Cultural integration and multiculturalism
Multiculturalism and multicultural policy refer to the way in which the diverse cultures and ethnic communities in the Australian population are recognised and strengthened. Cultural integration is evidence of multicultural policy and is observable in places such as Cabramatta in Sydney's south-west. Cultural integration occurs when communities and governments work together to celebrate diversity, improve community services, meet diverse community needs and address community problems.
The celebration and promotion of cultural integration, such as during local festivals, can offset the often negative media perception of multicultural communities as 'ethnic ghettoes' or 'no go zones'. Cabramatta, featured in this chapter for example, has been unfairly represented as being a 'no go zone' of drug deals and Asian gangs, where Vietnamese rule the community through fear and criminal activity. Crime and social problems are found in all communities and it is our collective responsibility to remove these. Cultural integration is one way we can achieve this in Australia. See image 1
Multiculturalism: a government response to our changing communities
Our nation is increasingly culturally diverse (about one quarter of our population) and this is now internationally recognised as a central feature of our society and identity. Multiculturalism has been official government policy since the 1970s. It is designed to make cultural integration a reality. Multicultural policy provides communities with the freedom to maintain cultural traditions within the democratic and legal framework of Australia. This means that diverse communities can keep their native language, rituals, religion and cultural ways as long as the loyalty (commitment) to Australia and its values (civic responsibilities) are clear. One of the current debates about multiculturalism concerns the confusion related to determining when a community does or does not display a commitment to Australia. Multiculturalism aims to end this confusion through developing the potential of our communities to understand and manage change.
Our multicultural policy has four broad aims: to ensure that individuals understand their community responsibilities, to foster respect, to encourage fairness and to ensure that all communities are progressing. Communities are educated about Australian law, our official language, our system of democratically elected government and the constitution. As well, our values - such as fairness, respect, 'a fair go', community spirit, our work ethic and cultural tolerance - are expressed in multicultural policy along with a commitment to free speech, and freedom of expression and religion. See image 2
Australia has made significant progress towards a culturally integrated society. Until the 1970s, Australia had a discriminatory policy of 'White Australia', where migrants were forced to assimilate by giving up their cultural ways. Migrants to Australia were once excluded from basic services and had little political recognition, such as full citizenship rights. The wider Anglo-Australian community was intolerant and racist toward migrants; migrants were often seen as 'ghetto' dwellers unwilling to embrace the Australian way. Australians from diverse cultural backgrounds still experience these intolerant attitudes; for example, their places of worship are seen by some as an invasion of public space or even a threat to the 'Australian way of life'. Our present multicultural policy does not support this view and neither does the majority of the Australian public.
Cabramatta: model of multiculturalism and cultural integration
Between 1981 and 2000, Australia greatly increased its Asian migrant intake from 276 000 to over a million. The major ethnic group in Sydney's south-western suburb of Cabramatta is Vietnamese (29 per cent of a population of 19 391 in 2001). Cabramatta is one suburb in the highly diverse municipality of Fairfield. There are many physical signs or features of multiculturalism and an 'Oriental-Australian identity' in a place like Cabramatta. Cabramatta's Freedom Plaza is a prominent community meeting place, as are the many Asian-style streetscapes, colours, artefacts, gardens and lion statues. Places of worship are an important feature of this community and the Indo-Chinese identity. Indo-China comprises nations such as Vietnam, Laos and Thailand in South-East Asia. See image 3
Cabramatta's Moon Festival is Australia's version of the Equinox Festival, an annual cultural event of South-East Asia in September each year. It has become a tourist and community attraction for Cabramatta and hence an opportunity for the community to display its cultural diversity and integration. Events like this unite the community; over 50 000 people attend. The Fairfield City Council ensures that the various ethnic groups attend and are involved in proceedings. The event has an Asian theme, with a Chinese style lantern and lion parade; however, the event hosts dancing, singing and theatre from groups as diverse as Laos, Italy, Spain, Argentina and Vietnam. The Moon Festival draws on our sense of fun by encouraging people to enter a noodle-eating competition. Youth from culturally diverse Cabramatta High School deliver entertainment and showcase their success at participating in Australian education and society.
Fairfield City: managing cultural integration
Cabramatta is just one example of cultural integration in south-western Sydney. Cabramatta forms part of the Fairfield city municipality, a highly culturally diverse geographical area. In 2001, 133 nationalities and 70 languages were found within a population of 95,343. Importantly, Fairfield City Council has developed a number of strategies and organisations which have helped to unify the cultures in diverse suburbs such as Cabramatta. See animation 1
The Fairfield Migrant Interagency was set up to allow various cultural groups and individuals in suburbs such as Cabramatta to express their needs and issues. This organisation encourages workers, residents and local ethnic organisations to meet on a regular basis to improve community harmony, an example of community consultation. Another organisation encouraging community integration and cooperation in the Fairfield City area is the Multicultural Advisory Committee. This organisation ensures that representatives and individuals from various migrant groups provide formal input into Council decision making; and is another example of community consultation. This allows cultural groups to receive better services and to work with council to break down the barriers between cultural groups. The Multicultural Advisory Committee ensures that culturally diverse groups contribute actively to the emerging multicultural community. In 2006, this committee organised a Harmony Day Festival to recognise the contributions made by culturally diverse communities to multiculturalism. The Harmony Day Festival was linked to the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.
The Strengthening Communities Unit of the NSW State Government recently commenced work with Fairfield City Council on The Cabramatta Project. This aims to tackle social issues such as crime, drugs, youth unemployment, socioeconomic disadvantage and poverty. A whole-of-the-community approach is used to create positive 'self-help' options for individuals and groups. The community is being encouraged to work with the government in fighting crime and poverty. It is important to appreciate that social problems like these are not caused by failed multiculturalism, they are caused by a lack of opportunities in education, skills training and employment. Also, urban space improvements, such as the planned 'Cabramatta Common' will help improve the appearance of neighbourhoods and reduce criminal activity. The Cabramatta community is therefore taking control of its multicultural future by strengthening its cultural and social integration.