Malcolm Turnbull - Image, http://www.theaustralian.com.au

Malcolm Turnbull – Image, http://www.theaustralian.com.au

I think it is fair to say that in Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull we have a progressive and forward thinking person in all the areas that his predecessor was not. Advocates in the areas of refugee policy, republican positions, Aboriginal relations, marriage equality and other areas are waiting to see where this man will take us into the future. My focus has always been in the areas of multiculturalism and cultural plurality. That is not to minimise the importance of any of those other areas. However, I will leave the analysis of those policies to others far more expert in the areas.

A few years ago Robert Manne wrote a piece in the Monthly that examined the man and his views in regard to a number of issues. Manne’s piece on Turnbull and Multiculturalism reads as follows:

“At no moment in our conversation does Turnbull seem more animated than in our discussion of multiculturalism. Multiculturalism is more than the recognition of Australia’s great ethnic diversity or the success of the post-war migration program. It involves a celebration of the ways in which Australia has been enriched by the fact that citizens of non–British or Irish ancestry do not have to shed older ethnic identities and assimilate to become fully Australian. During the Howard years, the celebratory aspects of multiculturalism were repudiated. Under Rudd and Gillard they have not revived. But there can hardly be a member of the federal parliament who is a greater enthusiast for multiculturalism in its celebratory dimension than Malcolm Turnbull. Even as a university student, in the dying days of the assimilation era, he was dismayed to find that many of his fellow students of Greek heritage did not know any Greek because they had been discouraged from learning the language of their parents. And presently, as the member for Wentworth in Sydney’s eastern suburbs, he is delighted that non-Jews celebrate the festival of Hanukkah and non-Chinese the coming of the Chinese New Year. What kind of madness is it to think that Australia is diminished or threatened as a result? Turnbull has an interest in the history of the once-great multicultural centres of Islamic civilisation, Constantinople, Smyrna, Alexandria. “Are the great cities of the Middle East or the Levant stronger or poorer for becoming monocultural?” For Turnbull that question answers itself. He entirely disagrees with historian Geoffrey Blainey’s claim, still embraced by John Howard, that multiculturalism poses a threat to national integrity by turning Australia into “a nation of tribes”. This is a fantasy, a “straw man”. Nor does Turnbull believe that multiculturalism has “gone too far in accommodating Muslim minorities”, as John Howard told the Heritage Foundation, a right-wing Washington think tank, in 2010. His only misgiving about multiculturalism is when its proponents suggest to people like him that they should think of themselves not as Australians but as ‘Anglo-Celts’. I ask him whether he believes there is a danger of Australia becoming a nation of tribes, or what he calls a “hyphenated” or “caravan” culture. Very emphatically, he assures me he does not. We have got the balance right.”

Further, Malcolm Turnbull’s assessment of past leaders and their assessment of him are also revealing. Again, from Manne’s article:

“This leads to a puzzle about Turnbull. Malcolm Fraser, a patriarch of the Liberal Party, has watched with increasing disillusionment under John Howard and Howard’s true heir, Tony Abbott, the gradual and inexorable shift of the party to the right on the questions of indigenous reconciliation, multiculturalism, Muslim immigration and asylum seeker policy. Because of this shift in social values, Fraser has abandoned his membership of the Liberal Party. He now characterises the politics of its present leader as “dangerous”. He regards Malcolm Turnbull as the most prominent true liberal in the party and his defeat at the hands of the party’s conservatives as a bitter blow. In turn, Fraser’s distaste for the direction in which Howard and Abbott have led the Liberal Party is fully reciprocated by its ideologically inclined members. The economic liberals describe the period of the Fraser government in almost biblical language as “seven wasted years”. The social conservatives regard his contemporary criticisms of Howard and Abbott on questions of human rights, ethnicity, religion and race as treachery and an old man’s pathetic desire to find favour and forgiveness from the Left.”

In fact if you go back to Turnbull’s maiden speech on election to the seat of Wentworth, he had the following to say:

“Wentworth was multicultural before the term was invented. Our prayers fly heavenward, not just in English but in the language of the New Testament at St George’s Greek church, of the Old Testament at Central Synagogue and our many other shuls and, if you believe the Irish—and who would doubt them?—just once a year in the tongue of the angels themselves at St Patrick’s in Bondi.

Wentworth has the largest Jewish community in our city. The community has grown stronger with successive waves of immigration from Europe, from Russia, from Israel and from South Africa. Their generous community spirit, their family pride and tireless enterprise are admired by all of us. Australia is a good friend of Israel, the Middle East’s only democracy. We have been resolute in supporting Israel’s right to take the necessary steps to defend itself from terror. The death of Arafat has now opened up new opportunities for peace based on the roadmap—two states within secure, internationally recognised boundaries. We must hope and pray that all parties, in the words of King David’s 34th Psalm, do not merely `seek’ peace but `pursue’ it.

Wentworth is a federation seat and its representatives have been as distinguished as the great colonial statesman after whom it is named. The longest serving, Sir Eric Harrison, was Sir Robert Menzies’ deputy and a co-founder of the Liberal Party 60 years ago. I salute all my predecessors and thank them for their service, which has set a high bar for my own.”

