Pacific TB rates continue to climb
Basil: distrusted in life; praised at ‘belsori'

Dividing not blending: multi-culturalism in Oz

Google 'typical Aussies' and this is what you get - a representation of the Anglo-Celtic constituency


TUMBY BAY - Australia certainly has a multicultural society with a wide range of different cultural and ethnic groups among its population – 278 in all.

However Australia has an unsuccessful multicultural society mainly because of the power imbalance between 277 of those groups and the old Anglo-Celtic establishment.

You only have to watch television or look at the composition of the Australian parliament to see this imbalance. You might bear in mind that 54% of Australians are officially classified as Anglo-Celtic.

I did a quick case study on the cultural and ethnic makeup of early morning breakfast programs on television and compared Australian programs to those in other countries.

Sunrise on Channel Seven has a line-up of Anglo Celtic/European talking heads but the American version, which they screen earlier, has a mix of African Americans, Latinos, Asians, Polynesians and Europeans in their line-up.

A formal study of 81 TV news programs (19,000 separate news and current affairs broadcasts) found, of the 270 people who appeared, 76% were Anglo-Celtic, 13% were European, 9% non-European and 2% Indigenous.

Among Australia's 40 university vice-chancellors, 85% have an Anglo-Celtic background, 15%  European and no others.

A report by the Australian Human Rights Commission which examined corporate Australia's cultural diversity found that 97% of executives are Anglo-Celtic or European.

Although rife with racism, America has a much more successful multicultural society than Australia by a long shot.

This may not seem significant but I believe this disparity between the composition of our society and what is portrayed as our society has the potential to be quite dangerous.

The danger involved is evident in what is happening politically in both Australia and the USA.

In America, Trumpism and the Republican Party have created such a severe schism between white and most ethnic populations that people fear the tensions may be the precursor of another civil war.

In Australia, in a desperate bid to win the current election, prime minister Morrison is trying to create a divide between largely conservative and less well-educated white regional areas and more multicultural and better educated and progressive suburban areas.

At the same time, he is ratcheting up his rhetoric about the threat of China.

He hasn’t yet resorted to describing China in terms of a ‘yellow peril’ but there’s still time for him or his defence minister to resort to such desperate, emotive and racist terminology.


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Philip Fitzpatrick

Perhaps I should have said that Australia has so far failed to fully realise the potential of its multicultural make up, Chris.

This is certainly so in the political arena, for the reasons you explain. I would add to what you've said by pointing out that political parties tend to attract people from conservative professions such as the law which are dominated by Anglo Australians.

It is also the case in the media.

However, in some of the professions multiculturalism has been highly successful. Perhaps the most successful area is in the medical profession. My current GP is Chinese and the one before that was Nigerian.

I think that rather than trying to change the electoral system we need to change the actual parties so that they are more welcoming to multicultural members.

I can't see the LNP entertaining that idea but the Labor Party, which has successfully achieved good gender equity, might be open to the idea.

Ed Brumby

Phil's stats tell it all .... sadly: a reflection of the underlying fear of 'the other', if not outright racism that still permeates our society.

Chris Overland

While I think that Phil's basic hypothesis is broadly correct, I think that it wrong to say categorically that Australian is an unsuccessful multi-cultural society.

It would be more accurate to describe it as an emerging or evolving multi-cultural society, where many of the institutional structures and arrangements have yet to adapt to the emerging social and ethnographic realities.
Despite this, there are some areas where Australia's new reality is clearly visible, notably in the health, education, scientific, hospitality and small to medium business sectors.

What is clearly true is that Australia's political structures are no longer fit for purpose in that they were designed to meet the needs of a very different society. That society was composed almost exclusively of people of Anglo-Celtic origin, whose ideas and attitudes closely aligned with those of their countries of origin.

The critical points of political difference within that society revolved around things like social class, religious affiliation and the ongoing struggle between capital and labour. Racist sentiment was prevalent across the political divide and did not begin to significantly abate until well into the 1970's at the earliest.

The two major political parties are still fundamentally structured and organised in ways that reflect the society that existed when they were founded, in which a more or less binary choice between anti-labour conservatives and organised labour made some sort of sense.

Similarly, the method of electing people to parliament assumed an essentially binary political system and, in the Federal House of Representatives and all other state lower houses, was specifically designed to produce an outcome where one or the other of the major parties emerged as the dominant force and formed the government.

One result of this is that it is exceedingly difficult for people who do not readily fit within the cultural, political and ideological frameworks of one of the major parties to be elected to any parliament.

For example, it is very hard to imagine a person of colour being able to secure pre-selection in the Queensland Liberal National Party or the WA Liberal or National parties.

These parties are bastions of the culturally and politically conservative right which, even if not overtly racist, remain acutely uncomfortable with almost anything that comes from outside their inherited Anglo-Celtic cultural framework.

My proposed solution to the problems I have mentioned is to change the electoral system to one in which there are multi-member electorates with candidates elected using a proportional representation system. This would look very much like the Hare Clark system used in Tasmania or perhaps even the more complex system used in New Zealand.

The point is that such a system would produce a parliament that was much more likely to reflect the current and emerging ethnic and social diversity of the wider community.

The existing major parties will recoil from such a system because it would almost certainly force them into forming coalition governments.

Whilst there is much rhetoric about the supposed evils of a 'hung parliament' there is ample evidence that such systems can be made to work.

The 'hung parliament' fallacy in Australia is exposed by the fact that almost all Federal parliaments have been 'hung' because the party forming the government almost never controls the Senate. This is unsurprising because senators are elected using a proportional representation system, meaning that its membership is much more reflective of the wider community.

In this context, it is important to note that these days neither of the major parties can win more than around 35% of first preference votes and thus are critically reliant upon preference flows from the increasingly diverse array of small parties and independents.

The latter, in particular, are now becoming a force to be reckoned with and may well end up profoundly influencing the outcome of the forthcoming election.

So, it is both possible and necessary for Australia to adapt its political institutions and structures to better reflect the huge ethnographic changes now occurring and, eventually, one of the major parties (probably the ALP) will initiate the required changes.

In the meantime, as Phil has pointed out, what we have is a political 'Groundhog Day', in which no change seems possible.

But, as has been noted in the past, revolutionary change is impossible right up until the moment it happens, so I hope that merely discussing such a possibility in forums like PNG Attitude might contribute towards triggering it at some time in the not too distant future.

As to Chip's comment, I think he is correct: the American Civil War is not yet over because at least some Americans have never accepted that the confederacy and the ideas that animated it really is a lost cause.

The relentless forces of demography and time will prove these recidivists wrong but not without a lot of heart ache and distress along the way.

Philip Fitzpatrick

Of the more than 1,200 candidates in the federal election running for the House of Representatives, just 100 (8%) come from backgrounds other than Anglo-Australian, according to lists compiled by the Asian Australian Alliance and the Centre of Multicultural Political Engagement, Literacy and Leadership (COMPELL).

There are a further 38 diverse candidates running for the Senate.

According to a report from the Australian Human Rights Commission, 21% of Australians have a non-European background and 3% an Indigenous background. Over 300 ancestries were identified in the 2016 census.

Less than 40% (458) of House candidates are women, with the majority of both diverse and female candidates running as challengers in safe or fairly safe seats.

Chips Mackellar

In relation to your "precursor to another civil war" in the United States, it is interesting to recall that in the 2016 US presidential elections, all the Confederate States voted for Trump....

Just as though the Civil War had never ended.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)