In the 70s, multiculturalism was sold to the people as the tolerant, moral alternative to earlier evil policies of assimilation and integration. But assimilation and integration were not intolerant ideas. On the contrary, these policies invited migrants to Australia with the promise they, too, could become Australians and enjoy the values that made Australia the country of first choice for millions.
When migrants arrived in postwar Australia, there was a sense of obligation to the new country. The transformation of thousands of poor, displaced migrants into comfortable middle-class Australians in a matter of a few generations is one of the great success stories of integration. The traditional three-way contract was simple: majority tolerance, minority loyalty and government vigilance in both directions.
Becoming a citizen meant accepting responsibilities in return for clearly understood rights and privileges. A migrant renounced “all other allegiances” to swear loyalty to Australia.
More than 40 years later, asking for minority loyalty is regarded as a sign of intolerance. Against a backdrop of entrenched multiculturalism and a human rights frenzy pushing the right to be “separate but equal”, it’s now a case of the host nation owing the migrant.
The great multicultural con is that its proponents deliberately refused to define the term. They opted for feel-good ambiguity. So it meandered along meaning different things to different people. To some, it meant no more than promoting a culturally diverse society loyal to core institutions and core values. Meanwhile, a more virulent form took root, emphasising ethnic rights to be separate but equal, promoting cultural and moral relativism and identity politics where immigrants were no longer Australians, or even “new” Australians.
Worse, multiculturalism demanded that we tolerate the intolerant. To be sure, tolerance is a worthy goal. But it’s meaningful only when tempered with moral judgments about what is right and what is wrong. When migrants arrive in this country they their first responsibility was to learn English and their second responsibility was to get a job. Somewhere along the line I think we lost sight of things as basic and as important as that. That is a date we must all be able to be part of.