Recently, Michelle Rowland, Shadow Minister for Multicultural Interests proposed three tests that the Labor party is setting in place for the new Prime Minister. The tests are contained in a video interview that she did on WA Today here: The tests are as follows:

  1. Turnbull needs to issue a strong statement reprimanding people such as George Christensen (He of little by way of ethics and morality, who chooses to attend Reclaim Australia rallies and is blatantly anti Islamic in his rhetoric).
  2. The PM needs to reject any attempts by people such as Brandis to water down the race hate provisions of the Discrimination laws. E.g. Section 18c and d. I have written extensively on these issues in The Stringer in the past.
  3. The PM needs to recognise that Australia’s historical approach to migration and refugee policy has seen the successful resettlement of many people who have become strongly contributing members of society in Australia. (In my view, the Labor party is in no position to make this a test as they would also fail the same following the last policy back flip in relation to boat arrivals).

There are many other tests that I could propose should be considered by the new Prime Minister and would involve some of the following for example:

  1. Focusing on systemic racism that is pervasive in Australia. This relates to government policies in regard to access and equity of access to the government services
  2. Working closely with elders in the various communities to reconnect migrant cultures with the Aboriginal cultures. (It has been my long held view that some of the worst perpetrators of racism towards Aboriginal communities are unfortunately people of CaLD (culturally and linguistically diverse) backgrounds.
  3. Revamping the Council for Multicultural Australia to more properly reflect prevailing community connections. For example having a focus of Aboriginal representation on this council is very important.
  4. Establishing de-radicalisation programmes that focus on integration of young people in the community. The document released by Michael Keenan last week has been universally condemned. I have spoken to one of the people cited in that document as a contributor. He has categorically stated that he was NOT a contributor. The first he saw of the final document was when the media contacted him for comment! I have written often in the past about the need to work with young people to prevent radicalisation. I have also lectured at the University on the community responses to terrorism and looked at what needs to be done to integrate young people far better than we are doing now. This is a very important and significant policy area.
  5. Scrapping the Multicultural Ambassadors programme. I am blissfully unaware of anything that these Ambassadors have done in the public space that has advanced the cause of multiculturalism
  6. Practical steps such as the establishment of a longer English proficiency hours of study for refugee communities. We currently allow these communities 510 hours of English tuition free of charge. Some people are taking up to seven years to complete their 510 hours. Reasons for this are such things as lack of ethnic childcare facilities, lack of funds to pay for transport etc (Mike Baird, Premier of NSW, has recently introduced a free transport policy for people on refugee status). English is a difficult language to master. 510 hours is far from sufficient for someone who has had little or no exposure to the language in their formative years.
  7. Adoption of the “Substantive Equality” programme that ran in WA for a number of years. That programme was introduced by the Gallop Government via the Ant Racism Steering Committee, a committee that I was a part of.
  8. Addressing the whole issue of religious vilification. There is little doubt that the vast majority of human rights abuses in the last few years have been against people of Islamic faith. Yet there is almost no jurisdiction in Australia that provides for recompense for these people. And before anyone starts bleating about the secularity of our society, may I point out that Jews and Sikhs are able to access protection because they are considered to be people of a “race” and not just of a particular religious persuasion.
  9. Elevating the status of Multiculturalism to a senior ministerial position. Currently this is a position of an “Assistant or Junior” Minister. Dr Geoff Gallop and Steve Bracks (Former Premiers of WA and Victoria) were people who recognised the importance of Multiculturalism as a public policy. As Premiers they took on the responsibility of that portfolio directly. Unfortunately in Premier Barnett we have someone who has indicated absolutely no interest in the portfolio. Certainly in PM Abbott, there was little hope of that occurring either. One option that must be looked at is the establishment of a Multicultural Commission or at the very least a strong policy unit in Prime Minister and Cabinet as a policy development unit.
  10. The whole refugee policy area is one that needs revamping. But that is a policy debate that will be had by parties in Australia. However, there is no organisation that has conducted an audit of the skills, studies and knowledge that is currently resident in the refugee communities in Australia. There are highly qualified and experienced people languishing in the detention centres on our mainland and in Manus and Nauru. And yet we speak of a skills shortage in this country that has led us to introduce a 457 Visa programme with all the attendant issues. Together with this we need to re-examine the skills recognition policies that have here. We have some of the most qualified taxi drivers in the world. I am familiar with cleaners in WA who were once their country’s diplomatic staff to other nations. Yet their skills have not been assessed for consideration here.

These are just some additional policy positions and tests that should be considered by the Turnbull government. They certainly are far from exhaustive and I am sure there are readers who will have a number of other positions that they wish to advocate. I must emphasise that there are other areas of government policy that will also be advocating for change. Issues of disability and Aboriginal reconciliation etc are areas that need to be addressed urgently as well. Homelessness is a thorny issue. Refugee policy is also a difficult area to traverse.

However, these could be a good starting point for discussion. I look forward to seeing if any or all of these are considered by the government.