In the midst of the furore over the government paying for asylum-seekers to attend family members' funerals, Mr Bowen told the Sydney Institute last night it had become fashionable to blame multiculturalism for terrorism, but the Australian experience was different.
THE federal government has firmly re-embraced multiculturalism in a key speech by Immigration Minister Chris Bowen tackling voter fear of Islamic extremism and outlining a new anti-racism strategy.
''It is right for Australians to be concerned about extremism - whether Islamic or otherwise … To cast all Islamic migrants or all members of any religious group as somehow unworthy of their place in our national community, however, tars the many with the extremist views of the very few and does an injustice to all.
''It's counter-intuitive to assume that the majority of migrants want to change Australia. Allegations of migrants wanting to come to Australia to convert the populace and turn it into a replica of their homelands ignore the truth.''
Hazara refugees - who make up a large percentage of asylum-boat arrivals - had fled religious extremism, and ''just like previous groups of migrants'' were attracted by Australia's values, he said.
Mr Bowen outlined a new policy he said promoted social cohesion and valued diversity.
The federal government will:
■ Appoint a 10-person Australian Multicultural Council with a wider scope than the current advisory body;
■ Establish a National Anti-Racism Strategy;
■ Reinstate the word ''multicultural'' to Senator Kate Lundy's title of parliamentary secretary for immigration;
■ Promote people from ethnically diverse backgrounds mixing together via a sports program.
The multiculturalism push comes after Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison said on Australia Day he was ''reluctant to use the term''.
The Howard government dropped official use of the term multiculturalism, and the last federal government multiculturalism statement was in 2003.
But during last year's election, Labor had also shied away from a multiculturalism policy, sensitive to western Sydney voter perceptions of special treatment. It also dropped the term from Senator Lundy's title under a Gillard reshuffle.
Mr Bowen said last night: ''I'm not afraid to use the word multiculturalism.''
He said multiculturalism had worked, and was a marker of a liberal society. Australia differed from Europe in that it wasn't a guest worker society, and migrants were expected to become citizens. But Australia couldn't take the benefits of a diverse population and then shun the culture of its migrants.
''If people do not feel part of society, this can lead to alienation and, ultimately, social disunity,'' he said.
Almost half of Australians had a parent born overseas or were born overseas themselves.
Mr Bowen said the government would counter extremism, and singled out Sharia law as inconsistent with multiculturalism. Where there is any clash between migrant cultures and the rule of law or freedom ''traditional Australian values win out'', he said.
The Australian Multicultural Advisory Council, set up by the Rudd Government in 2008, had last year recommended to the government a permanent and independent body be set up to advise on a national multicultural strategy.
'One in ten' Australians is racistA groundbreaking new report into racism in Australia shows more than one out of ten of us have racist tendencies.
Despite that, the University of Western Sydney research says the majority of Australians believe in diversity and tolerance.
The research comes just days after the federal government decided to add the word "multicultural" to one of its minister's portfolios.
For governments of all persuasions, it's an issue that just won't go away.
Now, leading-edge research has shed light on what it means to live in multicultural Australia.
A University of Western Sydney report - led by Professor Human Geography and Urban Studies Kevin Dunne - shows the overwhelming number of Aussies are tolerant, egalitarian and open to different cultures.
But despite this, more than twelve percent of us admit to being biased.
"Eighty-seven percent like cultural diversity, they see the benefit of it. Only 6 percent would argue against that, but one in ten have some really hard attitudes, bad attitudes," Kevin Dunne said. “They believe races are different from one another - some inferior, some superior, that races should be kept separate. One in ten Australians. That's quite a lot.”
The Challenging Racism Report found strong geographic links to racism... and a strong correlation between higher education and tolerance.
Malaysian-born performance artist Tiara Shafiq agrees in principle with the report's findings and claims she's experienced racism while applying for permanent residency.
She says prejudice can manifest itself in subtle ways.
”A lot of things that people do, that they think are well meaning, are actually quite hurtful or racist,” she said. “The people who do them would not ever consider themselves racist.”
The Challenging Racism Report lists a number of initiatives aimed at reducing racism - mainly, facilitating contact between different cultures.
The research comes at a time when Australia is more ethnically diverse than at any other time in its history. Yet a large proportion of people are pro-assimilation. What does this mean for the government's policy of multiculturalism?
Senator Kate Lundy says the report highlights the community's overwhelming support for diversity, and a sound rejection of old assimilationist policies.
