After 30 years of believing that multiculturalism had the power to hold their settler society together Australians are losing faith in what was always a tangled concept and are returning to the simpler formula of integration.
“We have moved from scepticism to disenchantment”, said ruling Liberal Party luminary Peter Coleman. “It has now sunk in that some immigrants and their children, many of whom know us well enough, profoundly despise our way of life and even consider themselves at war with it.”
As if on cue, 150 Serb and Croat youths provided further grounds for disenchantment by getting themselves thrown out of the tennis Open in Melbourne for fighting each other in a reprise of the 1990s Balkan Wars.
And then up popped a YouTube video made by Lebanese Muslim youngsters in their suburban Sydney heartland glorifying notorious gang rapist Bilal Skaf and predicting that Australia would one day be a Muslim country.
Multiculturalism, the doctrine that immigrants be encouraged to retain their culture, language and religion, is officially an orphan.
Prime Minister John Howard now has a Department of Immigration and Citizenship, formerly the department of immigration and multicultural affairs.
The opposition Labor Party has also shifted ground. What the main rivals at a general election later this year have to say on the integration is now virtually identical.
“People are understandably going to retain a place in their heart for their home culture and we don’t discourage that in any way”, Howard said when announcing the ministry name change. “But the premium must be upon … the integration of people into the Australian family.”
That policy statement was echoed by Labor’s spokesman on immigration, Tony Burke, who said that “Labor wants new immigrants to be integrating into Australia from day one.” What’s caused the commitment to multiculturalism to fall away is ethnic and religious tensions. Andrew Robb, Howard’s point-man on integration, also notes the dramatic changes in the source of new settlers from Europe to Asia and the greater requirement for skills and proficiency in English in the job market.
“In terms of effective integration, we have to do things which anticipate problems like declining social cohesion”, Robb said.
The fall from grace of multiculturalism as a concept has been mirrored by a raft of policy initiatives intended to promote unity rather than diversity. Immigrants now have to wait four years – double the previous waiting period – to become citizens. By the end of the year a tough new citizenship test will be in place to assess proficiency in English, knowledge of Australian history and the applicant’s grasp of civic responsibilities. With Labor jumping on board the integration bandwagon, the Greens are the only party in federal parliament warning of a slide back to the White Australia policy that prevailed before the 1970s and the introduction of a colour-blind immigration policy.
“It’s going to be harder to come to Australia if you don’t have an Anglo background,” Greens leader Bob Brown argued. The change in rhetoric is quite profound. This week Howard laid out the new deal for intending settlers, telling them that the path was “you come to this country, you embrace its customs, its values, its language, you become a citizen.”
The citizenship test will also be quite specific in its demands. Robb said applicants must demonstrate that they “support democratic rights, the rule of law and the freedom of religion, and that it was illegal to discriminate on the grounds of race, religion or sex.”
Mark Lopez, who has written extensively on multiculturalism, has argued that the shift away from diversity and towards unity would not have any extreme manifestations.
“A recognition of the legitimacy of migrant and ethnic organizations as participants in a pluralist democracy will most likely continue in an integrationist regime,” Lopez wrote in The Australian. Opposition to racism would also probably remain a feature of mainstream culture and politics.”
The most important change is the reaffirmation that Australia has a mainstream culture and that newcomers must swim with it rather than against it. As Howard has stated: “Cultural diversity should never come at the expense of a clear strong compelling national identity.”
Italy is very far from Australia, not only in a geographic sense. Italian leftist politicians aims to significantly shorten the time needed to get italian citizenship, without any significant test, neither cultural nor by economic means. Meanwhile, some religious and ethnic communities are actively self-segregating themselves, asking for special rights and exceptions to italian law, like poligamy. This is the classical leftist approach: a fake unity in a true diversity. But when this diversity conflicts with human and civil rights, someone must say that this multiculturalism is a mistake and a threat. Unfortunately, Italy will have to wait for the end of this insane far-left government to repair all the damages done to a serious integration policy.