Political leadership and education
Throughout the inquiry, the committee heard that the discourse and
behaviour of political leaders has the capacity to influence community perspectives
about culturally and linguistically diverse communities. The Federation of
Ethnic Communities' Councils of Australia submitted:
How their leaders respond is crucial to how the country
resolves its tensions. Good leadership quells unrest; it provides means of
understanding for those between whom division exists. It facilitates dialogue
when relations become strained; it corrects misinformation and guides debate.
Good leaders appeal to Australians' sense of fairness and to the inherent sense
of decency that has created the successful multicultural society that is Australia.
The Victorian Government further suggested that there is an opportunity
to recast public and media discussion, and '[set] the tone for respectful and
civil dialogue' to strengthen multiculturalism in Australia.
This chapter discusses the impact of political leadership on the
treatment of and regard for culturally and linguistically diverse communities.
It also examines the way in which education can be used to strengthen and
protect multiculturalism and social inclusion in Australia.
Participants of the inquiry informed the committee that a sequence of
recent policy decisions appeared to communicate tacit messages about the
government's stance on multiculturalism. Witnesses gave the example of the government's
shifted focus from migration and multiculturalism toward an emphasis on
'national security' and 'de-radicalisation' programs. Resources previously
assigned to diversity and social cohesion initiatives have been reallocated to
'countering extreme violence', and the government's public promotion of
multiculturalism has had a significantly muted profile.
Mr Dominic Ofner from the Edmund Rice Centre for Justice and Community
Education noted that the government's silence about multicultural policy for a
number of years has been negatively perceived by the community, and that the
long awaited release of the multicultural statement in March 2017 demonstrates
that multiculturalism is 'not a priority'.
Witnesses and submitters also referred to the Attorney-General's
announcement on 21 March 2017 to repeal sections 18C and 18D of the Racial
Discrimination Act 1975,
occurring during Harmony Day celebrations, which aim to promote cultural
diversity and cultural respect. According to the Chinese Australian Services
Society, the timing of the announcement 'marginalised and denigrated the values
Some witnesses told the committee that political leaders' failure to
condemn racism and discriminatory language is just as damaging as if the
leaders themselves had propagated it. Participants were particularly concerned
that the government had not made strong public statements to counter domestic
and international policies that are seemingly at odds with principles of
multiculturalism. Examples cited include the United States' decision to ban the
entry of individuals from Muslim majority countries; statements made by Senator
Pauline Hanson about Asian and Muslim immigrants; and inflammatory comments by
both sides of politics with regard to free speech, citizenship, and refugees. In its
submission, Australian Lawyers for Human Rights stated:
The cruellest aspect of racism, it is said, lies not so much
in the direct abuse, but in the tolerance of that racism shown by society's
In the context of anti-mosque protests in Bendigo, Professor Andrew
Markus referred to the 'failure of Australian multiculturalism', caused by a lack
of political leadership and engagement:
How was it a failure?...It was a failure of leadership in that
leading federal politicians and ministers did not come to Bendigo; they did not
consult or involve themselves, as far as I have been able to determine. State
level involvement was limited and probably not on messaging...there was a failure
of leadership and a failure to articulate clear messages, but there was also a
sense that people were not being listened to, and this fed into the increasing
alienation from politics.
Some witnesses accused political leaders as viewing multiculturalism as
an opportunity to 'score political points', rather than being 'a genuine
political commitment' to reduce racism.
Many expressed disappointment that political rhetoric has vastly strayed from
the original recommendations made in the 1978 Report of the Review of Post
Arrival Programs and Services for Migrants (Galbally Report), which
espoused values of equal opportunity, free expression of culture, and access to
Far right politics
Internationally, there has been an increase in the number of far right
political parties speaking out against multiculturalism. The committee made
note of the Jobbik party in Hungary which describes itself as a 'principled
conservative and radically patriotic Christian party' that is focused on
preserving 'Hungarian values and interests'.
Other examples can be found in the polling results of the French election,
whereby conservative candidate Marine Le Pen gained public support based on her
hard-line stance on immigration.
Witnesses told the committee that the increasing attention paid to far
right politics has had a particularly negative impact on those from culturally
and linguistically diverse backgrounds. The Ethnic Communities' Council of New
South Wales stated:
Our more than 300 members have become increasingly concerned
with the prominent movements aiming to countenance Australia's long-standing
pro-immigration and pro-multiculturalism policies, likewise reflected in
similar nations worldwide, following the rise of extremist and far-right
elements within governing institutions both in Australia and abroad.
