Multiculti Boilerplate and Bourke Street

grassbyBelow is an Age editorial from April,  2007. Today, as the unveilling of Myer’s Christmas windows remains on hold in Melbourne while police mop the blood from Bourke Street, it is worth revisiting.

The headline of the related article by Augusto Zimmerman asks ‘Why did we do this to Australia?‘ The editorial doesn’t answer that question, but it does detail by example the treachery of innocence and what proponents of multiculturalism sincerely believed, and still believe, to be their noble intentions. The more relevant expressions of that hopeless deluded mindset have been underlined for emphasis.


AUSTRALIA has a fine tradition of absorbing and integrating migrants, once they are classified as legitimate migrants. Despite the fact that waves of migrants have aroused suspicion and resentment in the past, on the whole, Australia, particularly Victoria, has a proud record of embracing multiculturalism.

In recent years we have seen thousands of new migrants from Africa, and like any migrant group, they face challenges settling in a new country. Of the 13,000 people accepted under Australia’s refugee and humanitarian program in 2004-05, about 70 per cent were from Africa. With the Government anxious to accept more refugees from Asia, the African share is expected to be about 50 per cent in 2006-07.

Figures are fluid, but of the total African intake, about 10,000 are Somalis living in Melbourne. Most have fled their country to escape from a wretched civil war. Somalia has had no effective central government since President Siad Barre was overthrown by opposing clans in 1991. Since then the country has plunged into lawlessness and warfare with little done to deal with famine and disease leading to the deaths of up to 1 million people. Peace is a long way off.

Somali refugees who have come to Australia to start a new life inevitably face enormous challenges. Coming from a tribal structure of clans and sub-clans that were largely nomadic until recently, Somali refugees must deal with deep culture shock, learn a new language, battle through alienation and unemployment and navigate their way around the cultural signposts of a society very different from their own. This is no easy task for a community traumatised, on a very personal level, by the horrors of war. It is to be expected that some may stumble when confronted with Australian ways.

Yesterday The Age reported warnings by an international Islamic scholar and leader of Sydney’s Somali community that young Somali men were being drawn in by supporters of terrorism in Somalia and might even be used for attacks in Australia. In a speech to the Melbourne Somali community last night, Dr Herse Hilole said some Somalis had returned to Somalia from Melbourne and Sydney to take part in jihad, and some had been killed. Other Somali leaders in Melbourne deny Australian Somalis are engaged in jihad here or abroad.

In the face of conflicting claims it is important to maintain perspective. Evidence shows that terrorist-related activity in Australia has so far been “homegrown” and not shipped in from overseas. Furthermore, Somalis form a very small percentage of the Australian population. Nevertheless, vigilance is vital, and so is support for resettlement programs. Earlier this year one of the architects of Australia’s multiculturalism policy, Jerzy Zubrzycki, called on the Howard Government to spend more on migrant settlement programs, especially for black Africans. The Government was forgetting, he said, that it couldn’t just allow refugees such as the Africans into Australia and then abandon them.

The Federal Government has indicated that this year’s budget would include measures to help African refugees. Currently, $50 million a year is spent under the humanitarian settlement scheme on refugees in their first six months here, and a further $30 million a year for their first five years.

Moves are afoot. African migrants in Dandenong are offered a unique driver education program in response to a spate of incidents, including drink-driving. And in a move unrelated to the Somali community, Victoria Police is planning a three-week trip to Sudan to learn about the culture that informs the experiences of a traumatised community. This knowledge could help foster a better relationship between police and the Somali community.

The signs so far are good and there is certainly no need for hysteria or panic with regard to the resettlement of migrants from Africa. But the key lies in support for resettlement programs that don’t just abandon the latest wave of migrants to sink or swim.

‘The signs so far are good,’ the Age‘s leader writer concluded just 11 years ago, ignoring his or her own observations about the challenges of integrating representatives of a clan-defined Islamic tribal society into our own Western and secular one. Enough government programs, enough driver-ed and cultural outreach envoys touching down in Mogadishu and it would be sweet for one and all.

Or so they told us and continue to tell us.

Such wilful innocence was culpable in 2007. It is moreso today.

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