“The most successful multicultural society in the world”


Richard B Riddick

Malcolm Turnbull recently stated that Australia is “the most successful multicultural society in the world”. I for one, am interested in how this metric is measured or if it’s meant to be a platitude. Specifically, whether the claim is:

  1. Being multicultural is the goal, and we are succeeding the most at becoming this ideal;
  2. That Australia meets the definition of multicultural and of all the multicultural countries, Australia is the most successful socio-economically;
  3. Being multicultural is an endeavour, and of all the multicultural nations, Australia is doing the best at dealing with the results

It’s also important to define whether the metric of “multicultural-ness” is best met by maximizing the amount of separate groups co-existing OR is it where the ideal end state is the absence of a majority or defining host culture, just various cultures existing. I.e. the United Nations is the former and Yugoslavia is the latter.

I think Malcolm has been a little too cute with his deliberately vague statement.

Australia’s citizenry is still of approximately 75% European descent according to the ABS Ancestry survey, with the amounts & percentages as follows:
(Ancestry 2016 Census, ABS)

North-East Asian 1,302,497 5.57%
Southern and Central Asian 1,005,469 4.30%
South-East Asian 706,031 3.02%
North African and Middle Eastern 556,147 2.38%
Sub-Saharan African 182,499 0.78%
Peoples of the Americas 141,534 0.60%
Not stated 1,632,686 6.98%

This is a significantly higher % of European descendants than the USA, so Australia has lost the “multicultural” competition if that’s the metric. So we can rule out no.1 from the top.

If we assume that Australia is multicultural, we then need to assess whether Australia is the most successful nation of the multi-cultural nations, socio-economically speaking. Below is the top 20 countries by Human Development Index, in descending order:

Norway, Australia, Switzerland, Germany, Denmark, Singapore, Netherlands, Ireland, Iceland, Canada, United States, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Sweden, Liechtenstein, United Kingdom, Japan, South Korea, Israel, Luxembourg.

Most of these countries are homogeneous (in the sense that the majority host culture is a large/clear majority), in fact only the United States and New Zealand are less homogenous than Australia, but nearly all of these Western countries in the list have been receiving significant diversity in recent years, so who is to say how much diversity you need to be “multicultural” and therefore compete in the metric from option 2. Given that Australia came second in the HDI list, it would mean as long as we met the arbitrary multicultural definition and Norway didn’t, that Malcolm is right!

However I doubt that this is what Malcolm means and I doubt anyone interpreted it this way; the idea that there is a specific number that defines being “multicultural” is absurd. There is no enunciated goal of our immigration program in relation to this except to “shape society”, which leads me to believe that our government (and the entire Western world’s governments) wanted this and still wishes for more diversity and multicultural-ness, given that this has been a clear result of Australia’s immigration program over the last few decades.

Therefore I have concluded the 3rd option is actually what is being discussed, needless to say the statement that “Australia is doing well at dealing with the results of multiculturalness”, is controversial in and of itself. As obviously, it implies that there are negative effects of multicultural-ness, and I shall not comment on that for obvious legal reasons. But it does beg the question, are we only able to do as well as we do, because we aren’t actually as diverse as tthe US? Or is it because we haven’t had a recession in over two decades due to the mining boom and private debt boom? What about that our immigrants tend to be the most economically mobile and able citizens of other nations, and therefore our immigration program has a selection bias towards higher quality human capital? This would logically result in better outcomes than the mass migrations the United States and Europe are experiencing.

Does that mean however that if the good economic fortunes that brought us these economically mobile international citizens reverse, that not only will we have a cyclical fall in economic activity but also a devastating deepening of the fall, due to these citizens moving on to greener pastures? Does that mean that our comfortable modern multicultural democracy is only existing in this blissful state due to a relatively benign economic situation? Does that mean that if our relatively benign economic situation deteriorates that our modern multicultural democracy will also deteriorate?

Further, if the decision to purse this endeavour is the sort of decision that fundamentally goes to the heart of what the Australian nation is and what it is going to be, then it should be made by the citizenry and not made by government bureaucrats and politicians. Both of which tend to be thoroughly compromised by their big Australia, pro-growth corporate interests and their ability to externalise all the negative results of a societal change into the outer suburbs.

In the same way that there is no problem with jumping out of a plane per se, it’s only the landing that is difficult. I think Malcolm could make his statement significantly more truthful and also ominous if it was rendered as follows:

“Australia is the most successful multicultural society in the world, so far as the experiment is still in progress*”

Photo by PreciousBytes