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Who fears Multiculturalism?

Minorities

Who fears Multiculturalism?

Professor Triggs talks about how the politics of fear are undermining Australian multicultural values.


Click on the player above to listen. Photo: AAP/Quentin Jones.

Emeritus Professor Gillian Triggs is the former president of the Australian Human Rights Commission. She gave Brasil Central an exclusive interview on the 25th of November in Canberra during the conference of the Ethnic and Multicultural Broadcasters Council – NEMBC. Professor Triggs, who was the keynote speaker at the NEMBC conference, criticised the current government for using fear as a political weapon instead of focusing on the values of multiculturalism to promote social cohesion. She also argued that Canberra’s corporate-driven politics is undermining democratic ideals.

 

Listen to the interview above or read the transcript below:

You can also click here to watch to her keynote speech at the NEMBC conference where she spoke about the role of multicultural broadcasters in tackling the mass distribution of misinformation for political purposes.

(transcript)

Professor Triggs
The great problem is that over the last few years, driven by the fear used in politics, the government has introduced legislation of various bills that are absolutely contrary to the values and belief in multiculturalism. The Shadow Minister Tony Burke specifically mentioned these citizenship changes, which are, in their use of the English language test, really draconian and brings us right back, as he suggests, to the White Australia policy and their effect. There are many, many other examples: the partly discretionary power of the minister not subject to judicial control for practical purposes to take away citizenship; if you are a dual citizen; to cancel visas if you have committed even very minor offences; to embark upon counter-terrorism legislation that are quite disproportionate to a legitimate aim; we have control orders now for 14-year-olds; we have retention of metadata laws that breach privacy. We have all sorts of laws now that have been enacted particularly over the last four or five years that are extreme and disproportionate laws, that in many respects have a particular impact on the multicultural community. And the curiosity, the irony, if perhaps the better word, from this is that it’s the multicultural community that is in fact at least 50% of the Australian public. If we want to push back against extreme ISIS propaganda, against terrorism, and the young men typically in the Australian community who might be turned towards antisocial behaviour, one kind or another, one of the things that we can best use to counter that fear and the conflation with terror of asylum seekers refugees, for example, is to work more closely with communities for social cohesion. And I would see that, as the minister says, this is a turning point, it is a turning point. We need much bigger budgets to educate and communicate with the Australian community, and mainstream media needs to reflect the diversity of our community, and we need programs which can support cohesion.

Alex Spengler
We know for a fact… we have talked about post-truth era… and we know for a fact that domestic violence is a far greater problem in Australia than terrorism, but we don’t see people screaming and pulling their hair out around domestic violence so why do you think that is? Why do you think that this particular time government is putting this disproportionate measures attacking multiculturalism and not really having a look at the real issues that we have in Australia nowadays? Why in your opinion that happens?

Professor Triggs
Firstly, you’re quite right. If we were to see that, approximately, a woman is killed every week in Australia by her partner or former partner, in addition to that, of course, children are traumatised and 25 children are killed in a domestic violence environment — broadly speaking because the data varies depending on how you collect it from state to state — but that’s the problem. If that number of people: 70, 80, 100 people were killed every year in a terrorist act, we would be putting billions of dollars into countering it. But in fact, that money goes to the rare example of a death from terrorism in Australia, to preventive measures which of course are important. But so I am not saying we shouldn’t be putting money into counterterrorism activities, but we should be proportionate in the way in which we deal with this, and we are ignoring major social problems and problems broadly of social cohesion in favor of a politically fear driven process of putting emphasis on border security and terrorism.

Alex Spengler
Do you think that one of the reasons would be that border security actually makes a lot of money for people who are interested in financing campaigns or maybe are already financing campaigns in opposition for domestic violence that maybe, you know, is not going to be putting money constructions and weaponry and all that sort of thing. Do you think that could be?