Professor Andrew Markus remarked that intolerant and racist attitudes
have become 'a political reality...We have one political party now that caters to
The Edmund Rice Centre for Justice and Community Education criticised
the use of 'coded' language by the major political parties which alluded to
anti-immigration policies proposed in other countries:
...the Labor Party has
been rightly criticised for an advertisement in which leader Bill Shorten
promised to “build Australian first, buy Australian first and employ
Australians first” while surrounded by a group that did not include a single
person of colour. The advertisement sends a simplistic and coded message to
people that unemployment and underemployment can be fixed by reducing visas for
migrant workers. Indeed, even if the Labor Party were to include more diversity
in the advertisement, it does not detract from the anti-immigration tone of the
advertisement; “Country first” messaging has been used by far-right political
parties and anti-immigration candidates in elections around the world,
including by US President Donald Trump.
Witnesses and submitters advised that, despite the increase of anti-immigration
voices in the Australian Parliament, these political leaders did not accurately
represent the thoughts and feelings of mainstream Australia. They called for more
cohesive leadership by politicians from each of the major parties to present a
unified stance on multicultural issues and quell the divisive policies
suggested by the far right:
It is essential that
the major parties show moral leadership and use best endeavours to achieve and
maintain consensus on multiculturalism and immigration. Partisan divisions over
these policy areas are open to exploitation by fringe groups seeking to promote
racism, which works against any social inclusion agenda.
Impact of political language
The Executive Council of Australian Jewry stated that political leaders
have 'a concomitant responsibility...to exercise a high degree of rhetorical
virtue by avoiding language that is likely to inflame overt or latent hatreds
and prejudices within the community'.
However, participants suggested that inflammatory political discourse
blurring issues of national security and border protection with multicultural
affairs have become increasingly prevalent in recent years.
Witnesses and submitters suggested that Australians' demand for
political direction has been met by simplistic solutions, directing blame to
immigrants, refugees, and culturally and linguistically diverse communities as
An example presented to the committee was that of one Minister's comments with
regard to the literacy and numeracy skills of incoming migrants:
won't be numerate or literate in their own language, let alone English...these
people would be taking Australian jobs...For many of them that would be
unemployed, they would languish in unemployment queues and on Medicare and the
rest of it so there would be huge cost.'
Some participants commented that such tactics had also been used in past
elections when discussing issues of population, unemployment and the housing
crisis (as discussed in chapter three).
They argued that this form of rhetoric paints an over-simplistic picture of
migrants and refugees' integration into Australian life:
The way in which
Australian politicians play “the race card”—explicitly or implicitly—has serious
implications for multiculturalism. When political leaders call for an outright
for a ban on Muslim immigration or subtly blame migrant workers for
unemployment, stereotypes and prejudicial attitudes are normalised. When these
attitudes are normalised, more serious language and behaviour become accepted.
The Federation of Ethnic Communities' Councils of Australia stated:
The effects of this
can be devastating to social cohesion. It can undo years, even decades, of
community commitment to harmonious inter-existence.
Witnesses warned that the impact of negative political rhetoric also has
an influence on perpetrators of racial vilification. When public comments are
made about minority communities, individuals may view the comments as
validation of their prejudices.
This can fuel division within the community and even lead to violence:
It can also embolden
them to take actions against the target group, whether verbally or physically.
At worst, they see it as verbally licensing them to act against the target
group, and there is no limit on the actions they are willing to take.
Mr Dominic Ofner of the ERC told the committee:
From our research,
when a minister for immigration makes those comments or announces changes to
the citizenship test and singles out the Sudanese community and the Apex gangs,
that legitimises attitudes in the community from non-migrant backgrounds, at a
grass-roots level, that might provoke racial discrimination, intolerance or
prejudice towards those people.
Witnesses and submitters observed that a Parliamentary Code of Race
Ethics has been previously proposed in Parliament. The Code was first proposed
in 1996, and by December 1998, more than half of all senators and members had
provided their signature.
A similar version of the Code was put forward by the Labor Party in 2016 but
has not come to fruition.
The committee was presented with a number of positive examples of
political leadership, demonstrating the role of public figures in strengthening
and promoting multiculturalism in Australia.
