Thursday, December 18, 2008

CRIKEY: Rudd and the return of multiculturalism ...

John Howard never liked the "m" word. But Kevin Rudd has brought it back, reinstating the Australian Multicultural Advisory Council that Howard abolished. At one time, many of us associated multiculturalism with a government-funded industry filled with "ethnic" leaders busily stacking their organisations so that they could employ their otherwise-unemployable nephews and/or stack ALP (or in my case, Liberal) branches for pre-selection purposes.

And after reading the story in today’s Sydney Morning Herald, you might be tempted to believe that the usual suspects will form part of this council.

Suspects like the kind of largely irrelevant self-appointed leaders of Muslim religious organisations, most of whom were middle aged first generation migrant men who push women away from mosques and who even validate domestic violence. Howard had little hesitation in placing these men on his Muslim Community Reference Group because they had little ability to engage with media and politicians.

Some of them enjoyed making embarrassing public statements, and their removal from the public stage has provided plenty of relief to a beleaguered faith sector to often held collectively responsible for events overseas they have little control over. Imagine if all Queenslanders were held responsible for Attorney-General Kevin Shine’s insensitive remarks on rape victims.

Rudd’s choice of nominees for his Multicultural Advisory Council reflects a good mix of academia, sport, professional experience and grassroots activism. The only Muslim religious community representative, Joumanah El Matrah, belongs to an organisation that works tirelessly at a grassroots level with women from emerging communities such as Afghans, Iraqis and Africans. Generally media-shy, El Matrah is one of Australian Islam’s unsung heroines.

The interests of indigenous communities are too often ignored in discussions about multiculturalism.

Rudd’s committee includes Rhonda Jacobsen, an accomplished indigenous lawyer who has written extensively on the legal aspects of reconciliation. Without exception, these appointees represent the best and brightest of Australian pluralism.

Hopefully they will advise the Rudd government in such a manner that minorities won’t be marginalised or turned into political wedges in a manner so common during the 11 years of Howard’s monocultural madness.

First published in Crikey on 18 December 2008.

Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf

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