Work in Progress: Multicultural Writing in Australia
Multiculturalism, write Pnina Werbner, is 'an important rhetoric and an impossible practice'. My morning news paper on Australia Day 2006 reminded me of just how important, and how impossible, Australian multiculturalism remains three decades after its inception. 'PM claims victory wars', read the front-page headline. The article, a report on John Howard's address to the National Press Club, details the Prime Minister's retreat from the 'excesses of multiculturalism' and the 'black armband' view of history associated with the Keating Labor government (1991-96), and his conviction that the 'divisive, phoney debate about national identity' has come to an end, replaced by greater 'balance' in matters of diversity and identity. In an extract from the speech published on the opinion page of the same paper I read: 'We've drawn back from being too obsessed with diversity to a point where Australians are now better able to appreciate the enduring values of the national character that we proudly celebrate and preserve' (Howard 2006, 13). However, as Michelle Grattan's cover story points out, an extra 1200 police were called out on the same day to patrol Sydney's beaches, where racially motivated violence had broken out between youth gangs. Commentators were quick to point out that the Cronulla riots, the most serious example of civil unrest in Australia since the introduction of multiculturalism, did little to confirm the PM's confident proclamation. It was difficult to reconcile his notion of 'balance' with the racism which had surfaced in these eruptions. If the PM worried about an excess of multiculturalism, others worried that the retreat from multiculturalism was leading to excesses of a much more dangerous kind.