Corruption, the Desolation of our Souls
As China barges in, Australia admits to failings in the Pacific

Australian multiculturalism: Is there a salient lesson for PNG?

Sing-sing-papua-new-guinea (Pinterest)
A united and multicultural PNG will require eliminating top level corruption and a fair approach to sharing resources


TUMBY BAY - I first became aware of the idea of multiculturalism in the late 1970s when South Vietnamese boat people began to arrive in Australia.

At that time, and probably because of Australia’s ill-fated involvement in the Vietnam War, the government under Liberal prime minister Malcolm Fraser actually welcomed boat people and refugees.

Those that arrived on our shores brought horrific stories of the perils of their escape from Vietnam, including pillaging and rape by pirates on the high seas. Many Australian hearts went out to these people and they were given much assistance to relocate here.

In South Australia many of them settled on the northern Adelaide Plains where they engaged in market gardening alongside the Italian and Greek migrants who had come here after the horrors of World War II.

Today South Australia’s governor, Hieu Van Le, is Vietnamese as are many professional people like doctors and lawyers. Vietnamese Australians act and sound just like any other Australian and through intermarriage have greatly enhanced the national gene pool.

The arrival of Vietnamese refugees probably heralded the start of Australia’s embrace of multiculturalism. Over subsequent years people from many different parts of the world came here to live and we developed into a happy polyglot society.

There are still hangovers from the old days of the White Australia Policy but thankfully its adherents are in the minority.

While they grudgingly accept people of Asian origin they now direct their venom against people with darker skins who come from places like Africa or the Middle East.

Prior to the Vietnam War, there had been a widely held national fear that people of Asian origin were a threat to Australia. This was characterised in the phrase ‘Yellow Peril’.

The ‘Yellow Peril’ harked back to the 19th century gold rush days when Chinese miners flocked to the just discovered goldfields in Victoria and other states. The Chinese miners were hard workers and could extract gold from places Europeans had abandoned or found too hard to work.

They also showed great enterprise in setting up businesses to supply the miners with the goods and equipment they required.

The success of the Chinese was resented by white Australians and, as this antipathy built, it came to form the sentiments that eventually led to the White Australia Policy.

The Vietnam War had its genesis in the anti-Communist rhetoric following World War II. There was a theory promulgated mainly in the USA but also in Australia that the spread of Communism had to be halted otherwise there would be a domino effect and we would be overrun.

The theory was that the countries south of China – like Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Malaysia and Indonesia – would topple to Communism like dominoes – eventually reaching us.

Vietnam was seen as an important place where a stop to Communism’s spread had to be militarily engineered.

When you look at our generally peaceful and happy multicultural society now it is hard to imagine how we once discriminated against people because they didn’t look like us or follow the same customs as us.

There is a popular song in Australia called ‘We Are Australian’ written in 1987 that includes these lyrics:

“We are one, but we are many
And from all the lands on earth we come
We'll share a dream and sing with one voice
"I am, you are, we are Australian"

The song encapsulates a sentiment felt by many Australians and it has been suggested it would make a much better national anthem than the current one.

That Australia has developed a multicultural society that works well with our democratic system of government might be a lesson for Papua New Guinea.

Of course, PNG didn’t have to develop a multitude of cultures because they were already there. People were roughly the same colour but they embraced a dizzying range of customs and practices that often meant different groups were anathema to each other.

Bringing those disparate 850 language groups together to form one nation has always been a major problem and stumbling block for effective governance.

Issues like wantokism (the practice of favouring one’s own language group) and intercultural antagonism still plague unity and can be the basis of much angst.

The long-lasting and current mood in Bougainville to break away from PNG is felt, perhaps not so strongly, in some other provinces. Bougainvilleans say they are ethnically and culturally different to other Papua New Guineans and have been unfairly treated and would be better off as an independent nation.

What the Australian experience of multiculturalism tells us is that it is possible to have harmony and effective governance that includes a wide range of different ethnicities, beliefs and customs.

It is a lesson that Papua New Guinea might consider emulating.


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Philip Kai Morre

PNG is now becoming a multicultural society with the influence of Asians and Europeans. There are two groups of Chinese origin, the ones who have been born here before independence in 1975 became automatic citizens and many who came here after independence have business interests.

Many of these applied to become citizens and have been graded. They are leading in business activities and they adapt well into our cultural commitments.

We have had three prime ministers including Sir. Julius Chan, who is of Chinese origin and Bill Skate and now Peter O'Neill of European origin. They are doing well in their adopted country and feel at home.

When we have immigrants, they are coming with vast experience and knowledge in business and technology. They are running and managing big departmental stores, big construction companies with quality road building, building constructions, mining and environmental programs and eco-tourism and many other activities.

We now have missionaries from Asian countries like Vietnam, Indonesia, Philippines, India, and China with multiple skills and knowledge and not only preaching the word of God.

The detention centre in Manus is a golden opportunity to screen good people with knowledge and skills and take them on board to develop our country. Among them there could be engineers, doctors, scientists, business men and women whom we need them badly.

Multicultural society comes with different ideology and norms to develop and implement multifaceted programs incorporating business, politics, environment, technological advancement, and modern agriculture farming method, and economic prosperity.

Chris Overland

Phil has raised an important point.

The growing evidence is that, broadly speaking, the more multicultural a country is the more dynamic and innovative its economy will be.

This, in turn, tends to lead to an overall improvement in the quality of life for all citizens, although it is clear that each successive wave of new immigrants will have to work tremendously hard to successfully establish themselves.

Australia habitually beats itself up for being a racist country. Certainly, it has a lamentable history of racist conduct, especially in relation to Aboriginal people.

That said, it is worth pointing out that the White Australia policy has now been extinct for over 50 years and there subsequently has been a huge influx of people from very diverse racial, ethnic and religious backgrounds.

So, for example, Australians of Chinese origin now constitute around 5.6% of the population, with those from India being around 2.5%. Of this latter group, around 50% are university educated.

Anyway, what can be said with confidence is that Australia is becoming an ever more multicultural country, with no sign that this trend is going into reverse anytime soon.

Interestingly, countries that are very resistant to taking immigrants include Japan and China. Both countries are, in practice, deeply racist but simply ignore this fact as being a natural and inevitable aspect of their inherently "exceptional" cultures and traditions.

Both of these countries eagerly absorb certain economic and scientific ideas and technology from the western world, but have no intention whatsoever of allowing their basic social conditions to reflect western values that they deem are inconsistent with their traditions and history.

Quite what this means for the long term future of these countries is anyone's guess right now, but history suggests that the more open a country is to the influx of new people and ideas the more successful it will ultimately be.

As Phil says, that is a lesson that PNG might usefully absorb.

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