Multicultural Australia has become one of the most successful, progressive, liveable and attractive nations on this planet due to a number of important factors. First, the foresight of generations of federal and state government and parliamentary leaders who created innovative migration, workplace and citizenship policies and programs that welcomed people from across the world to contribute to the transformation, continuous upgrading and innovation of Australian society. Second, the passion, entrepreneurial drive and strong work ethics of generations of migrants helped them to win respect and reshape Australian workplaces, institutions and cities and town across the country. Since 1945, a total of 7 million people have migrated to Australia.
The phasing out of the ‘White Australia’ policy in the 1960’s and the introduction of highly effective migration programs across Europe, the Middle East, South Asia, ASEAN and North East Asia and most recently the Horn of Africa, has meant that Australia like the USA, Canada and Germany was well placed to attract young, hardworking, well qualified and entrepreneurial workers and their families in support of the ongoing nation building project.
One of the most comprehensive studies on diasporas in Australia is the recently released Australian Research Council Report at the Australian Parliament on Diasporas in Australia: Current and Potential Links. It explored the broad dimensions of links between the Italian, Macedonian, Tongan and Vietnamese diasporas in Australia and their homelands.
One of the keynote speakers at the official launch of the research report was the Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs and Pacific Island Affairs, the Hon Richard Marles MP. Richard Marles was representing Australia’s Foreign Minister Bob Carr who in his maiden speech in the Australian Parliament mentioned the important role of diasporas to Australia’s place in the world. Marles noted that “if we want to look at what marks us out as a nation and what it is that gives us our vibrancy and our strength, as a community, and as an economy, it is the way in which new cultures make themselves at home here in Australia.”
Similarly, Australia’s Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten launched a spirited defence of multiculturalism and the contribution of people with overseas heritage in shaping Australia’s concept of the ‘fair go’. In his speech Shorten noted that “we welcome and acknowledge our great fortune that so many sons and daughters of foreign soil have chosen Australia to be their home. Because of this diversity, we are a great country.”
A consortium of researchers from Deakin, Monash, Victoria University, Adelaide and UWA and a wide range of state, local government and community not for profit organisations worked in partnership to produce a rigorous and relevant report that makes important policy and practice recommendations relating to the role of diasporas in Australia bilateral and regional relations.
The key message is that Australia needs to harness the powerful relationships of its migrant communities with their homelands and build stronger economic, social and political links abroad.
Lead author of the report Associate Professor Danny Ben-Moshe explained that “the research highlights how the migrant experience has changed from one of leaving the homeland and severing physical ties to an experience where migrant communities are increasingly transnational and connected to international networks from their homelands in third countries. The flow of people, information, and ideas is extensive and ongoing, as such diasporas are potentially important vehicles for international trade, cultural exchange, public diplomacy and, more broadly, brain circulation.”
For these potential economic, social and political benefits to be harnessed there needs to be a much more strategic policy approach involving the Australia government, the governments in the homelands and the diasporas.
The report also identified an ‘Economic and Political Gap’ with huge interest for engagement by the diasporas with the home and host societies in advancing bilateral ties but relatively little activity due to lack of funding for high impact projects.
The Macedonian community has been working with the Australian Government and the Australian Parliament to promote closer economic, social, cultural and political ties with the Republic of Macedonia for many years especially from 1991 when Macedonia became an independent country.
Since, 2009 the United Macedonian Diaspora has worked in partnership with the Macedonian community and the Australian Parliament urging Australia to implement the Roadmap for Advancing Bilateral Relations with Macedonia. The roadmap consists of a dozen key recommendations that can deliver better outcomes for Australia, Macedonia and the Macedonian diaspora. These include immediate recognition of Macedonia’s legitimate constitutional name, the opening of an Australian embassy in Macedonia, the provision of funding for a Macedonian Community Needs Assessment project, the allocation of funding for high impact research which will enable Australia to see Macedonia with new eyes, the provision of 20 postgraduate scholarships for talented and needy students, regular visits by Ministers and MPs from both countries, regular funding for high priority economic, social and environmental projects.
The United Macedonian Diaspora promoted the advantages of the Diasporas in Australia project to the Macedonian Government which through its Ministry of Foreign Affairs contributed $AUD30,000 towards the ARC Linkage Project.
The path to harnessing the power of diasporas is through collaboration, partnerships, research and impact oriented projects that deliver better social, economic and environmental benefits for all key stakeholders. This is something which all diasporas understand and support.