Multiculturalism should not breed separatism

The Office of Ethnic Affairs may have pressed the false alarm button in cautioning the new Ethnic Affairs minister (Judith Collins) against ‘a possible demand by some minority communities to have in place a multicultural policy while writing the Constitution.’

The comment, made inter alia the briefing paper for the incoming minister has stirred emotions and sparked debates in the media and within a number of community organisations.

Much of the fuss has a distinctly synthetic tang. Absurdly, some people have chortled that the government had hailed the end of multiculturalism.

Nothing can be farther from truth. What must be borne in mind is that the doctrine of state multiculturalism has in many countries encouraged people to live segregated lives. In its stead, some leaders have proposed a “muscular liberalism” that confronts extremism and promotes an identity open to all.

In short, the briefing paper was not as ferocious as its critics charge or some of political opponents hope. The bad news is that large parts of mainstream media reports and debates were an unconvincing muddle.

Our multiculturalism is underpinned by respect for traditional Maori and Western values. Those who arrive are invited to continue to celebrate their cultures within a broader culture of freedom but, more importantly, with respect.

However, if there is any inconsistency between these values and individual freedom and the rule of law, then these New Zealand values win out. They must.

Australian immigration minister Chris Brown said during a discussion that his country’s multiculturalism was citizenship-based; to enjoy the full benefits of Australian society, it was necessary to take a pledge of commitment.

“The genius of Australian multiculturalism is political bipartisanship, particularly at its creation,” he said.

Al Grassby, Immigration Minister in the Whitlam Government was the first Australian politician to publicly refer to multiculturalism as an aspiration. But it was Malcolm Fraser who made it national policy.

The Australian model of multiculturalism is different. In Germany, a requirement for “guest-workers” has driven an economic immigration policy.

Our immigration policy is driven by economic imperatives, but governments came to recognise the benefits of inviting full community participation by our immigrant populations in return for a respect for and embracing of the cultures and customs they brought with them.

Many countries in Europe have nations within nations: significant communities living ‘‘parallel lives’’, perpetuating segregation based on ethnic, religious or cultural divides.

This seems to underline the benefits of the New Zealand approach.

We should not defend cultural practices and ideas that are not consistent with our values of democracy, justice, equality and tolerance.

We have tried to instil a sense of belonging in New Zealand, while encouraging the participation of all people. If values are not articulated, not put into practice and people do not feel part of society, this can lead to alienation and, ultimately, social disunity.

It seems to us that if you accept the benefits of a diverse population, you then have a choice: do you respect, embrace and welcome the cultures of those you have invited to make New Zealand home or do you shun them?

Do you invite their full participation or do you treat them as guest workers and hope they integrate – while all along suspecting they won’t?

Multiculturalism is about inviting every individual member of society to be everything they can be and supporting each new arrival in overcoming whatever obstacles they face as they adjust to a new country and society and allowing them to flourish as individuals.

It is a matter of liberalism. A truly robust liberal society is a multicultural society. New Zealand is a truly multicultural society with various communities actively promoting the country’s progress and prosperity.

We must celebrate our cultural diversity and continue to respect each other.

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