Popular Support Not Required
Some questions to test your understanding of recent Australian history: which was the first major Australian political party to adopt multiculturalism as official policy? Who was the first Federal politician to refer to multiculturalism in Parliament? Who was the second? Which Federal Government was the first to make multiculturalism public policy? When did multiculturalism achieve the support of a majority of Australians?
The answers are the Liberal Party, Malcom Fraser when Liberal Immigration spokesman, Michael Mackellar his successor as Liberal Immigration spokesman, the Fraser Government and not before the mid 1990s.
These are some of the fascinating facts in Mark Lopez's masterful study of how multiculturalism came to be adopted as a basic principle of public policy in Australia. The Origins of Multiculturalism in Australian Politics 1945-1975 (Melbourne University Press) is a wonderful case study of the public policy process in Australia---the real one, not the banally formal or the stupidly conspiratorial versions sometimes presented. To me, as an ex-public servant, former political activist and someone involved in advocacy work, Mark Lopez's presentation of the ins and outs of the process of the rise of multiculturalism all ring true.
Apart from careful diligence in the use of evidence, the prime source of Mark Lopez's achievement seems to be his use of interviews with all the key participants supported by careful examination of the documentary evidence. While Lopez never actually suggests anything of the sort, one does get the sense that many of the key participants were only too willing to talk about how clever they were.
What Lopez tells is a fascinating story, the story of how a small number of activists---of a variety of ethnic backgrounds, including Anglo-Celtic---sought to change public policy. They did so not by convincing the general public and using the pressures of mass electoral politics---as late as 1994, an opinion poll recorded 61% disapproval for multicultural ideas (what one wit has called the demand that residents adapt to newcomers). What the activists did instead is follow classic techniques of elite and pressure-point politics. They wrote papers (many were academics), they formed committees and organisations, they got into advisory structures, they tried to determine the wording of official reports and speeches, they lobbied key politicians.
Ironically, much of this activity, particularly after the election of the Whitlam Government in December 1972, was directed towards the ALP. Most of the multiculturalists came from New Left or other progressivist backgrounds and were much more comfortable with the ALP as the vehicle of political change than the Liberal Party---many were ALP members. They were so focussed on the ALP---with some exceptions such as Professor Jerry Zubrzycki---that they (and the media) completely missed the significance of Fraser's acceptance of multiculturalism when Liberal Immigration spokesman and incorporation of it into Liberal policy.
Conversely, multiculturalism was never the official policy of the Whitlam Government. It had begun to seep into government documents and reports, and Al Grassby did give a speech entitled A Multi-Cultural Society for the Future in August 1973, but Grassby himself did not become a multiculturalist until after he ceased to be Immigration Minister. Nor did the Whitlam Government take the final step and adopt multiculturalism as policy, though events were moving in that direction.
Even though the final adoption of multiculturalism as official policy by the Fraser Government was in some ways serendipity for the multiculturalists, their efforts in creating a pervasive multiculturalist presence in advisory and advocacy structures, and in developing the ideas of multiculturalism, meant that there was an entire structure of ideas and personnel able to support and extend the policy direction of the Fraser Government once it had adopted multiculturalism as policy.
There are a range of lessons from this wonderful case study. One is how narrowly based bipartisanship can be. Bipartisanship does not require that a majority in the ALP and Coalition support a policy direction: all it requires is that both spokespersons do and that they have at least the passive support of their party leadership. It is almost certain that multiculturalism would not have survived a serious debate in either the Labor Caucus or the Coalition Party room. That Fraser (and then Mackellar) were explicitly in favour, and Grassby and other Whitlam Ministers implicitly so, was enough to stop it being destroyed by political controversy. In that sense, Australian public policy processes can be much more closed than, for example, American ones where primary elections and the looseness of party affiliation provides for a much more disparate---and disputed---public policy market which forces politicians to play much closer heed to public opinion and makes politics much more a process of continual public persuasion.