Professor Triggs
I’m afraid that sort of conjures up the idea of the sort of corporate-driven political environment that we live in. But I’m fearful that there is a lot of truth in that. Some companies have made billions of dollars out of providing services to hold men, women and children in detention. Enormous amounts of money going into weaponry, submarines and new fighter planes. We are not discussing these issues at a proportionate level, as I say. I’m not saying we shouldn’t have those things, but I’m saying we are grossly disproportionate in not providing the programs that would support social cohesion. Why is this? It may be because of the strength of the corporate and business sector as lobbyists in government. Perhaps I can give you an example of this, which shocked me when I learned about it and I believe it to be accurate, of something like a 550 registered lobbyists in Canberra or Australia generally… they have to be registered, about 270 of them have been elected members of parliament in the past. So the connection between democratic representatives in Canberra, or State, once they lose their positions — and many do of course and there’s constant and very high turnover of politicians — they then go, very high number of them go, into working for the banks, working for big corporate bodies, many of them providing services to deal with counter-terrorism, or guards and detention centres. A lot of money to be made. I think this is a very troubling aspect of Australian democracy.

Alex Spengler
Exactly. This would be something that just came to my mind… so obviously if you have that sort of professional lobbyists, previous parliamentarians, that puts check the very idea of democracy — the government of the people — which is more like a plutocracy.

Professor Triggs
It becomes that. I’m afraid when you put it in corporate capitalist terms — and the very close relationship between elected representatives, or former elected representatives, and the business corporate community — you do start to be very suspicious about why it is we’re not protecting the most vulnerable in our community, and why we take such grossly disproportionate approaches to issues like terrorism but ignore domestic violence. It’s hard to search for reasons. One can only make educated guesses as to how this is happening. But the more I look into it, the more I see the role of the corporate business environment supporting this disproportionate expenditure of funds. And I was particularly interested today that the minister rather proudly announced 12 million dollars for ethnic and multimedia broadcast….

Alex Spengler
In a video recording….

Professor Triggs
In a video recording, didn’t come, and it’s here in Canberra so it’s not difficult… And that is a funding over three or four years… and that is a trivial, tiny sum of money relative to the billions that are being spent in other areas where I think arguably the funding is disproportionate. So I’m afraid it is a despairing environment and I think the Minister Tony Burke makes a very good point in saying that this is a turning point. Multicultural Australia being about 50% of Australia, we have got to be more alert to what is actually happening here in Canberra. Most people are oblivious to these laws that are being passed, including this ABC Fair and Balanced Bill, which fortunately failed. That much of the other citizenship laws, counter-terrorism laws, cancellation of visas, metadata laws are all going forward with very little public engagement with the consequences, particularly, again, for multicultural communities.

Alex Spengler
One last question. Going back to the first one. Why is multiculturalism good for Australia, in your opinion?

Professor Triggs
Well, I would make the point, of course, as a human rights lawyer, that it’s part of our opening and welcome arms that has helped create the sort of fair and equal society that Australia aspires to be. But one doesn’t have to make the human rights or ethical argument, you can simply make a business case. If we’ve been talking about the role of business, we know, there’s a lot of research now that supports the fact that a refugee migrant community — whatever basis they come into Australia — once they have stability, their children are in school, the parents can get out into the business community, they bring enormous wealth to Australia. For us to ignore that, or pretend it’s only a tiny percentage, is simply inaccurate. There is a very significant business case to be made for our migration program and I think we should honour it, and recognise it, and support it.

Alex Spengler
Thank you very much.

Professor Triggs
Thank you.

Professor Triggs recently took up the position of Vice Chancellor’s Fellow at the University of Melbourne, following the completion of her term as the President of the Australian Human Rights Commission. Prior to that, she was Dean of the Faculty of Law and Challis Professor of International Law at the University of Sydney from 2007-12 and Director of the British Institute of International and Comparative Law from 2005-7. She is a former Barrister and a Governor of the College of Law.

She has combined an academic career with international commercial legal practice and has advised the Australian and other governments and international organisations on international legal and trade disputes. She is the author of many books and papers on international law, including “International Law, Contemporary Principles and Practices” (2 Ed, 2011).

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Brasil Central's editor in chief. Former SBS (Australia) and TV Educativa (Brasil), he is a contributor to FairFax Media on Brazilian affairs. Alex holds bachelor degrees in Journalism, Social Sciences and a post-grad in Public Policies and Gender.

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