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Multicultural Australia at a ‘turning point’

30 August 20160 comments

What is the future of multiculturalism in Victoria? How can we ensure Australia is as inclusive as possible?

These were the questions posed at community forum ‘The Right to Belong’ held in Melbourne this past week.

The forum launched the start of the Melbourne Writers Festival and featured a keynote address by Victoria’s Minister for Multicultural Affairs Robin Scott.

Helen Kapalos

Helen Kapalos

Helen Kapalos, Victorian Multicultural Commission Chairperson, hosted a panel of leading thinkers and academics who were themselves representative of Australian’s diverse communities.

Mr Scott said Victoria was a success story for multiculturalism.

“Multiculturalism is who we are, it is the mainstream”, he said.

However the rise in incidents of racial abuse was not far from the dialogue.

Mr Scott shared the confronting story of immigrant woman and published author Maxine Benebe Clarke, who was verbally abused on the street when walking with her young daughter.

“There are those among us who believe words are just words. But words can divide us. Words can institutionalise violence,” he said.

“This discussion about belonging is important because as a society, we are at a turning point. And if we take the wrong turn we will suffer.”

He drew attention to the fact that Victorians who support multiculturalism are a silent majority.

“It is up to all of us. We need community involvement, which needs to be informed by mutual respect,” Mr Scott said.

“We need to resist the temptation to respond to intolerable abuse with abuse.

“With social media it is easy to engage with like-minded people, it’s like an echo chamber.

“But we need informed public conversation about the country we are creating,” he said.

mwf_bodyAbdi Aden, a former refugee from Somalia and a recent author was one of the panellists.

Abdi was joined by academic, pioneering gay rights activist and acclaimed author Dennis Altman.

Mr Altman said that Australian values were continuously changing.

“We have to be careful not to freeze values from fifty years ago. Values change because the population changes,” he said.

The panel was also joined by Dr Nasya Bahfen, senior lecturer in Media, Film and Journalism at Monash University and an AFL multicultural community ambassador.

Dr Bahfen said she believed that there were three areas that could open the community to multiculturalism.

The first was through sport because it showed that nationality or race did not matter when you play on the same team.

She also said we needed to increase diversity in the media, through coverage and in newsrooms. It is important to shift the way migrants and refugees are reflected to the wider community.

A third area Dr Bahfen said could make a huge difference was increasing multiculturalism and diversity in the workplace because it helped break down barriers.

Koorie Heritage Trust Chairperson Ian Hamm was also a member of the panel. A Yorta Yorta man, Mr Hamm has been actively involved in the Victorian Indigenous community in a personal and professional capacity for many years.

Carissa Gilham
AMES Australia Staff Writer