Mass migration in Australia

(f) A very proactive attitude to refugees. The current crises in Timor and Fiji and the crisis in Kosovo underline

Mass migration in Australia


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In my view, the basic ethical outlook of Marxist and Catholic philosophy about the relationship between the human race and the material environment are quite similar despite the apparent conflict between them. Over the course of my own life both have contributed to the formation of my attitude to the migration question.

Both ethical systems regard the human species as the highest development of evolution and start with the notion that the interests of human beings are the primary point of departure in judging most ethical questions. Marxists would have it that human consciousness is the highest product, so far, of material development, and Thomists and Catholics would have it that the human soul and humanity are the peak of Gods creation.

While both ethical systems would not neglect at all the importance of the rest of the material world, the animal world, etc, they would regard the interests of the human species, viewed as a totality, as the primary point of departure in developing an ethical framework for migration policy.

In this, they would both be different, for instance, to the ethics of Peter Singer, who would rate the interests of the animal world as being on the same plane as the interests of humanity. The ethical standpoint of deep ecologists, and people like Tim Flannery, Ted Trainer and Mark OConnor would, I believe in practice, give greater weight to the interests of the natural world than to those of the humans that use it.

These two moral standpoints, the Marxist one, expressed in the slogans of socialist internationalism: “the unity of labour is the hope of the world”, and “workers of the world unite”, and the similar Catholic moral view that all humans are brothers and sisters under God, have been major defining ideological influences, sometimes in conflict, but surprisingly often reinforcing each other, in the evolution of the labour movement in Australia.

The eventual, relatively recent, emergence in the labour movement of the idea of the unity of the human race as the dominant ideology, is really a kind of flowering of the ethical views of both the above streams. This flowering of humanism is one of the main reasons why the labour movements attitude to migration has so dramatically changed in the 20th century from entrenched British Australia racism to support for non-discriminatory migration and multiculturalism.

In Australian cultural terms I am a Marxist atheist of mainly Irish Catholic cultural background. All the original ancestors of the human population of Australia, including the indigenous population, are migrants. The migration history of Australia has been one in which, from the beginning, indigenous Australians, the Irish Catholics and the secular working class of British origin, initially convicts, were in constant conflict with the British ruling class of the new colony.

Im mainly descended from the Irish, and I identify totally with the conflict against the British ruling class in 19th century Australia, in which my ancestors participated.

From my standpoint, every additional wave of migration has helped to undermine the cultural and political hegemony of the British ruling class, and this is unambiguously a good thing. I celebrate a healthy, plebian, popular Australian nationalism, which is necessarily, and has been historically, in conflict with the reactionary British-Astralian nationalism of the Australian ruling class.

The desperate nostalgia of someone like Miriam Dixson about the passing of what she calls the “Anglo-Celtic core culture” produces in me a certain bitter amusement. I celebrate the passing of that culture. It wasnt my culture at all.

The new, diverse and cosmopolitan Australia, in which we all have a stake: indigenous Australians, Irish Catholics, the secular working class and middle class of British origin, and each wave of non-British migration, including the recent and spectacular Asian wave, has produced, and is constantly reproducing, a robust modern Australian culture of great diversity and strength, which I enjoy and celebrate.

Many of the most stimulating features of this modern culture are the product of, in particular, the post-war waves of mass migration. My Irish Catholic forebears, and the secular working class, took the process of humanising brutal British Imperial Australia a fair distance in the conflicts of the 19th century and the early 20th century, and the recent waves of migration have further civilised Australia.

Even the unquestionably important contribution of the civilised and humane strand within the British cultural tradition, as exemplified by a scholar such as Manning Clark or a writer like Patrick White, can only really come to full fruition within the framework of a healthy multicultural Australian polity, cleansed of the bigoted ethnocentrism of the old British ruling class Australia.

Anyone who has lived, as I have, from 1937 to now, has only to reflect on and remember the claustrophobic cultural atmosphere of British-Australia in the 1950s to understand what I mean in this context. It is hard for any young person now to even imagine the tension created in a cinema in 1960 if you didnt stand up for God Save the Queen.

The most conservative forces in society, which hark back nostalgically to the useful cement provided for the preservation of class privilege by all the ridiculous and unpleasant cultural impedimenta of British-Australia, are at the centre of the sporadic attacks on multiculturalism. Their political motivation in these attacks is quite clear.

Cultural diversity and multiculturalism, incorporated as they are into a new modern, plebian Australian national identity, are a far more civilised human environment for us all to live in.

Those who disagree with me on this can try to reverse these developments, but I dont rate their prospects of success very highly. We have already gone a very long way in this very healthy direction.

I dont intend to spend too much time celebrating the immense advantages produced by all our past mass migrations. They are obvious, and they are most strikingly noticeable in the global city of Australasia, Sydney, where we are holding this conference.

Despite the Sodom and Gomorrah weepings and gnashings of teeth about Sydney that you get from the likes of Miriam Dixson, Robert Birrell and Katharine Betts, the extraordinary and workable cultural diversity of Sydney is the small model of what life will be like throughout Australasia within the next 20 or 30 years.

The constant Jeremiad of the Monash anti-migrationists over the last 25 years about ethnic ghettoes, particularly in Sydney, is emerging ever more clearly as time goes on, as merely anti-migration propaganda. These so-called ethnic ghettoes are, in fact, constantly changing and evolving.

In practice, in Australia, and particularly in Sydney, there are very few “unmeltable ethnics”, to use Michael Novaks term from the United States of 30 years ago. While multiculturalists battles to preserve the useful aspects of discrete ethnic identities, nevertheless the evolving Australian national identity, which is quite real, remains the major cultural force into which the other ethnic identities tend to feed and blend, while the discrete contribution of the individual ethnic identities is often renewed by continued migration.

This whole process is accelerated by an increasing amount of exogamy (intermarriage between ethnic groups). The latest wave of mass migration, the Asian wave, has produced an enormous amount of this kind of intermarriage.

The striking feature of modern Australian society is the way the repeated predictions, over many years, of communal strife, by the likes of Birrell, Geoffrey Blainey and Pauline Hanson, are completely contradicted by the reality of Australian life. The further you get into the diversity in the heart of Sydney, for instance, the smaller the amount of noticeable ethnic conflict, which is far less overt now than it was in the 1940s or the 1950s.

We are well over the hump, so to speak, in these matters. Large-scale violent ethnic conflicts are very unlikely in Australia in the future. Most of us are now too civilised and we in this context a comfortable majority of the population will beat all xenophobia and racism, even when it is disguised as nostalgia for the “Anglo-Celtic core culture” back into its cave whenever it shows its ugly head.


The benefits of past migrations, from the point of view of the migrants themselves and of the other citizens of the developing Australian society


Up to the gold rushes of the 1850s, Australia was mainly a series of brutal penal colonies of British imperialism. But, paradoxically, many convicts stayed voluntarily in the colony after their release because in many ways, even then, it was a better place to live than Britain, Scotland or Ireland.The origins of the convicts were relatively diverse. Although most of them were drawn from the English urban underclass around London, about 20 per cent of them were Irish and almost 50 per cent of the smaller number of women convicts were Irish Catholics.

Over the whole period of convictism, about 1 per cent were black convicts from West Africa and the West Indies, and there were also about 1000 Jewish convicts. The gold rushes brought an accelleration of mass migration, from Great Britain and Ireland, China and Germany, and later in the century, a large forced labour component, the “Kanakas” fro

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