Bob Gould, Australian nationalism and multiculturalism

Tom O'Lincoln suarsos at
Tue Jul 22 04:19:28 MDT 2003

As previously noted, I'm not going to plow through and critique Bob Gould's
marathon writings. It's like the python swallowing the elephant - do-able
but perhaps not entirely inviting. However if Phil serves him up
bite-sized, I can be tempted. Below is Bob as quoted by Phil, followed by a
few of my comments...

>>The proposition that Australia is primarily an imperialist power is
methodological gibberish from a Marxist point of view.<<
No, Bob's arguments are gibberish. I just watched on TV the dispatch of
troops to the Solomons. Howard was busily announcing how this intervention
was the first of many. I supposed Bob thinks that's just Howard being

>>In recent years, with the notable exception of Malcolm Fraser's
government, all the major practical moves to humanise migration, get rid of
the White Australia Policy, recognise multiculturalism, etc, have come from
the labour movement side of politics.<<
When is "recent years"? In the sixties, it was actually the Conservatives
who began dismantling White Australia. As for Fraser in the seventies, he's
hardly an "exception". He led the Conservatives to several election
victories and ruled for seven years. It was during this time that
"multiculturalism" became entrenched. (See below.)

>>The fault line on all the matters of race, multiculturalism etc now lies
between the Labor and Tory side<<
One of the most striking racist obscenities in recent Australian history is
undoubtedly the treatment of refugees. People fleeing the Taliban, for
example, found themselves locked up - entire families, including kids -
under the policy of Mandatory Detention. Guess which Government introduced
that policy? Yes, the last Labor Government. And in the last federal
election, after the Tanpa incident and the disgusting "children overboard"
affair, perhaps Bob could tell us what "fault line" separated the Labor
leaders from Howard on these questions? There were, fortunately, faultlines
in BOTH the major parties; while Labor for Refugees was more prominent
(fuelled by total disgust with the party leadership), there was significant
dissent in the Liberal Party too.

Phil helpfully mentioned our book "Class and Class Conflict in Australia".
Here is a passage on multiculturalism from Robert Tierney's chapter:

The basic framework dates back to Al Grassby's 'family of the nation'
concept of 1974 but has continued under subsequent governments, both
Coalition and Labor. In fact it was the Fraser Government which really
developed the strategy of cultivating elites within ethnic communities,
while using notions of monolithic ethnic identity to undermine groups
within those communities which believed in class struggle or campaigned in
the interest of migrant workers.
Multiculturalism is a mode of state intervention which aims to discourage
militant action by migrant workers, on the grounds that this diminishes the
ethnic communities' social responsibility to the broader Australian
community. The nationalist core of the policy is conservative and serves to
sustain ruling class hegemony. As Jakubowicz contends:

"Such [state] intervention might prevent the emergence of a more unified
Australian working class, which would share class allegiances while
internally recognising and responding to ethnic differences and needs."

The family is conceptualised as a microcosm of the nation itself: each
citizen is to see Australia as a 'family' in which all members hold the
same ideals and share a common history. At the same time the traditional
nuclear family remains an important centre of social stability, and within
many migrant communities a highly sexist traditional division of labour is
continued and legitimised as part of 'ethnicity'. This in turn allows the
state to neglect its role in providing health care, child care, abortion
clinics and contraception. More generally, multiculturalism has allowed
governments to mobilise community volunteers to deliver welfare programs on
the cheap.


[As Robert makes clear, this does not stop us defending multiculturalism
against attacks from the likes of Pauline Hanson. But it's nothing more or
less than bourgeois liberalism, and one of the great champions of it
recently was the union-bashing Liberal Premier of Victoria, Jeff Kennett. -
Tom O'L]

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