”I think it shows that we are completely on the right track here in ensuring an updated response to nurturing and celebrating a multicultural Australia,” Lundy said.
But events in Australia's past like the Cronulla riots and the allegations of racist attacks against Indian students have tarnished Australia's reputation abroad.
And as attitudes towards multiculturalism soften within our borders, repairing Australia's image abroad will be the next big challenge.
In a tolerant society, racists hear this: your race is runSaddened and galled. That's how I felt when I read this week's news about Australians' attitudes to racial and cultural minorities, their prejudices against Muslims, Jews, Asians, and, most ludicrously of all, the original inhabitants of this country, the Aboriginal people. I wasn't even consoled by the fact that anti-British, Italian and Christian sentiments across Australia were recorded at less than 10 per cent. With so many different cultures and nationalities being distrusted, who was there left to detest? And who were all these ''Australians'' doing the detesting? I was so dispirited with the University of Western Sydney's findings on racism that I had to read the results for myself. But when I went to the university's website, an unexpectedly heartening picture emerged.
The findings weren't all bad. In fact, read another way, they could be seen as a tribute to the decency and humanity of Australians.
When asked ''is it a good thing for a society to be made up of people from different cultures?'', 86.8 per cent of Australians agreed it was (in Victoria, 89.5 per cent agreed). When asked ''do you feel secure when you are with people of different ethnic backgrounds?'', 78.1 per cent of Australians said they did. (In Victoria, 81.4 per cent responded positively.)
''Racists'', it emerged, were the real minorities in this country: ''about one in 10 Australians have very problematic views on diversity and on ethnic differences. They believe that some races are naturally inferior or superior, and they believe in the need to keep groups separated. These separatists and supremacists are a destructive minority.''
(Interestingly, those most likely to hold racist attitudes tend to be older, non-tertiary educated, do not speak a language other than English, are Australian-born, and male.)
And while one in 10 may still sound like one too many, it seemed to me that these statistics suggested that Australia must surely be one of the least racist countries in the world. I rang Professor Kevin Dunn, one of the chief researchers, and asked him if this was correct. His response was galvanising. He and his team had asked this very question, and comparative studies confirmed that Australia did indeed fare well. In parts of western Europe, three in 10 people were racists, and the figure was higher in parts of eastern Europe. The only place Dunn had found that was less racist than Australia (and then only a little less so), was Canada.
''But that's about it,'' he said. ''I can't find many other places in the world that would outperform Australia on positivity to diversity.''
This is the other side of the racism story, an encouraging, uplifting and crucial side that needs to be broadcast - loudly. It is important that the ''destructive minority'' of racists in Australia realise that they are just that, a deviance from the norm, and that the silent majority of Australians are open-minded and accepting. Significantly, research into racism shows that if people with racist views are made to feel as though their views are ''mainstream'', they are emboldened in their racist behaviour (and, let's be clear, it's not just people of ''Anglo'' backgrounds who may hold racist views). Politicians who insist on denying that racism exists and who pass it off as ''normal'' or even ''patriotic'' to be intolerant, are playing an ugly and dangerous game. Is this ringing any bells?
In the past decade, we have seen some political parties and politicians, and some sections of the media, insidiously bolster the egos of racists and make them feel as though their attitudes were not only acceptable but widely held.
As the University of Western Sydney's research points out: ''Social norms are considerably powerful and can legitimise poor attitudes. There is mounting evidence that telling people that their views were not consensually shared can help reduce prejudice.''
Rather than being a challenge to federal Immigration Minister Chris Bowen's affirmation of Australia's commitment to multiculturalism, the university's findings reinforce his position. Bowen is showing genuine leadership. He and the Gillard government are refusing to pander to people's baser instincts for short-term political gain. And it's about time.
''It's overdue,'' says Dunn. ''For 15 years [multiculturalism] has withered and that's a dangerous place to be in how you manage cultural diversity.''
This does not mean that people should not feel free to express their concerns and anxieties about the customs of certain cultures, and to condemn practices and values that are anathema to a contemporary, secular and democratic Australian society. Indeed, the University of Western Sydney's research emphasises that one way to combat racism is to encourage people to express their differences and fears. But a discussion about multiculturalism - and racism - must not be hijacked by political expediency or the likes of shock jocks and sensationalist scribes who are not at all interested in sincerely debating the issues, but who wish only to fan the flames of hatred and misunderstanding, and who would have us believe that the deviant minority is the majority.
Mods, I hope multiple articles is ok.