The Problem with Australian Multiculturalism

By Roydon Ng 

You would think that over 20 years Australia has out-grown the ideals of Pauline Hanson. Yet here we are, in the wake of the One Nation Party’s re-election to Parliament, concerned over the effect she and her party will have on immigration and multiculturalism in our country.

To most of the Asian-Australian community, Ms. Hanson is the despicable red witch from the north. As a child of immigrant parents, growing up in the 90s—when Ms. Hanson first declared that Australia was being “swamped” by Asians in her Parliamentary maiden speech—my family quickly developed a strong disdain for right-wing politics. I’m sure the Muslim Community is feeling the same fear of being targeted, now that she has called for a royal commission into their religion and the placement of surveillance cameras in their places of worship.

But, despite experiencing racially motivated attacks in public (which my father says increased following Ms. Hanson’s speech in Parliament), my family refused to accept a blanket notion that all Anglo-White Australians were racist. This has in turn encouraged me to take a not-so-black and white view on the issues of immigration and multiculturalism.

Although I am no supporter of One Nation or Ms. Hanson’s inflammatory remarks, I often wonder whether multiculturalism is actually working as well as we think it is in Australia. As a young adult living, studying and working in what is regarded as a highly diverse part of Sydney, it seems that what we have now is ethnic tolerance but a lack of cross cultural and inter-ethnic interactions. Modern Australia’s understanding of multiculturalism seems to have come from a flawed and limited definition that has stripped it of a practicable meaning.

It would be very easy to label Ms. Hanson a racist and move on with life, but how does that actually deal with the real issues of ethno-cultural relations in Australia? After all, Ms. Hanson was legitimately elected to the Senate in Parliament in her own right.

Australians need to persevere in their engagement of controversial issues such as immigration and multiculturalism, rather than merely throwing around insults such as racist, bigot or intolerant. Sure some (if not most) of One Nation’s policies may be viewed as offensive or fringe, but if we are to succeed in establishing a truly multicultural society it is engagement that will win over hearts and minds; not a campaign of retaliatory name-calling.

In working to achieve genuine multiculturalism, let’s not be too quick to pigeon hole people such as that of Ms. Hanson, but rather highlight her misunderstandings by showing the rest of the country how genuine inter-ethnic interaction benefits everyone. Fighting prejudice with acts of kindness — such as actively engaging with people of different ethnicities — is better than battling right-wing keyboard warriors.

UNSW is one of the most multicultural campuses in the country. But I pose a challenge to everyone here: are we merely tolerating our classmates from varying ethnicities or are we striving to break out of our comfort zones to befriend our fellow human beings?

Everyone around us has a unique cross-cultural story to tell. Have we stopped to listen to them? It is this exchange of tradition and history that enhances multiculturalism in our country. The Australian story is now one that consists of many backgrounds, but we must be willing to engage in order to make this happen.

Enhancing multiculturalism is something that everyone ought to be a part of, not just governments or ethnic lobby groups. And after all, multiculturalism is not just a social policy term; it is something that requires practice and commitment.

When Pauline Hanson speaks of one nation, she is right, but her focus is wrong. It’s time that Australia acknowledged that more should be done to enhance multiculturalism; to move it beyond current levels of ethnic tolerance and achieve genuine, cross-cultural engagement. Everyone must come together as an active multicultural country to truly reflect the meaning of, “I am, you are, we are Australia”.