.

For good (or for ill), the culture of the nation was created on a foundation of Judeo-Christian ethics and the British legacy of human rights, the rule of law, and parliamentary democracy. Australia has one culture – not many.

Australia is multiethnic – it is not, and never has been, multicultural. The multiculturalism politicians are so fond of talking about can only exist in a social and political culture that’s liberal, peaceful, and accepts (up to a point) difference. Australia made multiculturalism possible, not the other way around.

(Yet, for some reason, the academic institutions of the English-speaking world now believe their primary purpose is to attack the history of a culture that allows people of different backgrounds and beliefs to live together in some sort of harmony.)

In his comments on Tuesday, Anthony Albanese said Australia was “the great multicultural society”. Leaving aside the fact that such a label isn’t accurate, describing the country in such a way provides no guidance or guidelines for what to do if it’s felt that society is threatened.

A multicultural country would have no problem accommodating into its political system an organisation such as Muslim Votes Matter. In its own words, it is a community group harnessing the “potential deciding vote” of the Muslim community in 20 seats in the federal parliament, with the purpose of influencing “Australia’s foreign policy response to the growing atrocities in Gaza”.

Albanese’s response was to say: “Australians overwhelmingly do not want conflict brought here.” The prime minister’s assessment of how the majority of Australians think about this is correct, but a commitment to multiculturalism doesn’t provide an answer as to why Muslim Votes Matter sits so uneasily. The boundaries to multiculturalism are found in a political culture that attempts, not always successfully, to avoid sectarianism and prevent political conflict built upon identity.

The challenge in the face of a new sectarianism is that over the past decade, identity, in particular race, has become a feature of Australian politics.

At the Sydney Jewish Museum, Albanese said he wanted Australia to be “a place where people are valued regardless of their gender, their faith, their race, their sexuality, regardless of who they are”. That implies there should be equality of citizenship – a concept that the Voice referendum attempted to overturn. The strongest advocate for the Voice was the prime minister himself.

Sectarian political parties and organisations are the inevitable consequence of identity politics and policies that elevate personal and group difference. On the rare occasions when mainstream Australians are given the opportunity to have their say about the direction of the country’s politics, their opinion is clear.

There were many laudable sentiments in Albanese’s comments on Tuesday. But actions speak louder than words. At the press conference at the conclusion of the event, the prime minister was asked a question by a journalist: “Just on Hamas being dismantled. Mehreen Faruqi [a Greens senator] made some pretty controversial comments at the weekend refusing to call for their dismantlement. Is it time for Labor to stop preferencing the Greens?”

Then and there Albanese could have put his fine words into action. He could have said yes. But he didn’t. Or he could have said no and explained why preferencing the Greens is better than supporting the Coalition. But he didn’t do that either. He spent 650 words avoiding the question.

There was no follow-up question to the prime minister, and the assembled journalists were too polite to ask the special envoy, Jillian Segal, her opinion on the topic.

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