Witnesses told the committee that in 2009, Australia received a great
deal of negative attention in the Indian media following a spate of attacks
against Indian students. This led to a dramatic decline in the number of
students from India enrolling in Australian universities and raised questions
about Australians' attitudes to multiculturalism. In response, the government
engaged heavily with the Indian Government, as well as with the Indian
community in Australia. Settlement Services International commended these
actions in sending 'strong messages that discrimination is not acceptable or
tolerated' in Australia.
Ms Ly Ly Lim gave another example:
The then Premier of
Victoria, Jeff Kennett, was the only conservative political leader to stand up
and strongly condemn Ms Hanson on her anti-Asian remarks. Following this, a
number of opinion polls were conducted and they consistently revealed that
attitudes towards ethnic communities were more positive in Victoria compared to
other states, which had declined dramatically.
Many witnesses and submitters made reference to the Victorian Government's
multicultural policy statement titled 'Victorian. And proud of it.' as
an outstanding example of positive political leadership in the area of
multiculturalism and social inclusion.
According to the Ethnic Communities' Council of Victoria, the government's
statement sends a message of inclusivity, and recognises the contribution of
culturally and linguistically diverse Victorians.
The Federal Government's recent multicultural statement—Multicultural
Australia: United, Strong, Successful—was similarly perceived as a positive
step to reaffirm support for cultural diversity and set out strategic
priorities for multicultural policy.
The committee notes that parliamentarians have previously pursued a
proposal for a code of race ethics.
Previous versions of the code have promoted principles such as respect for
religious and cultural diversity, tolerance, and justice, and asked parliamentarians
to conduct parliamentary debate in a manner that is factual rather than
inflammatory. The committee believes that a code of ethics sets an appropriate
standard for public discourse, particularly when discussing issues relating to
multicultural affairs, migration, and citizenship, and would guide respectful
The committee recommends that the Australian Government consider developing
and establishing a Parliamentary Code of Multicultural Ethics, requiring
signature from all senators and members. The Code could include agreement to:
act in a manner that upholds the honour of public office and the Parliament;
recognise the value and contribution of the First Peoples of
Australia, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples;
respect Australians' diversity of colour, national or ethnic
origin, culture or religious belief;
recognise the value and contribution of culturally and
linguistically diverse, and new and emerging communities;
reject discriminatory or exclusionary statements;
uphold values of social inclusion, tolerance, and respect for all
persons, regardless of colour, national or ethnic origin, culture or religious
encourage the partnership of government and non-government
organisations in leading constructive, informed and factually-correct debate in
Strengthening multiculturalism through education
Over the last few decades, Australia has welcomed a vast diversity of
cultures, religions, and worldviews, but participants of the inquiry argued
that this is yet to be reflected in the education curriculum. The Australian
Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) currently offer students
in all schools the opportunity to learn about religions, spirituality and
ethical beliefs as a study 'about religion' rather than about a particular
religious faith. The role and significance of religion in Australian society
can also be taught in subjects such as history and civics and citizenship.
Many witnesses and submitters argued that enhancements to the education
curriculum could assist in strengthening principles of multiculturalism in
Australia and contribute to social cohesion outcomes.
Witnesses referred to the current Victorian Curriculum that highlights
the importance of 'Learning about worldviews and religions'. They recommended
developing a similar model for all states and territories, in consultation with
educators, academic experts, and peak faith organisations such as those that
are members of the Australian Partnership of Religious Organisations.
The Executive Council of Australian Jewry suggested that rather than
focusing on 'Australian values', the curriculum should promote enlightenment
values and teach students to recognise and challenge prejudice:
This would provide a
framework for giving students an insight into the validity of enlightenment values
and undermine the potential appeal of simplistic, extremist ideologies. It
would also provide a much-needed inoculation against racism and ideas of racial
or religious supremacism, and more generally would better equip today's
students and tomorrow's leaders to intelligently handle life's challenges and
the country's challenges.