Another lovely little nugget from the book is how the tactic of accusing critics and opponents of racism was established almost before multiculturalism itself as a term was. Then and since, multiculturalism has often provided examples of what might be called the motivational fallacy. In the case of multiculturalism, the fallacy works as follows: I advocate multiculturalism as a way of combating racism and prejudice, therefore, if you criticise multiculturalism you are guilty of racism and/or harbouring prejudice. This has a triple benefit as a mode of argument. It delegitimises critics and criticism, it elevates the mode of action or claim being defended and it establishes or reinforces that action or claim as a moral asset for its proponents.
Lopez shows how tarring critics of multiculturalism as racist was helped by Al Grassby having been subjected to a nasty campaign by racist splinter groups prior to losing his rural New South Wales seat in 1974 as payback for his abolition of the lingering remnants of the White Australia policy. That racists hate multiculturalism provides and provided guilt by association for other critics.
Lopez identifies four different streams in multiculturalism (pages 447-8). The dominant stream, cultural pluralism seeks government recognition and support for the preservation and development of migrant/ethnic groups and cultures. Welfare multiculturalism seeks culturally and ethnically pluralistic welfare delivery services because migrant/ethnic groups are seen as vulnerable and afflicted by a wide range of welfare problems. Ethnic structural pluralism sees migrant/ethnic identity as being threatened by socio-economic inequalities and institutional practices and seeks government support to preserve ethnic identity. Ethnic rights multiculturalism sees migrant/ethnic population as predominantly working class and the central issues as being denial of rights---economic, social, cultural, political---and either seeks creation of ethnic/migrant pressure groups or migrant mobilisation through trade unions.
Even though the multiculturalists had divergent views, they still functioned as a series of interlocking networks that led to the adoption of multiculturalism as public policy without the support of, indeed against, public opinion. They seem to have had a range of motivations, often rooted in an alienation from mainstream Australia. People confronting such alienation always face a choice: do you persuade the general public to adjust society or do you enforce your views to transform from the centre? The multiculturalists essentially used a vanguard approach, capturing public policy and using the platform of government to establish multiculturalism as a fait accompli. While some recent opinion polls do suggest multiculturalism has achieved majority support in recent years, Lopez casts doubt on this, feeling the wording of many of the polling questions is somewhat problematic.
That public opinion was unambiguously not in favour when multiculturalism was being adopted led to some dubious practices by the multiculturalists: Lopez brings out some of the dangers of 'action research' in misdiagnosing issues and obstructing dealing with genuine concerns.
Lopez also brings out how the multiculturalists were able to use the media preference for a convenient voice to represent assumed opinion to pretend to have more support than they actually did. Thus the Ethnic Communities Council of Victoria was established by the multiculturalists to provide a platform to push multiculturalism on a presumption that the Council spoke for migrant/ethnic opinion. In reality, it was a classic 'top down' organisation with little or no connection to ordinary migrants.
There is far more to be learned in this excellent book than the issues I have touched upon. Anyone interested in Australian politics and public policy, and particularly anyone interested in the achievements and perils of policy advocacy, should read The Origins of Multiculturalism by Mark Lopez.
Rejoinder: The common law and blatant interests
Since Michael Cooney chose to quote me out of context in last month's Adelaide Review, let me make my position on the common law quite clear: I am in favour of it. In fact, we suffer far too much statute law: more use of the common law instead is what I say! There is at least one area, however, where the common law performs badly---workers' compensation, which is not one of the common laws' more longstanding areas. Any judgement process which consumes up to half the costs of awards is hardly a satisfactory one. It was very specifically in that context that I wrote that 'sensible governments cut back common law rights'. As for lawyers not constituting an interest, as Michael Cooney remarkably implies, it is to them that those costs overwhelmingly go. One reasonable estimate was that the Kennett changes cut incomes to Victorian lawyers by about $34million a year. That is a vested interest in anyone's terms.