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Is multiculturalism really 'mushy'?

By Jieh-Yung Lo - posted Tuesday, 27 February 2007

During the recent ministerial reshuffle, the Howard Government has removed multiculturalism from the immigration portfolio and replaced it with “citizenship”. Even without government support, multiculturalism will still stand as a unifying force for Australians everywhere.

Peter Costello described multiculturalism as “mushy” and Andrew Robb MP stated that the “M” word has been transformed by interest groups into a philosophy that put “allegiances to original culture ahead of national loyalty”.

These comments prove the government’s view on multiculturalism has shifted from reality. The reality that multiculturalism defines and represents our identity, considering that one in every four (24 per cent) Australian was born overseas and 15 per cent of the population speaking a language other than English at home.


The Howard Government’s agenda is in favour of integration. It desires that we all believe in some vague, homogenous set of values that are derived from simply living in the same place.

It has continued its attack on migrants by extending the waiting period for Australian citizenship. This is likely to lead to significant discrimination against new migrants by denying them the opportunities, rights and responsibilities of citizenship and limit overseas travel to visit love ones for an extended period of time.

Multiculturalism in Australia has demonstrated that our diversity is a value that makes us unique. We have had a very successful migration program where we have welcomed more than six million people since World War II and provided them with the opportunity to begin a new life and contribute to the making of this great country.

It is not something that migrants take for granted. The vast majority of migrants relish the opportunity to share their culture and immerse themselves in the Australian way of life. Remember, for new migrants this has never been easy.

Successive waves of migrants, first from Europe, then Asia and now Africa have had to suffer taunts, discrimination and suspicion upon their initial arrival, despite their desire to be part of the Australian community. Recent events in Tamworth and Cronulla suggest racist elements still exist in some quarters. My fear, as an individual who is part of one of the most successful multicultural societies in the world today, is that our society is changing for the worse.

Other countries such as in Europe and the United States don’t have the ingrained multicultural value that Australia has. If our citizenship test is going to include a test on Australian values, then alongside concepts like “mateship” and “a fair go” should sit multiculturalism. It is not just an Australian value; it is a part of who we are.


It is in our food, Chinatown and Little Italy. It is in our art, our poetry and paintings. Our multiculturalism represents us at the Olympics, in the faces and cultures of our Olympic team. I represent it, as a young Australian-born Chinese man who believes that proposing and approving a citizenship test that denies our multicultural heritage truly damages our value of a “fair go”.

Our nation and society is entrenched in multicultural community and harmony. The actions of a few should not influence policy changes for all. Migrants have contributed so much to Australia and Australia has given them the opportunity to start a new life. Multiculturalism has enabled ethnic communities to embrace and celebrate their traditions and heritage, while respecting and living Australian values and lifestyles.

The real test has nothing to do with citizenship, it has to do with how we see ourselves as a civil society and how willing we are to accept the reality of who we are and what Australian society is.

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About the Author

Jieh-Yung Lo is a Melbourne based writer and Associate Producer of the upcoming documentary film New Gold Mountain - Your Chinese Australia.

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