Flat White

The success of soft multiculturalism

2 January 2017

9:58 AM

2 January 2017

9:58 AM

kebabshopAustralian politicians feel it necessary to keep reminding the public that their country is the most successful multicultural society in the world. While true, this nevertheless reveals the increasing public disquiet over Australia’s immigration policy, particularly in regard to Muslim immigration, necessitating the need for politicians to try and sound reassuring.

Public confidence is wavering, and to restore it, policymakers will need to convey an immigration policy that favours soft multiculturalism over hard multiculturalism, that emphasises assimilation over segregation. Otherwise, such assurances from politicians will have less and less effect on an increasingly nervous and agitated public.

Australia’s vaunted immigration experience can be attributed to an Antipodean exceptionalism, if you will – a natural capacity to assimilate all and sundry. Discrimination offends against Australians’ fair-go sensibilities, and their commitment to egalitarianism does not lend itself easily to notions of innate biological superiority.

As Keith Windschuttle showed in his book The White Australia Policy, a racial nationalism has been absent in Australian history, and this has been reflected in the ease with which large numbers of immigrants from all four corners of the world have been rather effortlessly accommodated and integrated.

Australia’s immigration success story can, therefore, be attributed to the fortuitous cultural attributes that allow for this, namely the cardinal Australian virtues of egalitarianism and giving a fair go.

However, this success is coming under increasing pressure as the public begins to lose confidence in the country’s immigration policy. Muslim immigrants, in particular, have served to question the easy assumption that immigrants will naturally assimilate without any need for prodding, if not with the first generation, then certainly with the second or at least the third generation.

The sight of Australian-born Muslims, in particular, turning against the host population and engaging in lone-wolf attacks, or going overseas to fight for an ideology considered altogether incompatible with Australian values, has challenged these assumptions that immigrants will naturally assimilate. The idea of a discriminatory immigration policy is, therefore, starting to be entertained by increasing numbers of the public.

Observant commentators have previously noted the Australian public’s preference for soft multiculturalism over hard multiculturalism. The latter is the sort propounded by progressive opinion, which essentially encourages and celebrates the idea of cultural ghettoisation, viewing perpetually enforced diversity for its own sake as representing the acme of enlightenment; whereas the former sits more comfortably with Australians’ assimilationist tendencies, while still allowing for gradual and comfortable acculturation by those newly arrived.

Since Australian multiculturalism assumes eventual assimilation and is a soft rather than hard multiculturalism, public disquiet will increase when hard multiculturalism is foisted on the Australian people, as was reflected in Pauline Hanson’s rise to prominence in the 1990s.

But Australians became largely relaxed and comfortable with the Asian presence, such that Asian immigration could rise to record levels following Hansonism with nary a ripple of concern from the public. Multiculturalism is fine, the message seems to have been, so long as it is soft multiculturalism.

Frank Luntz is an American political consultant famous for formulating talking points and messaging for the Republican Party, having written a book entitled Words that Work. Recognising that the public is generally too busy to occupy itself with the minutiae of political discourse, Luntz focuses on creating effective political communication through the encapsulation of ideas and themes in pithy phrases, such as the use of “death tax” in the place of “estate tax” and “climate change” in the place of “global warming” to convey the desired meaning.

Examples that come to mind in Australia of such effective political communication are Tony Abbott’s successful “Stop the Boats” mantra, which swept the Liberals into government, and further back in Australia’s history was the very effective “It’s Time” political campaign of Gough Whitlam, ending 23 years of conservative government; and in more recent years we have seen Obama’s seductive “Hope and Change” and “Yes We Can” slogans, and of course most recently Trump’s triumphant “Make America Great Again”.

Applying such thinking, the words “New Australians” – which are not new – could be injected into public discourse with renewed vigour to serve the purpose of reassuring the public that the multiculturalism advanced by the Australian government is of the soft variety that expects assimilation.

The words contain within themselves the assumption of assimilation: after all, with time, “New Australians” will inevitably and unavoidably simply become “Australians”, losing the modifying adjective. These words, therefore, possess the power to encapsulate the desired communication succinctly and effectively. Moreover, they are sufficiently subtle and innocuous enough to avoid needlessly antagonising progressive opinion.

“New Australians” could also replace “immigrants” in general discourse over immigration policy that involves commentators, politicians and government officials, reinforcing in the public’s mind the government’s preference for soft multiculturalism over hard multiculturalism, but doing so in a palatable manner.

Since the department of immigration has gone through numerous changes in name throughout its lifetime, one more change would hardly hurt, especially given its continuing significance and political significance. The Department of New Australians and Border Protection is a departmental rebranding that could conceivably go a long way toward restoring public faith an immigration policy that results in e pluribus unum – not too dissimilar to the country of Brazil, which has a population of diverse origins but is most assuredly “one nation”.

Multiculturalism has been a success in Australia precisely because it is conducted in Australia, with the bedrock Australian cultural virtues of giving a fair go and egalitarianism allowing for immigrants to settle and integrate into Australia with relative ease.

In light of current public disquiet, policymakers would be well advised to offer a significant reassuring signal that the government favours an assimilationist over a segregationist multicultural policy. Australia is an assimilationist nation, and it should be readily acknowledged that it is this that has made Australia the most successful multicultural country in the world.

Jonathan McClintock is a Melbourne-based writer.

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