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Are we one? By Sean Perera

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Are we one? By Sean Perera“We are one, but we are many. And from all the lands on earth we come. We’ll share a dream and sing with one voice,” sang the recently deceased Judith Durham, in The Seekers’ iconic pop hit “I am Australian.” But what does it truly mean to be “Australian” in the multicultural social landscape of this antipodean continent? In particular, what implications are there for immigrants to Australia, as they bear witness to an apartheid induced by “white-guilt”?

From all the lands on earth we come…   

There is on one endemic to Australia. Everyone who is living in Australia today, and those who have lived previously, have migrated from other continents, even indigenous Australians. In their search for a new home 64,000 years ago, the ancestors of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples too would have left behind generations of family and friends, as they migrated eastward from Africa’s Rift Valley.

White settlers who arrived in Australia two-and-a-half centuries ago, also travelled to the antipodes of this planet in search for somewhere to call their new home. Hence the prolific presence of “new” prefixing many place names where they settled down. The Australia-ward journeys of multitudes of immigrants since have been necessitated for a plethora of reasons. Yet all they all share the same dream: the search for a new home where they could find true belonging.

Sing with one voice…

Australia’s true multicultural milieu, however, is threatened by exclusive acknowledgment of First Nation Australian culture. Federal and State governments since the turn of the century have elevated and privileged the culture of Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders above all other Australians.

In 2011, in the wake of Prime Minister Rudd’ National Apology, for instance, a too convenient marriage of politics with science celebrated a Danish genetic discovery. It proclaimed that “Aboriginal Australians are the oldest living culture on the planet.” The ancientness of First Australians’ culture has since been etched deeply into Australia’s multicultural social landscape though reinvention of ritual ceremonies, as well as academic scholarship, such as the copious “The Biggest Estate on Earth: How Aborigines Made Australia.”

Early this year, the First Nations Portfolio of Australia’s peak research institution petitioned the Federal Government for a special economy for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The Portfolio advocates for an economic model outside conventional mainstream economy contributed by taxpayers and jobs. While it claims this would end the “economic apartheid” of First Nation Australians, it fails to see that such a model in itself apartheids immigrants who contribute to Australia’s economy through jobs and paying tax.

Currently, Australia is on the eve of a national referendum – whether to change its constitution to create an Indigenous Voice to Parliament. It is yet uncertain about the responsibilities and powers of this potential “third chamber” in Parliament. But Australians can be certain that it will be an unequal voice for 3% of Australia’s population. And it will certainly not be singing in the same one voice with the other two Houses of Parliament which represent all remaining Australians, including multicultural immigrants.

Are we one? By Sean Perera

Image Caption: Prime Minister Anthony Albanese is the first PM since Malcolm Turnbull to attend Garma. (ABC News: Michael Franchi)

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We are many, but are we one…

As has been the case of most immigrants, including those of us from Sri Lanka, emigration from our home countries was necessitated for reasons which have their roots in European colonial rule. Many of us have had to flee adverse social, political, religious and economic events that mire our countries of origin. Australia’s immigrants bear the scars of genocides, famines, persecution and other atrocities, yet they have made conscious efforts to move forward. They have sacrificed the past to history, from which to learn and inform their future.

In contrast, modern Australian indigenous policy rhetoric is moving backwards. It aims to reinvent the past by recreating a history story that only recognises the struggles of a selected few. It disregards the hardships of the many others who have come to call Australia their home. Selective acknowledgement of one culture is prejudicial and is a disservice to multiculturalism.

The cornerstone of true multiculturalism acknowledges equally each constituent which contributes to its makeup. It recognises equal belonging and offers equal opportunities for participation. True egalitarianism which Australia has prided itself will only find itself eroded by short-sighted glances at the past.

Therefore, the question that needs to be asked is “why?” – why is present day Australia looking back to reinvent its future identity? Is Australia’s social consciousness moved by the errors of its past that it wants to truly reconcile the future. Or, is contemporary indigenous Australian policy ridden by white-guilt that aims to atone for the past?

It should not be forgotten that between the past and now, many more immigrants have found new belongings in Australia. They should also be part of Australia’s acknowledged identity. They should not be forgotten. They should not become collateral offerings sacrificed by white-guilt in piecemeal attempts to appease the injustice to indigenous Australians.

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