The committee heard that there is also a lack of comprehensive education
about Australia's Indigenous culture and history. Witnesses noted that while
there is some teaching about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures in
the school curriculum, new arrivals that participate in settlement education
programs are not provided with the same level of instruction. Mr Atem Dau Atem,
a former refugee, noted:
I think at the heart
of it the whole system is built on colonisation. It is built on the
dispossession of Indigenous people, which is very sad. The more sad thing is
that we come and benefit from it. I went to university here. I learned. I have
a job now. All that is built on the dispossession of Indigenous people. To me,
that is the biggest problem. We cannot deal with these issues until we actually
look at that and say: where did this institution come from? Where did the
education system come from? We can say we do reform but in the end it is what
is underpinning it. And this is not to say Australians are racist, because the
current Australian people really have not done anything wrong except to
maintain a system that they inherited, and it is the system at the heart of it that
is the problem. What can we do about it? Maybe what [a representative from
Settlement Services International] was saying: learn about Indigenous people,
which we do not do in the settlement centre. We do not do that at all, because
we are not funded to do that. Nobody gets money to do anything like that. 
The Victorian Multicultural Commission expressed the view that a
stronger education program would enhance Australia's cultural understanding of
both existing and incoming cultural groups.
In doing so, individuals can take the focus away from what is different and
foreign, and direct it toward common values that build social inclusion and
Recognising the breadth of languages now spoken across Australia, a
number of witnesses and submitters suggested the development of a national
policy on languages.
Language education offers an opportunity 'window' to not only allow Australians
to communicate with one another, but also encourage greater intercultural
learning. A representative from the Australian Hellenic Council told the
...the importance of
learning a second language is phenomenal. Obviously, it encourages the student
to travel, to learn another culture and to open their mind, and that then comes
into multiculturalism because there is a better understanding of what is
happening around them.
The Australian Multicultural Council noted the economic benefits of
implementing a national language policy:
A National Policy on
Languages would assist with implementation of the Government's productivity
agenda, by not only encouraging second and third generation migrants to
maintain their language skill base but also introducing native English speakers
to the transformative power associated with learning another language.
The Federation of Ethnic Communities' Councils of Australia told the
committee that a national language policy that encompassed language rights,
language maintenance and language study has the potential to enrich Australia's
economic, social and intellectual dividends.
A number of participants noted the significance of 'cultural literacy'
in strengthening multiculturalism and social cohesion. Emeritus Professor Joseph
Camilleri OAM gave an explanation:
...you have some
understanding of the cultural diversity both of Australia and of the world, you
feel comfortable with it, you know how to interact with it and you know how to
gain advantage from it. Cultural literacy would, over time, then percolate
through not only to schools, kindergartens and universities but also to other
sections of society, because that educational foundational exists.
Dr Irene Bouzo from the Ethnic Communities' Council of Victoria
suggested viewing multiculturalism through an 'intercultural lens'. This
recognises the skills and competencies of other cultures, such as the ability
to speak another language, knowledge of religious practice, etc. Professor
Camilleri noted that beneficiaries of an intercultural education would span
across business, policy, security, community work, and medical services,
through an increased understanding of 'the culturally diverse context within
which they are working'.
The Australian Psychological Society further highlighted the social
benefits of cultural literacy:
This research has
demonstrated that communities are enriched and transformed by migrants and
refugees and the skills, perspectives and traditions they bring, and that more
intercultural contact among different ethnic groups can facilitate a more
positive context for inter-ethnic relationships, understanding, collaboration
and unity, which is a mutual win-win situation for individuals, communities and
Inquiry participants advised the committee that interfaith dialogue is
an indispensable aspect of cultural literacy education. Australia is a nation
of diverse religious affiliation,
and participants argued that greater understanding and facilitation of
interfaith dialogue is required to improve public discourse about matters of
race, ethnicity, culture and religion.
As the Federal Government's multicultural statement notes:
and inter-cultural dialogue is critical to reduce the possibility of tensions
within communities and to strengthen cohesion and harmony. Such dialogue helps
to reduce prejudice, promote cross-cultural understanding, improve relations
between different ethnic and religious groups, and enhance the sense of
belonging and trust.
The Australian Bahá'í Community also submitted:
The worldwide Bahá'í experience suggests that more effective
outcomes are achieved when decision-making and dialogue is approached as a
shared effort to explore the underlying reality of relevant circumstances– a
collective search for truth and common understanding.
...We have found that
effective community-building processes amongst diverse peoples and populations
--including Bahá'ís and others such as neighbours and friends -- require
regular gatherings for consultation at all levels, allowing for those concerned
with the well-being of their communities to openly and frankly explore their
circumstances, reflect on their experiences, and decide on steps forward.
Representatives from the Bendigo Interfaith Council argued that
governments need to recognise the importance of religion and faith for new arrivals.
