Vilifying the mainstream Australian population was a dumb idea

A surprisingly realistic article below from an ABC writer. Chris Uhlmann is political editor for the ABC news channel, ABC News 24. He makes the point that sanctimonious Leftist preaching and contempt for Australia has generated a backlash among young Australians against all that, a backlash that is now in full swing.

But persuading people was probably not the highest priority of the the Left. Most of all, they needed to vent their spleen. That they have ignited nationalism where there was virtually none before is however an amusing demonstration of how hate can be self-defeating

Each Australia Day acres of newsprint is devoted to worrying about the apparent rising tide of aggressive nationalism.

Young Australians have embraced January 26 in a way their parents never did. Flags fly from cars, men and women sport Southern Cross tattoos and gather to party in public places.

There is an ugly side to this, a few are using national symbols to exclude other Australians and that is unpardonable. But maybe we should try harder to understand where this assertive nationalism comes from.

Let's imagine for a moment that there might be an explanation for this phenomenon beyond the reflexive chant of "racism". Perhaps these young Australians were schooled in a society that venerated multiculturalism and they understood it to mean they lived in a nation of tribes: "Italian-Australian", "Vietnamese-Australian" and so on. The hyphenated Australians had clearly defined identities, symbols and even national dress and foods that made them distinct. That difference was celebrated as the essence of what made Australia good.

And the perceived threat to a multicultural society, endlessly explored, was the assumed intractable racism of the host population. So government reports were commissioned which proved the desperate need for racial vilification laws.

If you listened to the rhetoric of some of the champions of multiculturalism in the 1970s and '80s, it was also routine to hear that pre-war Australia was a deeply racist backwater where the food was awful and the people dull. One common mantra then was that it "didn't have a culture". Only after the immigration boom did the country get some and get interesting.

Where did that leave the sons and daughters of the pre-Second World War immigrants? What was the place of the currency lads and lasses?

Is it possible they grew tired of the grim assessment of their past and went in search of a more appealing narrative? Is it surprising that some should seek their own identity, find their own symbols, write their own mythology and define their sacred places?

Tony Wright noted in his book "Turn Right at Istanbul" that growing numbers of young Australians were making pilgrimages to Gallipoli. Many of the ones he met were there searching for a connection to a story they could call their own. This was an utterly spontaneous movement and completely at odds with routine predictions of the demise of Anzac Day that began to surface in the 1960s and '70s.

I vividly remember a university lecturer mocking Gallipoli as "mythology" and I wondered what was wrong with a nation-building myth. No right-thinking person in the multicultural '80s would think of deriding the tapestry of mythologies that binds other cultures.

Yet looking back in anger at every aspect of settlement since 1788 was such a common feature of the '80s and early '90s that it paved the way for the history wars.

In the decades multiculturalism enjoyed bi-partisan support and it was that rarest of public policies, it was perfect. Any attempt to question it or the enormous lobby it spawned was shouted down as racist.

Multiculturalism fell from favour during the Howard years, but the word was never removed from the immigration portfolio. By late 2006, the Labor Party was falling out of love with the idea too. It introduced two new words to the shadow immigration portfolio "integration and citizenship" and flicked multiculturalism into a junior portfolio.

The then shadow minister Tony Burke's explanation for the change was "Integration is how you make a multicultural society work". It sounds perfectly reasonable but it is not a construction that would have passed muster in the mid-80s or early '90s. Then words like "integration" and "social cohesion" were lumped with the anathema that was "assimilation".

Multiculturalism was dumped from the Immigration Department's name when Labor took power in 2007 and it was not included in any of Labor's portfolios under either Kevin Rudd or Julia Gillard.

Now it's being redeemed.

In a speech at the Sydney Institute the Immigration Minister Chris Bowen set out to resuscitate multiculturalism and to cast Australia's brand as unique. He sees it as very different from the experiment in Germany and Britain, where it is widely viewed as a divisive. Chancellor Angela Merkel says it has "utterly failed" and British prime minister David Cameron agrees.

Mr Bowen's opening gambit was that "our multiculturalism is underpinned by respect for traditional Australian values".

He pointed to a speech by former prime minister Paul Keating who said "the first loyalty of all Australians must be to Australia, that they must accept the basic principles of Australian society. These include the Constitution and the rule of law, parliamentary democracy, freedom of speech and religion, English as a national language, equality of the sexes and tolerance".

I'm sure that Mr Bowen would disagree, but, in practise, that was not the way multiculturalism was packaged here in the 1980s and 1990s. Then suggesting that there was any such thing as "Australian values" was an invitation to be abused by the multicultural industry. I know because I did and I was.

The dull, pre-war Australians, the ones who apparently got by without a culture, built those values. And despite Mr Keating's fine words the real failing of the last incarnation of multiculturalism was its acolytes almost never gave the host population any credit for creating the kind of society that could absorb mass immigration, largely without violence. That is an extraordinary achievement and one to be celebrated. But it rarely was. All too often the impression was that multiculturalism prospered in spite of the pre-war population, not because of it.

By 1996 so entrenched was the feeling that Labor had lost touch with its own people that the Coalition could win a landslide election victory by promising to govern "For All of Us".

So why is Labor re-birthing multiculturalism now? No doubt Mr Bowen believes it is the best policy for continuing to build a cohesive immigration-based nation.

But it is also a political strategy to help dig Labor out of the its border protection mess. It needs to shore up its left flank while it continues to run a hard line on boat people to neutralise the attack from the right.

Above all, it needs to head off any attempt by the Coalition to use shared values as a weapon in the immigration debate, because there is a deeply divisive issue simmering in the sub-plot of the immigration brawl.

What Ms Merkel and Mr Cameron were talking about when they dubbed multiculturalism a failure was a concern that Muslim immigrants in their countries are not integrating. Mr Cameron said that it was time to assert a "more active, muscular liberalism" where equal rights, the rule of law, freedom of speech and democracy are actively promoted to create a stronger national identity.

In short, when faced with a powerful set of alternative beliefs real border protection begins with clearly defining and defending your bedrock beliefs. No nation that doesn't do that can stand.

Here the problem is nowhere near as acute as it is in Europe. But that doesn't matter, what matters is perceptions. Both major parties know that the concerns expressed by Ms Merkel and Mr Cameron are shared by large parts the Australian community. It lies at the heart of the visceral reaction some people have to boat people. And the feeling is not confined to one ethnic group.

Until now this debate has been played out in code. But the game has just changed.

Now the Prime Minister is demanding that Opposition leader Tony Abbott distance himself from comments attributed to his immigration Scott Morrison that the Coalition go on the attack over Muslim immigration. Mr Morrison denies he made the comments in shadow cabinet. Tony Abbott has publicly recommitted the Coalition to a non-discriminatory immigration policy.

This is very dangerous water for both major parties and both would be well advised to tread carefully.

If Labor is to make a fist of its reunion with multiculturalism it must ensure that, this time, at its core, the policy loudly proclaims that that there are some bedrock principles that all Australians must share.

Alas, setting out to rebrand multiculturalism with yet another anti-racism strategy at its heart leads you to believe that Labor has learned little from the past. Once again the key message seems to be that the main problem with social cohesion is the insatiable racism of the host population. This dangerously misreads the public mood. There is an appetite for some muscular liberalism.

The problem with the Coalition is it seems to have yet to work out how it goes about governing for all of us.


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