Monsignor Francis Marriott stated:
...we would like to emphasise there that faith plays a very
important role in the settling of these new arrivals in our town. It's what
they come with, as well as the food. In a world that sometimes thinks faith isn't
important, our experience has been that its enormously important to these new
arrivals. The Karen people, the Muslim people, the Hindu people, the Sikhs are
all seeking to do something about their faith when they arrive.
The committee observed that there has been some response to the need for
interfaith dialogue in Australia, including the Australian Multicultural
Council's 2014 report titled Interfaith and social cohesion in Australia:
looking to the future;
and the establishment of a number of interfaith organisations and networks. Nevertheless,
Professor Camilleri noted that initiatives need to be proactive and sustainable
in order to have any long-term effect:
Dialogue needs to
explore the deeper social, economic, physical and psychological insecurities
that people experience—including the insecurities that arise from migration,
whether voluntary or forced. The purpose of dialogue is to identify the sources
of insecurity, and to find agreement on constructive ways of dealing with such
Witnesses and submitters further highlighted a need for community
education about the harm caused by racial discrimination and vilification, and
the influence of media and political leaders in perpetuating racist rhetoric.
The Executive Council of Australian Jewry argued that students should be
encouraged to think critically, adopting a 'sceptical and analytical approach
to all information' before coming to a conclusion.
Participants also called for the government to maintain or increase
funding for the National Anti-Racism Partnership and Strategy (the Strategy),
in order to 'deeply penetrate' community attitudes toward racism and
Some submitters indicated that the Strategy could be improved to better
identify, prevent and reduce racism. For example, the Executive Council of
Australian Jewry suggested that, as part of a review into existing school
curricula, the Strategy 'should include a fully funded process for engaging school
RCOA contended that responses to racism should also focus on different
geographical locations, noting differences in the way in which racism and
discrimination manifest themselves across rural and urban locations:
Some rural and regional
areas have a strong and well-established history of supporting migrants and
refugees and other newcomers, whereas other communities may feel more
threatened and respond differently to change and the diversifying of their
local community. Ensuring that any anti-racism strategy includes local
place-based initiatives as well as a broad national campaign will strengthen
its impact overall.
The committee recognises the social and economic value of a multilingual
Australia. Through embracing the diversity of languages already present in
Australian society, there is a tangible opportunity to not simply tolerate
other cultures, but to recognise the inherent skills they contribute to
Australia. The committee therefore encourages the Australian Government to consider
developing a national policy on language education.
The committee further acknowledges the role of interfaith and
intercultural understanding in promoting social cohesion, particularly
considering Australia's religious and cultural profile in recent years. The
committee notes that the current Australian Multicultural Council is tasked
with 'promoting greater intercultural and interfaith understanding and
The committee's view is that this should be incorporated into a wider national
policy of intercultural and multicultural education, including enhanced
language policy, and cultural education in the Australian Curriculum.
The committee recommends that the Australian Curriculum Assessment and
Reporting Authority, in consultation with relevant government,
non-government and community bodies, consider developing an intercultural and
multicultural education curriculum to be delivered across a range of subjects
including English, History, Geography, Science, Civics and Citizenship. The
curriculum could include:
compulsory language education for students at both the primary
and secondary school level, delivered through the Australian Curriculum; and
comprehensive intercultural education for students at both the
primary and secondary school level encompassing religion and religious
practices, cultural traditions and sensitivities, and the social and economic
value of cultural diversity.
The committee notes the success of the National Anti-Discrimination
Partnership and Strategy (the Strategy) in addressing and challenging racism
and discrimination in everyday life. The outcomes of the 2015 evaluation report
demonstrate that the Strategy has been effective in raising awareness of racism
and how best to respond to it.
The committee supports the thematic analysis used to assess the activities
carried out under the Strategy and believes that an ongoing review process will
assist in maintaining the Strategy's effectiveness.
The committee recommends that the Australian Government continue to provide
ongoing support for the National Anti-Racism Strategy, through continuing to
fund activities that raise public awareness and empower individuals and
communities to prevent and reduce the incidence of racism, and promoting the
Strategy at relevant opportunities.
The National Anti-Racism Strategy could incorporate a triennial
review process, similar to the 2015 Evaluation and Future Direction Report, to assess
the impact of promotional campaigns and educative tools and resources in
starting conversations, sending a clear message, providing leadership, and
empowering action against racism.
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